Guest Column | April 10, 2020

Leading Your Team through The Global COVID-19 Crisis

By Suzanne Bates, Bates

coronavirus (002)
The spikes on the surface of coronaviruses give this virus family its name — corona, which is Latin for “crown.”

COVID-19 has become the most disruptive global event of our time, upending how we work and live. In this environment, managed service providers are handling a vast number of uncertainties. How do we support the mushrooming demands and rapidly changing needs of our customers? What changes are necessary to help our teams work more effectively in a remote environment? How do we maintain resiliency in our operations? How do we protect the health of our employees? How long will this go on? And, how should we pivot to prepare for lasting change that will come to our industry?

These questions are daunting and complex. The global move to remote work has put sudden and unprecedented demand on enterprise IT systems, cloud services and cybersecurity across every industry. Managed service providers are on the front lines of keeping these enterprises running, stable and secure. At the same time, they are moving their operations to remote work and working to maintain the resiliency of their systems and infrastructure in the face of unprecedented client demand.

Disruption always creates chaos, but it also creates enormous opportunities. The likelihood of the continuation of increased remote work across the board, even when we are on the other side of the crisis, will keep demand high for managed services, an industry already projected for significant growth. Smart industry leadership will continue to focus on doubling down on client relationships, developing innovative services, moving to bundling, partnering, developing hybrid and multi-cloud services.

As a leader, your first obligation is to be there for your people, so they can protect their health and the health of their families. This includes not only staying safe from the virus but also managing their emotional health. Working at home can create enormous pressure, whether people are isolated and alone, or are handling parenting and other duties. They may put a smile on their faces for meetings, while behind the scenes they are worried about relatives, watching the news and experiencing intense emotions that make it more difficult to focus. And, working virtually can be a draining, intense experience, especially when meetings are back to back.  

While leading a team going through these challenges, you also have to manage the business. This includes both handling the rising demand for services while mitigating financial and operational risk.  Against this backdrop, you must project calm, assure people, help them focus, and be courageous.

Here’s how we’re advising our clients to juggle the priorities and keep their teams engaged, productive and inspired during this time.

  • Meet face-to-face. We are all becoming more accustomed to video meetings, but if you aren’t using them, try it. Being face to face makes virtual meetings more engaging, encourages collaboration and ideation, and lets you read those important non-verbal signals.   
  • Encourage innovative, creative ways to do business. The best ideas percolate when you’re forced into a corner. Give people permission to look at a different way of doing things.
  • Ask questions to help people think differently. What assumptions have your team made about the way you are doing business that are no longer the case in this new world? Should you consider new partnerships with channel partners or competitors? Are there things you could do now to build customer relationships as they also struggle? What should you stop doing? Start doing? This kind of thinking can transform businesses and industries. It creates new revenue and ignites innovation.  
  • Oh captain, my captain—manage the swirl. Help your team acknowledge and work through the angst they’re feeling so that they can pull back and refocus. Express your faith in them. Use humor when appropriate. Open the lines of communication. And of course, tell it like it is. People want the truth.
  • Focus on the future. Companies that survive and thrive post-pandemic are already focused on how to position themselves for success on the other side. The effect of Coronavirus is not fully known and will likely not be for a long time. However, you can discuss scenarios and options, and evaluate evolving offerings, products, channels or markets for your services. This will be your path to success in the aftermath of this disruption.

Everyone in your organization has something to contribute, in thinking about diversifying your business, discovering new business models, developing new products and services. Help them focus on what they can do to innovate and make new discoveries. Ignite their energy and creativity and watch what happens.

About The Author

Suzanne Bates is CEO of Bates, a global consulting firm that helps organizations improve performance through communicative leadership.