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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Tip 1 for the Remote Manager – People First

A meme making fun of conference calls
Take care of your people

"Remote work is the future of work." Alexis Ohanian, Reddit

"You can never over-communicate enough as a leader at a company, but at a remote company, nothing could be truer. Because you don't physically see people in-person, information doesn't spread in the same way, so leaders need to do the heavy lifting for evangelizing the message." Claire Lew, Know Your Team

On Friday, January 31, 2020, officials from the US Government officially announced “Foreign nationals other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have traveled to China in the last 14 days will be denied entry to the United States.” On March 30, 2020, I was at the airport preparing to fly to a Midwest city when I received a call from my Executive Assistant. I was told that my organization had issued a work at home directive and I needed to immediately cancel my trip.

So I left the airport and drove home.

I spent the next few weeks making sure that the people in my organization were safe and equipped to be as productive as possible. It was a huge pivot, and I am proud of how quickly we all adapted to the new reality.

And working from home is our new reality. As such, it is incumbent on leaders to make sure they are meeting the needs of their employees. As I discussed in my last post, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs informs us that people are being shaped by the stress caused by the pandemic. That will have a profound impact on performance and attitude, so as a leader you need to face that head on.

The restrictions resulting from COVID-19 are unrelenting. I have not been to my office in over 160 days, and I have to confess that at times I feel a bit disoriented. I have awoken on the weekend at 6:00 AM and began to work, only to realize no one else was online! It is a strange new reality where one day blends into the next and human interaction is generally limited to phone calls about specific issues.

My organization is performing well and we are using communication tools and techniques that I have picked up over my 18 years as an executive. I thought it might be fun to share those with you.

My first tip is to put your people first.

When my organization issued a work at home order, I immediately instructed my management team to have a personal discussion with every employee in our organization. That discussion was focused on three specific areas: 1) How are you and your family doing? Did you have any special issues or concerns that we needed to know about? If so, how could we help? 2) Are you equipped to do our work from home? If not, what did you need? 3) A 100% assessment of our entire product inventory and documented next steps with triggers.

You might be thinking "Of course you should call everyone and see how they are doing!".

Did your organization? My wife's organization didn't. My daughter's organization didn't. None of my friends organizations did.

And that is the point! You need to put your people first, and sometimes that starts with a simple phone call.


I have mentioned that I do volunteer work with an unnamed nonprofit. Having been involved in multiple non-profits in the past, I knew that I would probably experience politics and hidden agendas. And I did. What makes this experience unique is that I also ran across someone who behaved in a purely Machiavellian way. That is exceptionally rare and was completely unexpected. I am debating whether I should share my experience as a cautionary tale. More to follow.


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