Business Management, Entrepreneurship

Second Epistle to Don Chen, the Ambitious and Forward Looking Entrepreneur during the COVID 19 Pandemic

This second “epistle” from Wole Oluyemi to Donald (Don) Chen is one of the series of writings from the author on strategy, finance, leadership, corporate performance and sustainability. This series is to complement the SABI podcast series that was recently launched as a platform to share knowledge and some frustrations on entrepreneurship and business leadership. 

  1.  The previous epistle focussed on the strategic issues that business leaders and C-Suite executives are currently faced with, as the entire world seeks protection from the ravaging COVID19. 
  2.  Many thanks to you, Don, and your strong wife, Jennifer, whom I was privileged to meet during one of my previous strategic sessions for your company’s leadership team along with your spouses. As a senior executive in a Fortune500 company, I won’t forget the enormous contributions that she made during that strategy session in a hurry. Kindly extend my greetings to her. 
  3. This second epistle to you is to address the concerns and the frustrations you expressed in your response to my last epistle to you. I am not unaware of those challenges that you are currently facing in trying to manage your various teams remotely while also combining that with your role as a mathematics and science tutor to Hillary and David, your two children, as a result of the school closure. 
  4. As you would probably expect, I am also faced with similar challenges too. I am currently working from home in California and I also have to supervise my children as they started e-learning sessions with their teachers last week. As the e-learning program is an emergency arrangement by the school, there were a lot of initial glitches. My wife had to be tracking the announcements and updates from the school as we were getting an average of about 20 emails from the school every day. It was chaos! 
  5.  As business leaders, we need to recognise that our employees are also facing similar challenges and they need to enhance their work-life integration while working from their respective homes. Work-Life integration is a very challenging topic for many leaders and employees. It is now more challenging in this era of remote working. Hence, it is important that you deploy a process to ensure that your team is still as productive as working from the office. The businesses must still meet customer demands in pursuit of the high performance goals that has been agreed with the teams and individual employees. 
  6. How can these things be? Let me share some ideas with you based on my experience working with teams, especially those with flexible working arrangements, over the past two decades. 
  7. Leverage on Collaboration tools. Similar to working from the office, employees or team members should be able to communicate in real time as they get the work done and seek help whenever they face any challenges. Tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, WhatsApp and Telegram groups can help your employees keep in touch and seek clarification as they get work done. 
  8. Deploy and Monitor KPIs. Ensure that you agree on key performance indicators (KPIs) with each of your direct reports. These KPIs must be directly related to the overall company goals. These KPIs should be cascaded downwards to all the teams so that team leads and supervisors are able to set deliverables at the beginning of every week to guide the work being done in their various teams. This will further ensure that the team is properly engaged to deliver on agreed tasks or items.  
  9. Let there be regular communication. As work gets done, it is also important for team members to share their progress towards achieving the set team objectives or goals. This helps to show when a team member is having a difficulty or if a particular task is taking too long to be completed. The updates could be given through an agreed channel daily or weekly depending on the nature of the task and the team. In my experience, informal team meetings every week or twice per week has delivered better results in most of my teams. The team can agree to have a fixed short video meeting weekly where employees can be open and share their highlights and lessons. In the past few weeks, I have used Skype and Zoom Video meetings to keep in touch with my teams, and this still gives us that feel of a physical meeting.  
  10. Create an environment of openness and trust. Remote working is largely successful when the team is open and honest and feel free to communicate whatever challenges or issues they have. One of the simple ways to achieve this is to lead by example, communicating your own or the team’s challenges, seeking to get possible solutions from your team members. In turn, whenever, they have challenges, they use the same approach. Remember also that most of them are at home with their families – so it is possible to be occasionally distracted by children and other family members even when they are on a video meeting. It is an unusual time for everyone – including you! 
  11.  You can Still Be Social. All work, and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.  As team members work, it is also interesting to include ways that they can further interact and bond with one another even without being physically present. Online games like scrabble, chess and other mobile games are effective ways to get this done. During the week, I suggested a crazy idea – e-HappyHour – for one of my teams and we decided to try it. It was real fun! We connected via Zoom Video, with one of the team members acting as the DJ from his shared screen, while all of us were sharing about the drinks we were having during the e-HappyHour.  
  12.  As you work from home, make sure that you continue to be effective and efficient. In the same manner, you need to encourage your team members to deploy efficient work from home habits as well, to ensure the achievement of their work deliverables while working from home. The methods and habits I included in this note below are just mere guidance based on what works for me at the moment. 
  13.  Have a Daily Plan. Similar to the office where you have daily things to do and deliverables, working from home should not be different. At the beginning of each day, set out deliverables and eliminate as you complete them. 
  14.  Have a Resource Plan. Working from home requires that you have adequate active data subscription, uninterrupted power supply and functional work devices like laptops and printers. Ensure that you have a back-up plan for each of these required resources. There shouldn’t be any excuse for any interruption caused by any of these resources. 
  15. Work in a room with little distractions. Working at home requires focus; hence it is important to make your home workspace devoid of distractions. Working in places with distractions such as the sitting room may lead to distraction and cause avoidable errors. You also want to avoid disturbing your family members during official calls and meetings.  
  16. Take Regular Breaks. When you are tired, take timed breaks to rest, eat, take a nap or chat with others at home. It is important to make the breaks timed so as not to stay for too long. It is best to assign your break after certain deliverables have been met.  
  17. Review your daily activities. At the end of each day, review what was done – how many tasks were completed, what was achieved, what is outstanding and why? Were there any interruptions that should be sorted ahead of the following day? 
  18. Don, I am aware that this is a very challenging period for business leaders globally. Businesses need to continue to evaluate their business strategy as nations continue to fight this COVID19 epidemic. It is painful that some businesses or business segments might need to scale down or shut down operations, hopefully for a short-term period. Leaders must take necessary actions, as necessary, without emotions. 
  19. Remember, as a C-Suite officer, you have a primary goal. Your primary stakeholders expect you to still deliver a good performance.  
  20. I remain your advisor and executive business coach.  

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