On Thursday, March 12, 2020, we executed our Continuity of Operations (COOP) for the first time. Fast forward eight weeks, 90% of our people are working virtually and 10% of our people continue supporting our clients and their missions on the frontlines.
Like many leaders trying to determine how to navigate COVID-19, I was nervous and anxious, a feeling that I always got before the start of a sports game. But when the symbolic whistle blew on March 12, it was game time. All those feelings rushed through my veins and I became hungry and focused on protecting my team to position for the win.
Executing our COOP in the height of a pandemic is also the first time that many of our human-centered design capabilities were leveraged to enhance our own operations and answer important questions like: how do we continue to onboard people during the pandemic, how do we enhance our logistics, and how do improve collaboration and not miss a beat?
Since there’s no playbook for leading through a pandemic, we focused on optimizing the new business model of operating virtually. Here are some of the plays we’ve developed over the last eight weeks:
Play 1: Growing the Team
Our first decision fundamentally changed how we operate today. We decided not to cancel our new hire orientation on Monday, March 16, 2020. Our processes were well documented, team leaders were prepared, and systems were upgraded (Microsoft Teams and Zoom were recently deployed to our workforce).
Automate, AUTOMATE, automate – focus on enhancing employee experience across IT Operations, Security, and On-boarding
Play 2: Communicating on the Field
More importantly, how do we continue building trust and confidence in a rapidly scaling organization when in-person interactions have been removed? We adopted the stance that it was not possible to over-communicate in a pandemic. We use daily communications, wikis, Teams channels, company-wide huddles, newsletters, one-on-ones, and virtual social get-togethers to keep the team connected and informed.
Communicate early and often to increase transparency and trust with people – conduct Weekly Huddles (our version of micro town halls), host Reddit-like AMAs with leadership, and crowdsource our re-opening procedures to hear concerns.
Play 3: Keep your head in the game
I asked myself that Thursday many questions about how MetroStar Systems would change on Friday. But more importantly, how to confidently lead my team and ensure them that we will find their way through this global pandemic.
As a leader, in times of hardship, you must balance between logic and emotion. You must handle strategic, operational, and tactical tasks with speed, empathy, and accuracy. It’s easy to focus on quick senseless decisions as a guise for productivity that create anxiety and snags in the mid- to long-term.
Focus on reinforcing cultural principles and virtues, invest dollars to upskill the workforce, and continue to provide opportunities to recent college graduates.
Play 4: Preparing for the Future
I always remember what my favorite professor, Dr. Rose Cherubin at George Mason University taught me in her pre-Socratic class focused on Heraclitus: “It is in changing that we find purpose.”
We are a coalition of “minds” working together to adapt. Our cultural principles and virtues will be tested, measured, and leveraged. I have realized that the confidence in our workforce has increased. What is amazing is that our financial performance has also increased. In our third week as a virtual organization, we committed to investing back into our people by distributing merit increases and promotions. We have not stopped giving kudos and highlighting our stories of resiliency, performance, and compassion. We have won and lost business, but most importantly we have hired 35 new amazing new employees and the performance outcomes show it.
Stay strong and I look forward to your comments, ideas, and wisdom. While there may not have been a playbook for navigating a pandemic in March, there are some great ones for navigating the post-COVID-19 world, below is a link to ours:
Check out MetroStar’s COVID-19 Workplace Readiness Playbook