What I Said To My Team At The Start Of COVID-19

In March 2020 the COVID pandemic was just beginning to strike the United States. During that month of massive uncertainty, this is what I messaged my team:

Hey all. With everything that is going on, I want to be explicit with you all about how we work in this new reality.

  1. All this is not normal. This is not a regular work week but from home, this is something harder. We are still learning how to operate in this new reality, we will make mistakes at the start, and we will get better at it in time.
  2. We will assume positive intent. These are hard times. Everyone is going through tough personal situations and stressors. This can cause folks to lash out in frustration or fear. As a team we will rigidly assume positive intent and operate with empathy with our stakeholders, our peers, and each other.
  3. Flexibility is key. We need to be flexible when it comes to work — folks are going through massive schedule and life stressors, they might have four kids in a small apartment, the best time for them to work might be 9pm to 3am on the couch or by taking work calls from their car. How people work is less important than our impact on the organization: e.g. Are requests for analyses answered? Are stakeholders supported?
  4. Overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate. Change what you are working on because of a change in company priority? Tell the team. Ship something? Tell the team. Become blocked? Tell the team. Learn something new? Tell the team. Have worries about a project? Tell the team.
  5. Async communication is a first-class citizen. People’s work schedules have been completely reset. A lot of folks are working from home for the first time and often working from home while parenting their kids. This means that very often attending a call in a quiet room, at a specific time is far more difficult than async communication over Slack.
  6. I will be as honest with you all and provide as much context for you all as I can. If I don’t know something, I will tell you. If something hasn’t been decided, I will tell you. If something isn’t working, I will tell you and fix it.
  7. We will maximize team member’s sense of control. There is so much outside of our control right now, as much as possible we want team members to feel a sense of control over their work. Wherever possible, tasking will define the outcomes needed, leaving how those outcomes are achieve to team members.