CT Expert Insights: Remote Working during the Coronavirus Crisis with Roberta Matuson

As a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, we are seeing a huge rise in employees working from home.

“Talent Maximizer” Roberta Matsun provides advice on how companies can best maintain productivity and support their workers during this time of uncertainty. Providing technological assistance, communicating regularly, and embracing flexibility can go a long way in helping new and seasoned remote workers adjust better to the changes and remain engaged.

Roberta Matuson, President of Matuson Consulting, has helped Fortune 500 companies and small- and medium-sized businesses. She is the author of Evergreen Talent: A Guide to Hiring and Cultivating a Sustainable Workforce and numerous other books on leadership and management.



Greg Corombos: Hi, I'm Greg Corombos. Our guest this week on Expert Insights is Roberta Matuson. She's President of Matuson Consulting. She is known worldwide as the talent maximizer. She's also the author of numerous books, the most recent one, Evergreen Talent. Today we want to draw on her many talents to have us understand better what telework is all about, how to make productivity as strong as possible. And for those who are just now trying to set up telework in this coronavirus environment, what's the smartest way to do it? So a lot to discuss, and obviously a very timely topic. And Roberta, thanks very much for your time today.

Roberta Matuson: Oh, it's my pleasure.

GC: So for those who are new to this and don't have a history of their colleagues working from home or teleworking in some capacity, how do you set this up right? In other words, how do you assure productivity without looking like you don't trust people?

RM: Well, I think you, first of all, have to reset your expectations. And you should have been doing this all along. But if you haven't been, I'd like you to really think about heeding the advice I'm about to give. And that is measure people's productivity based on results and not face time. Some people right now are working under some extremely challenging times. And, you know, if you've got young children at home and you're caring for an aging parent, and you've got a dog, and you've got all this stuff going on, expecting people to be at their quote, unquote, desk from nine to five is really rather unrealistic. Maybe your employee needs to do their work from you know, 9 p.m. to you know, 5 a.m. in the morning, because that works for them. So just get really clear on what the expectations are. And if possible, try to be flexible.

GC: Flexibility is a big key. And obviously, as you mentioned, it's not going to be a nine to five schedule a lot of cases, particularly if there's a family involved. You also talked about in a recent column for Forbes giving people control. What do you mean by that?

RM: Well, right now, if you think about it, all of us feel like we're out of control. Like we have, we have no control over whether we're going to be let out of our houses tomorrow. I mean, maybe today, we can go, maybe we can't go tomorrow. And so it's really in your best interest to allow your employees to do the work the way they know how to do it best. And so, you know, giving them the opportunity to set up their workday, like we just talked about, and telling them what you want to get done during this time. And readjusting those timelines and letting them lead the way here. And you know, checking in and asking them if you know they need anything else from you and letting them know you're there for them.

GC: One of the other things we talked about is making sure that you don't assume that everybody's on the same page, technologically speaking. Because some people they're going to be much more naturally able to adapt to working online doing a Zoom conference like we're doing right now to do this interview because we're both working from home. Other people, not tech-savvy. So how do you get everybody up to speed when you can all be in the same place?

RM: Well, I think first of all, you have to realize that things may not go smoothly the first time. You know, an example of this is the call that we're having, you know, our first attempt to have this conversation, Zoom wasn't working perfectly. So there are going to be some blips in the system. And so you need to be patient. You also need to provide resources for your employees as to where they can get some quick training. You know, whether you suggest they go on to YouTube, whether you're part of LinkedIn, learning where there are tons of courses that people can take on technology-related topics, you know, you have to be there to help them. Don't just say, hey, we'll meet you on that Zoom call. And they're like, what is that?

GC: Another issue that we've been kind of talking about the nuts and bolts of getting stuff done. And that's obviously a huge part of business. But as we've been learning on this podcast over many years now, the human element is becoming obviously a bigger and bigger part of success in the workplace. In other words, making everybody feel like they're part of the team, like they're valued. And obviously, you can get an email back saying, hey, great job. Hey, this looks great. Just tweak these things, and I think we're going to be all set to go. Other people just want that in person. I don't know validation’s the right word or just the sense of spirit in that they are valued. So, you talked about checking in with people, but how else might that look?

RM: I don't think that you can over-communicate right now. And you know, as I write in my book, Evergreen Talent, you know, how you show up as a leader every day will really dictate whether or not your employees choose to show up for you, you know, today and tomorrow. And so something to keep in mind is that this too shall pass. And so whatever you're doing today, your employees are going to remember when they get a call from a headhunter three months from now, they might think twice about taking that call because they're going to remember. Yeah, I remember when my boss, you know, had pizza delivered to my house when I was in the middle of this coronavirus crisis. And I was trying to take care of my work as well as my family. So anything that you can do that's out of the ordinary would certainly be appreciated.

GC: We're talking with Roberta Matuson, President of Matuson Consulting here on Expert insights. And Roberta, this question might be coming too late for some people, but for those who didn't have much of a telework presence until this coronavirus crisis hit, and either they're scrambling right now or they feel like they're going to have to put this together some point very soon. Is there a right way and a wrong way to do this?

RM: Well, there isn't a right or wrong way. It's really whatever way you can put it together. You know, this is not like the financial crisis that we went through a number of years ago. You know, there were warning signs that the economy was slowing down. And we had very little warning that this was actually going to happen. And many people when they saw what was happening in China thought, you know, that's halfway across the world. That that doesn't impact me. And so, you know, I would just say do the best you can, even the Olympics are postponed, right? No one's holding up the scorecards saying, you know, 10.

GC: Now that's exactly right. Then you've also written a Forbes column about, and you talked about this a little bit, but ensuring your employees remain long after the coronavirus is gone. So in addition to making them feel valued, and checking in on them, possibly sending some perks their way like a free pizza or some other way to just show that they're valued. How do you think that telework or even just work in general, could possibly change in the coming months and years as a result of what people are having to adapt to right now?

RM: Well, I'm really hoping that this is a lesson that employers remember. Because I have clients. I mean, I'm an advisor to some top executives. And some of them are very hesitant or have been to allow their workers to work from home. And so I think this is going to be a really interesting social experiment that will show them that this is possible, and that it does work. And especially if the employees, you know, take this seriously, and they continue to do their jobs and they continue to do the best that they can. They may stand a very good chance of convincing their boss that they don't really need to come in to the office every day.

GC: One of the things we like to do on this podcast, if it's pertinent to the topic at hand, is to determine whether there's a different way to approach things if you're a large business or versus a small business. When it comes to telework, and adapting to situations like this or just adapting into what work of the future and now the present is becoming, is there much of a difference whether you're a small business or a large business?

RM: Well, I think it's a great opportunity for small businesses. Because when you're a small business, and you have to pay rent, and that rent is based on square footage, then the more people you have in the office, you know, the more overhead you have. And so if this experiment works for you, this may actually end up in the long run, helping to save you money with a large company. Obviously, if it cost another thousand dollars a year to house an employee, it's probably no big deal. But I think this is a real opportunity to revisit the way all businesses operate, and see how they can do it more efficiently, while providing their employees with flexibility, which really is the key these days to employee retention.

GC: Fascinating insights, and I hate to end on a downer, but what are the telltale signs that the way you got things set up isn't working,

RM: Your employees are crying on their Zoom call?

GC: Good indication, yes.

RM: You know, or maybe they haven't showered in days? You know, those are some signs,

GC: Obviously, at an unprecedented time, it's good to have insights like yours for folks who have some experience with telework and others who are absolutely trying to figure it out as they go right now. So thank you very much for your insights.

RM: Sure. And if any of your listeners have questions, they can reach out to me at roberta(at)matusonconsulting.com, and I'd be happy to answer their questions.

GC: That's Roberta at matusonconsulting.com. That's M A T U S O N. And Roberta, really good to be with you again today. Thank you.

RM: Thank you.

GC: Roberta Matuson is President of Matuson Consulting. She's the author most recently of Evergreen Talent, known around the world as the Talent Maximizer. I'm Greg Corombos. This is Expert Insights.

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