Responding to COVID-19 Challenges: 7 Key Insights from Bay Area Controllers

BVOH Search & Consulting recently hosted a webinar on the topic of adaptability and facing the challenges of COVID-19. As moderator of this event, I was joined by Controllers from around the Bay Area to discuss their experience managing a team, hiring, and onboarding during the pandemic, as well as their best practices for adjusting to this new work environment. Here are seven strategies some of the Bay Area’s top Controllers have found essential as they respond to the challenges of COVID-19.

Schedule Daily “Micro Meetings”

Without a corporate office environment, micro-meetings offer a way to build culture and camaraderie among coworkers. A daily team standup keeps you on schedule. In this brief meeting, you can discuss the day’s priorities, make sure your team is aligned, and review schedules so you know when your coworkers are available.

Responding to the Accounting Challenges of COVID-19 webinar panelists, Angelina Hendraka, Paul Henderson, Peter Ornowski, and Madhvi Puri.

During quarantine, we all need a higher level of flexibility during the day to take care of personal matters. But since we’re not all working the same hours, we also need to know when our teammates are available. By discussing the schedule at the start of the day, you’ll know who you can reach when and help hold each other accountable to meeting deadlines. A daily stand-up is especially helpful in making sure the team is on the same page during critical times (like month-end close) when there are lots of moving parts.

Establish Virtual Hallways

Shared office space provides daily opportunities for quick hallway, bathroom, or break room conversations with coworkers or employees. To help keep up (or establish) these connections, assign everyone on your team a random coworker weekly. They should have a 15-minute conversation at any point during the week with their partner. Over time, these conversations will help build morale and cultivate connections that otherwise can’t happen while we work remotely.

Designate Hours of Availability

Carve out specific time periods where you’re fully available for the team, and keep this time consistent throughout the week. This window of availability designates a time for immediate response. Maybe you make yourself available from 9:00-10:00 each morning so your team knows they can contact you about quick questions or feedback during this time. If you’re on another call, they know you’ll call right back. Essentially, this helps you hold specific office hours, regardless of what other hours you’re working.

Manage Deliverables, Not Calendars

Certain tasks and deadlines have non-negotiable time frames, but not all. In many situations, there’s room for flexibility. Does it matter what time people work as long as the work is finished? Focus on the deliverables more than the work hours when possible. This approach requires managers to clearly communicate goals, ensure the team is on the same page, and empower staff to push back if they are too busy. If a staff member doesn’t feel a goal is manageable, they need to feel secure saying, “I can’t do that.” Otherwise, there is an implied agreement the work will be done by the stated date.

Practice Transparency On Your Calendar

If you want to facilitate a culture of clear communication, practice transparency. Be intentional about indicating what you’re doing, especially during traditional office hours. This allows people on your team to see that it’s okay not to be available every hour from 9 to 5. Block time on your calendar as “Child Care,” “Exercise,” “Homeschool,” or “Family Time” to show your team it’s acceptable to designate hours that aren’t for work. With the lines of the workday being blurred between weekday, evening, and weekend, we need practices to help us separate work from personal life.

“As the environment clears and shelter-in-place regulations lift, we’ll find many of the best practices carry over to long-term approaches for success.”

One of the best ways to help your team with this is by setting an example of taking a break from work. Get some exercise, walk the dog, play with your kids — and put it on the calendar. When the manager does it, they give others the freedom to do it too.

Conduct Interviews With a Team Panel

If you’re interviewing to fill positions while sheltering-in-place, candidates have limited access to understanding your office culture. You can make up for that by having more people on your team take part in the video interview process. Create opportunities for the candidate to experience the group dynamics and meet their potential coworkers. Including peer-level panelists, or even people from a different department who might interact with this position, can be an effective way to provide the candidate more insight to your company. Some people may be skittish about joining a team they’ve never met in person or working at an office they’ve never visited, but this gives them a way to connect on a different level.

Simplify Onboarding with Online Tools

Working from home has the potential to positively impact your onboarding processes long-term. Particularly, it may force the team at large to be more thoughtful and organized in the training process. Screencasting and process documentation tools (such as Loom or Snagit) allow managers to train on their own time. You can then catalog these short videos to create an online library of company-specific training modules. This allows both managers and new employees to train during the hours that work best for the individual. Anytime you think of something else a new hire should know, you’re able to record a short training video to get them going. If you’re joining a company during this time, there are things you can do to become integrated too. Be proactive about becoming visible to your new coworkers. Meet the right groups of people, schedule the right meetings, and initiate partnerships. It takes an added effort to get to know your coworkers in the current conditions, but don’t let it slip through the cracks. Establishing these relationships online can work surprisingly well. Just because you can’t meet in person doesn’t mean you can’t build a relationship. Adjusting to the new dynamic of managing an entirely remote team is different, but it’s doable. As the environment clears and shelter-in-place regulations lift, we’ll find many of the best practices carry over to long-term approaches for success.

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