How to make the most out of leading during COVID-19

How to make the most out of leading during COVID-19

Kitchen tables have become work surfaces and lab tables. Refrigerators have become canvasses. Closets have become conference rooms. Everything around us is functioning differently… and so are we.

I don’t know about you all out there, but I feel like I’m as busy if not busier working from home than I normally am when I’m at work in the office. The effects of the coronavirus are being felt in one way or another by every family and every business. Daily routines and business models have been uprooted and forced to change in ways that no one could have ever predicted. But in the process, lessons can be learned and we can adapt ourselves and our work habits for the better as we venture into a new work culture landscape.

Re-engage Your Community

This has given us such a great opportunity to engage with our community in ways that we haven’t really been doing recently. I feel reenergized because when I look back to the very beginning when we started GoldieBlox, we were so communicative with our fans; and it feels like that again. It’s fun to have direct dialogue with our consumers, and now we have a lot to talk about and a lot of time to talk about it.

GoldieBlox’s mission is to close the gender gap in STEM and we’ve been incredibly lucky to build such a strong following of like-minded, empowering individuals. While we wish it were under better circumstances, it’s been exciting to be able to be a fun and educational resource for parents and kids. And the response has been amazing.

When GoldieBlox first started in 2012, it was a total community affair. We launched on Kickstarter and interacting with our backers was a daily — if not hourly — affair. We consulted with our fans constantly on product development and packaging design, we included them in our marketing videos and photoshoots, we invited them to help us pack and ship our first products. Hey, we even hosted GoldieBlox birthday parties at our office. As time went on and the company grew, these intimate interactions grew fewer and farther between. 

In many ways, the pandemic has brought us back to our community roots. As soon as the shelter-in-place mandate hit and we realized how many kids would be stuck at home and out of school, we knew we had an opportunity to step up as a brand and really act as a useful resource to kids and families during the crisis. We started asking ourselves, “How can we help offer fun, educational STEAM activities and inspirational content for families…every. single. day?” We quickly got to work planning and in less than a week, we turned our email newsletter — which we had only previously been sending out on a monthly basis — into a daily feed of resources, activities, trivia and more. We’ve created a 2-way dialogue with our fans, collecting stories, ideas and tips from them on how they are dealing with homeschooling, talking to their kids about COVID, etc. We even hosted a live Q&A on YouTube with Dorothy Tovar, a bat virologist from Stanford University, who answered kids’ questions about the coronavirus and explained the importance of social distancing. We invited our entire community to attend and had over 1000 concurrent participants. The Q&A has had 142,000 viewers so far and Dorothy received hundreds of comment submissions from the live audience during the stream.

I wanted to build a business that was good for humanity. And when something like this happens, it’s a forced reminder of what I really value in life: Health, Family, and Education. I’m really thankful that GoldieBlox can be useful right now for families. What we do is more important now than ever, and it gives me a real purpose in a time where I otherwise am stressed and anxious. I can push those negative thoughts aside and focus on what we can do today that will be helpful to people. Being a resource for others is what our team is really excited about.

Optimize Workflow Processes

While my work life has drastically changed, I’ve come to realize that some of what I first perceived to be inconveniences have actually proven to enhance the overall functionality of my business. I think that there’s been a lot of good things that have come out of this in regard to improving workstreams. Since everyone is working from home and we can’t be face-to-face, we’ve had to be really process-oriented about how we do things because we’re not having those water cooler conversations anymore. 

For example, we’ve centralized our business operations tracker so that the whole executive team has visibility into everything in motion, a definite improvement over our former system of each department managing its own dashboard. It’s helping out with more cross-collaboration and we will definitely continue to use these tools after. Gosh, we would’ve been so much more productive before had we already had these in place…

Improve Organizational Communication / Over-Communicate

In a way, social distancing has improved communication within my company. All of us at GoldieBlox are rallying around a common cause — being a go-to resource for families during the crisis, — which has been a huge motivating factor. It’s brought the team together. Trying to lead through this, I know how important it is to over-communicate, especially when people are in different places. We’re all Zoom’ing, talking and emailing a lot and we’re really getting a great deal done!

One way that we’ve adapted our communication approach during this work from home period has been through a weekly reflection email that I send out to the team. Every Friday, I write up and distribute a recap of things the team accomplished during the week, a summary of what we’re working on, links to relevant news and pop culture bits, and a motivational message and note of appreciation. It’s extremely important to be transparent with your employees and to show them support now more than ever.

On that note of open communication, one simple yet super effective solution to ensure that work production does not falter too much is to make sure that everyone has each other’s phone numbers. Put a stop to the endless email threads with 20 people cc’ed by picking up the phone and calling the person to help resolve issues efficiently. Leading by example in doing this will encourage others to do the same. You’ll quickly find that an email thread that would have lasted days and bogged down multiple people’s inboxes can be resolved with a 5-minute phone call.

The thing I miss most about working in the office is seeing everyone’s faces each day, which is something that really can’t be replaced. We’ve begun doing a weekly “All Hands” virtual meeting that may not be the most productive of all meetings, but I think it’s important to just have facetime. It’s crucial to check in and keep everyone motivated and excited about the stuff that’s going on. You just have to remember to keep scheduling in these human interactions and touchpoints. 

Getting Personal

To that last point, I also think there’s something really cool about seeing coworkers’ dogs and meeting their kids on video calls because it connects people more intimately than before, which I believe leads to more human and better relationships. I feel like this has been an opportunity for me to get more authentic with my team. From introducing my toddler to the team on conference calls, wearing sweats on video chat, giving the heads up I’m muting myself for bathroom breaks, etc., I’m hopefully encouraging others to let their guards down and be more personable with one another. I believe that only positives can come from enabling more human connections and interactions between our team members.

Balance Family Time with Work Time

As CEO of a company that makes toys, I have the awesome benefit of being able to combine work and play with my son. Breakfast each morning has become product development time, where my son and I play with toy prototypes at the kitchen table. But while it’s a blessing to work in such proximity to your kids, it also comes with a lot of challenges and distractions. Time management is essential. With another baby on the way and a rapidly approaching due date, this is especially relevant to me.

Once the workday ends, family time picks up immediately. My son’s favorite activity is to go into the yard and spray the hose, so we all head outside to capture the remaining daylight together. Being home throughout the day has also given me more time to cook new, exciting meals with the family too, so dinner time together has become even more special. I’ve learned that it’s important to remember to cherish the small joys that the extra time at home is allowing you, like additional moments and memories with the ones you love.

I’m most appreciative and thankful for my family and my whole team being healthy right now. If there’s one thing to take away about how to lead effectively during this time, it would be to constantly communicate and remain open and transparent with your employees. This is an extremely stressful time for everyone right now. Circumstances change daily. Keep checking in on your team and ask how they’re doing because things change. The better you communicate, the more you’ll get done.

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