Difficult Times Yield Valuable Lessons

Magazine ,

By Josh Gold, CAE, CMP

Executive Vice President 

Ok, I'll admit it. I’ve never been a big fan of working from home. Maybe I’m “old fashioned” but I’ve always preferred to work in an office setting and, as I’ve found myself managing a team of employees, I’ve always preferred to have them working from the office as well. Before mid-March, I’d probably not worked from home more than two or three times over the past decade. There are a million reasons why I’d tell you that it’s better for me to work from the office: I’m more productive, there are fewer distractions (that pile of laundry is calling my name as I write this), and the Wi-Fi is much, much faster! But ultimately, I think I prefer to work from the office because I’m a people person and the collaborative environment of face-to-face working energizes me in a way that working solo never will. 

But, like many of your companies and communities, FAA closed its headquarters office on March 17 and the decision as to whether or not we would work from home was made for me. Employees set up work space in their homes, which became their “offices” for at least 12 weeks. With no road map to follow, no precedent to review, we found ourselves relying on trial and error to figure out processes and procedures. As an article in Time magazine proclaimed, “The Coronavirus Outbreak Has Become the World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment.” 

It’s an experiment that has yielded some valuable data, some of which can be useful in the long-term. Here are some of the lessons my team and I learned. 

Figure out how you’re going to communicate.

From the beginning of our work-from-home status, we had “stand-up” meetings, almost every day and usually in the morning. The term “stand-up” refers to a short meeting where everyone will remain standing and thus be more apt to stay on topic. Our stand-up meetings consisted primarily of team members reporting what they’re working on, giving updates on projects, maybe asking for feedback regarding a particular challenge. But the meetings weren’t all business, all the time. My team loves trivia, for example, and so we’d often close the meeting with a few fun trivia questions. 

Understand that people’s differences might be magnified.

The varying strengths among individuals can be a huge part of what makes a team successful. When “normal” suddenly and unexpectedly undergoes a radical shift, the ebb and flow that previously characterized the team no longer works. For example, some team members might like the instantaneous communication and issue resolution of online chats or instant messages. For others, the ding that signals an incoming message can constitute an interruption to the focus they need to work. 

Encourage your team to establish and stick to a schedule.

Early on in the “safer at home” phase of the pandemic, Capt. Scott Kelly, FAA’s 2019 annual conference keynote speaker shared lessons learned about isolation during his year in space. “You need to schedule things like work, rest, taking care of your environment — your ‘space station,’ whether that’s the house you live in or the apartment you live in. Take time to go outside, if you can. Sunlight and nature are so very important to our health.” 

Be flexible.

How often did we hear in the past few months that we need to “pivot”? How about “new normal” or “unprecedented times”? Changing economic and societal conditions, as well as government orders, forced all of us to change priorities. FAA pivoted by taking a leap into online learning. Despite never having provided online education, FAA presented several successful webinars on Thursdays in April and May. These free webinars covered topics such as leasing, building community, and fair housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was even a webinar just for suppliers. FAA members can access recordings of the Thursday webinars at www.faahq.org/recorded-webinars. In addition, FAA offered legal webinars with guest speakers Harry Heist and Ryan McCain, for a total of 10 webinars over the course of seven weeks. 

Be compassionate.

While it may be tempting to adopt an attitude of “keep calm and carry on,” you can bet your staff or your colleagues are dealing with struggles you may not be aware of. In addition to trying to work from home with children, pets, or partners underfoot, they may be truly fearful about their own health or that of family members. They may be frustrated by not being able to visit elderly family members. 

Establish and respect boundaries between work and home.

Technology made working remotely possible. Technology also makes it possible to be connected all the time, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. When we work in an office, our commute signals the beginning and end of the work day. When working from home, we need to create that delineation, such as by taking a walk when you log off for the day. Of course, there will be times when it’s necessary to work outside of your usual hours. Just make sure that the “usual hours” don’t become “all the time.” 

By the time you read this, I expect we will be working at FAA headquarters once again. It is my hope that the lessons we learned while we were working remotely will carry through to help us all grow as individuals, and to make the FAA team more effective than ever.