Leading Your Team Remotely During a Crisis

By Deke Copenhaver
leading remotely

As we’ve entered into an unprecedented period in history due to the global pandemic we’re all facing, the fact that the need to lead our team’s remotely for the foreseeable future has become paramount. Whether it be communicating with your clients, your constituents, your employees, or your family, doing so remotely is the safest and easiest way to do it. I’ve long been a proponent of in-person meetings whenever possible but sadly this is no longer an option in today’s world. However, modern technology has made leading remotely more effective than ever before.

To illustrate my point, I’ll use a real-world example. In February of 2014, my final year in office, Augusta was hit with an ice storm so severe it became known as “the storm of the century”.  As the storm descended, our community was faced with massive power outages and impassable roads. Being unable to leave home for a short period, I set up a mobile command post in my kitchen with two cell phones and an iPad to stay in constant contact with my team as well as state agencies, power companies, and the governor’s office. Through this, I was able to disseminate accurate information to my constituents in real-time. I realized early on that in spite of the power outages most people still had cell phone access, so I used Twitter as a platform to share critical information in a timely manner. Basically, I had to make it up as I went along but I knew two things: accurate information flow is critical while leading in a crisis and modern technology had given me a platform to meet the need.

In the span of six years, technology and ways to directly communicate have made huge strides forward. Quick and easy teleconferencing platforms were not widely used here locally and weren’t an option I had the time to consider in the moment back in 2014. However, today there are multiple platforms available that are currently being used by leaders in business, government, and every other sector to effectively communicate with their teams remotely. Although I would hope that working from home and leading remotely doesn’t become the new normal, what leaders everywhere are learning from our current situation will help us better understand how to lead in difficult circumstances in the future. Moving forward I’m hopeful we’ll all find ways to apply these lessons learned in a beneficial manner on a much lesser scale to what we’re facing today.

As an eternal optimist, I’ve now come to understand some of the tangible benefits of leading remotely. Having spent nine years as mayor, I presided over many meetings where a vocal minority attempted to highjack the proceedings, oftentimes with some degree of success. With emotions running high, this type of meeting can begin to veer out of control as things become heated and tempers flare. During a teleconference recently with some colleagues from Australia, it dawned on me that this type of platform doesn’t lend itself to allowing for raw emotion to take over a meeting. Having all of your team members on an equal footing with equal time to share their input can actually lead to better, more civil, and more effective communication at critical junctures where emotions need to be held in check. This form of communication can also be used to provide greater transparency to our leadership efforts during a time of crisis which is crucial.

One thing I’ve always stressed is that every crisis ultimately leads to innovation, which is exactly what I’m seeing around our nation and around the upside-down world we find ourselves living in today. Leaders everywhere are coming up with innovative ways to contribute to the global fight against COVID-19 while still adhering to the critical need for social distancing. Factories are being retooled, new treatments and vaccines are being created, and average citizens are contributing to supplying much needed PPE’s for medical workers on the front lines of the fight. In the midst of what is the most challenging global event most of us will ever experience, it is simply inspiring to me to see how individuals everywhere are responding to the challenge by using the technology most of us have access to today to lead both responsibly and remotely. When asked recently what I thought some of the long-term impacts would be when we get through this situation my answer was simple: great challenges have always molded great leaders and I have absolutely no doubt those leaders are being shaped as we speak. Ultimately, in the long run our world will undoubtedly be a better place because people rose to the challenge during a time when strong leadership was needed the most.