Leadership, communication and teleworking in times of confinement

Juan Luis Polo

13 April 2020

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“You don’t develop courage when all is well, but when you survive difficult times and defy adversity.”


COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work and communicate, taking us from the physical contact of a meeting or conversation to the lack of it. We have gone from wondering whether teleworking fits our company to it being the only possible option. 

For many companies, the challenge has been discovering how to do this, for others it has been expanding what they were already doing, but for all of them it has been a challenge of an unknown calibre: how can we maintain leadership based on personal contact when we can only see each other through screens?

Tackling the concept of telework means discovering or consolidating the tools and technologies that make it possible. But the most important part of this crisis for a company is not which tools to choose for teleworking, but rather how to keep the resolve of our teams high in the terrible moment we are living. And the role of the leader is more fundamental today than ever before. We need to embrace the concept of the digital company.

In this post, we will show you how we are tackling this challenge at Good Rebels, based on our experience over the past 8 years, with 4 offices in Spain, England and Mexico and 110 people.

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Leadership in times of lockdown

If we add to the complicated role of being the leader of our teams on a daily basis in the lockdown, the situation becomes a real nightmare for many when we add the fact that many are unaccustomed to interacting remotely: 

  • Lack of practice in speaking in front of many, plus doing it through a camera, alone: there’s no feedback if the other people don’t connect their camera
  • Real discomfort due to a lack of habit and ignorance, and doubts about how to create the best atmosphere and how to be perceived

If we add to the above that it’s possible that each of us has a  different concept of “Leadership” and that it’s difficult for us to define its functional elements, this only complicates everything. 

What values can we attribute to the leader? 7 keys as a starting point 

  1. Transformative vision: includes the ability to anticipate markets and trends, make smart business decisions and solve difficult problems in turbulent times
  2. They understand technology. And they do so to the extent necessary to be able to deploy their actions through it.
  3. Pro-active and data-driven. Being proactive is more necessary than ever, but it must be based on data, not perceptions.
  4. Great Communicator. Always on the lookout for trends and relaying them to the team.
  5. Brand Ambassador #1. More than ever the example of the leader is basic for the rest of the team, who will act according to the leader(s).
  6. They clearly promote collaborative work. It has never been more important not to be left alone and that is precisely what will happen easily in lockdown.
  7. They take care of the talent of their teams. Through delegation by objectives and training, which are basic to deal with remote work.
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Let us take a closer look at the aspects that are particularly necessary at this time:

  • Pro-activity and high doses of empathy: are you asking your teams how they are doing? How are their families? Do they need anything? Maybe they just need to be heard, now more than ever.
  • Frequent and transparent communication: communicating in a transparent way is often essential: which decisions are being taken, what are the forecasts we’re handling… although it may seem better not to say anything until we are 100% clear, the reality is that silence and distance destroy the bond with our people. 
  • Empowering the best and working collaboratively: our employees become spokespersons in front of customers and stakeholders. Let’s empower them to build an effective information network for our customers. This is a task that cannot be done by the CEO of a company alone, not even by the management committee.
  • Data-driven: more than ever, data helps shape the context of what is in front of us. But we run the risk of waiting to have as much data as possible before acting. However, the “Agile” management model must prevail and become a cycle: 

stop -> collect information -> use it to anticipate -> act on it

In a situation like the one we are living in, being surrounded by the best in every field is critical. Creating a true crisis team is key to addressing what lies ahead.

Good communication practices for a leader:

If you’re a leader who feels insecure about communicating, either asynchronously or in real-time, it’s time to work on improving.

What we need on the level of communication:

  • Prioritise written communication: it is permanent, it’s easier for everyone to digest and follow, and it reduces the need for meetings. It also forces us to properly analyse what we say and what we require from others, which is key in our day to day.
  • Written communication does not require an agenda, as opposed to a meeting. It can be issued and consumed in asynchronous time.
  • Do not expect immediate or concrete answers. If you need one, say so clearly and ask specific questions.
  • Poor communication creates more unnecessary work and unwanted situations. Work well on your messages before you send them.
  • Watch out for emergencies. Evaluate whether they really are or whether it’s your own emotional situation that forces them. It is usually toxic that everything is urgent.
  • Communication usually interrupts us, so it is important to say the right thing at the right time.

Specifics for audiovisual communication.

In terms of the audiovisual format:

  • Place the computer at a certain height for the frame to be better.
  • Use equipment of a certain quality: camera, microphone and headphones that allow you to be heard clearly.
  • Use an ethernet connection if possible.
  • Place your camera (or computer) in a well-lit and quiet place.
  • Keep your notes handy so as not to interrupt the flow of the conversation and not to mislead your audience.

In terms of your message:

  • Speak slowly and vocalize loudly
  • Use a variable tone, don’t be monotonous
  • Gesture if you feel comfortable, as you would in real life

Leadership culture and tools: how we do things at Good Rebels

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We have been using Slack for 4 years in its free mode, which limits the history to 10,000 messages, and the APIs to integrate other tools. We lose old conversations, but in a sense, we prefer it that way: we have other tools to maintain content and it reinforces the need to attend to the messages.

Slack is optimal for us as an instant messenger service for teams :

  • There’s no project management, but it integrates with a lot of project management apps. 
  • It is not the best for calls, but it is relatively good for quick calls. 
  • It has no document management, but integrates well with Google Docs. 
  • It allows automatic notifications from Salesforce. 
  • Or you can post to Discourse (our online forum software) and it publishes to a channel on Slack. 

What other tools do we use?

  • Discourse (as a centralized discussion forum for permanent and longer reflections); Although it is open source, we pay premium support. 
  • Basecamp / Trello, depending on teams, for project management and info sharing. Basecamp in a paid version for everyone, which we will enhance. Trello as a free version. 
  • Notion (paid) to share info (super wikis). Brought to you by Muskae, a company we integrated a month ago). 
  • Salesforce as CRM. 
  • Harvest + Forecast. Project time control and team planning. 
  • Google Hangouts + Google Calendar for internal and external video meetings. We also have Chromeboxes in several meeting rooms (Madrid, Barcelona, Mex and Brighton). 
  • Zoom for webinars and large meetings (internal or external). With a paid license for 500 attendees.
  • Google Drive to replace Dropbox (we removed it 1 year ago, after 10 years using Dropbox). 
  • Google Docs on a continuous basis. 
  • Redmine, for IT incident ticketing management. 
  • Testing Miro, which we may pay for some users, for remote work with “whiteboard”. 
  • Tableau and Data Studio, for data visualization for clients and interns. 
  • Facetime. We all have a business iPhone. Audio/video calls, when interested  

The key rites for creating a sense of belonging. 

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We’ve been here for three weeks and we have three more to go, lacking in physical contact with our teams. Alone, in the distance, without being able to hold physical meetings and without knowing in real-time how their feelings and levels of motivation are. How can we take our physical rituals to the digital world?

What rituals took place in your company? Maybe going for a beer after work, eating together in your company’s canteen, having breakfast on Fridays in your office…

Above and beyond tools, digital leadership must seek cohesion and participation in the digital version of previously existing rites. How can they be transformed into virtual ones? Here’s how we’re doing it:.

  • At Good Rebels, we have created fixed spaces, 30 minutes at 9:30 and 30 minutes’ at 18:30 through a Zoom connection, so that everyone who wants to can connect and comment. We call them Rebel Kitchen.
  • In addition we maintain our Rebel Outlooks, monthly information meetings for the whole team (all the team 😉 )
  • And these weeks we’ve digitally organised Rebel Beers from home with a high level of participation, using Zoom as a means of connection.

This may sound strange to us, done from home and through a screen, but it is very important to keep in touch with all our team. 

And it’s the job of a company’s leaders to make sure that these moments are maintained and grow. And of course, to participate in them.

What tools and rituals do you maintain? 

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