By Joe Legato, Bill and Rod’s Appliances & Grills

 At the time of this writing we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Life as we know it has changed dramatically, and daily life is nowhere near where we were.

Changes have had to be made in order to keep functioning as best that we can; teams are spread out, there are stresses tied to obligations of family and work, and for the good of our communities we are tethered to our homes. We have a choice here to either let it all overwhelm us or lean in and learn how to lead your team better.

Here are three things I have learned about managing remotely:

  • Problem solving is different. No longer can I turn around and ask a co-worker a question or interject insight for tough decisions. All communication tends to lag a bit as we are not right next to each other, and you may also have to clarify your message if the language is unclear, leading to more lag time. The delays can become incredibly irritating, especially if it is customer waiting for answers.

The best thing you can do is proofread your messages. Even go as far as reading them out loud if you can. The act of hearing and recombing through it will help you hone your message and make sure that what is there is the clear enough for all to understand. You should also end the message with the instruction to call you if additional information or clarification is required.

  • Touch base with your team frequently. Not having a physical presence tends to make it really easy for your team to get distracted or to put something on the back burner. How many times have you left for a vacation only to come back and find that inventory wasn’t checked in, or only partially, and that some of the stuff that never got checked in had already been delivered? Status updates are great way to stay on track with your team. It will take initiative on your part to start this practice with your team, and they may not understand at first, but it is important to not lose that pulse.

The other side of touching base is that you should ask genuine questions about your team’s wellbeing. It is important for them to know that you care for them and are interested in how they are coping. During this time, I have tried to reach out to five team members a day to make sure they taking care of themselves and see if there is anything I can do to help. I feel more deeply connect to my team than I ever have. Not everyone answers, but they know I am here for them.

  • Make sure your store is e-commerce-ready. At the beginning of year, we hammered away at our website to make it as functional as possible for our customers. Many days were spent adding options like web chat, click-to-call and merchandising. We added a parts portal from Marcone Supply for customers to order parts and have them shipped directly to their homes. Another key component was that customers could request service and it would go directly to our service writers to schedule. Our account executive at AVB Marketing never tired of my endless calls and emails.

Related: AVB Marketing Offers ‘Open for Business’ Assets

All of these actions made us ready to serve our community at any time or any place. We were able to meet the needs of our customers and stay in contact with them. Obviously a pandemic was not what we had in mind when we did all this, but our goal was to provide accessibility to all of our customers. It is not too late to get there; you have not missed the boat. In fact, your customers are waiting for you to get on board.

Final Thoughts…

Through all of this I have found that we can all still function. We have had our share of hiccups and have not perfected remote work yet. If you want your team to make it through this time and be ready for the next thing to rock our world, start today. Start by communicating with your team and providing access to the goods and services that you bring to your community. The lessons learned and actions taken now will forever change the way that you are able function as a team, making for a stronger, more agile operation. Take time now to evaluate what your next steps should be.

If you are having trouble, please feel free to reach out to me; I am here to help you troubleshoot or encourage that next step.

Joe Legato is Chief Operating Officer of BrandSource member Bill & Rod’s Appliance & Grills, a retail and service company in Livonia, Mich. Now in its third generation, the family-owned and operated business provides appliances, mattresses, grills, and appliance parts and service to the greater metro Detroit market.