How to Avoid Remote Work Disasters to Address the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt our work lives. As a result, companies worldwide are shifting their employees to a virtual setup. However, there are those who have not considered the potential problems that can arise due to this change.

Pete, one of my coaching clients, experienced this a few months before the pandemic hit. As a mid-level manager in the software engineering unit of a startup of 400 employees doing Electronic Health Records (EHRs), he was given the task of shifting everyone to a telecommute setup as a cost-reduction measure due to rising rents on their office building. Specifically, Pete was in charge of the team that led the transition.

While he had previous experience helping smaller teams of 3 to 6 people shift to a virtual setup, the larger group was proving to be a challenge. It also didn’t help that he was only given four weeks to complete the project. I recommended the following “Failure-Proofing Strategy” to him.

3 Key Steps to Preventing Disasters in Implementing Decisions

Step 1: Imagine that the decision failed and brainstorm reasons for the failure

Gather your key stakeholders and a facilitator and present your plan. Then, ask the stakeholders to imagine a future where the plan failed. 

Next, ask each participant to anonymously list down three potential reasons that the plan did not succeed. These reasons should factor in both internal and external factors and decisions within the scope of the project team.

The facilitator will then gather the statements and discuss the points raised, highlighting the ones which would usually not be brought up if the process wasn’t anonymous. 

For this first step, Pete gathered 6 stakeholders composed of managers and team leaders from the departments that urgently needed to be shifted to a telework setup. He also recruited Ann, a member of the firm’s Advisory Board, to be an independent facilitator.

Ann presented the current plan, which was to transition all 400 employees to a work-from-home setup in four weeks. Pete’s team will be migrating the employees to a virtual setup in batches of 100 people weekly. The records division will be part of the last group to be moved, giving them more time to convert their processes and files to digital forms.

Next, the participants gave reasons for the plan’s failure. When Ann read out the statements, the key theme that emerged was poor communication. The stakeholders brought up past cases of miscommunication of policy changes, citing that the same could also happen to the migration plan.

Step 2: Brainstorm ways to fix problems and integrate your ideas into the plan

Pick the most relevant plan failure that the group came up with and think of possible solutions, with the facilitator writing these down as well. Don’t forget to present evidence that the failure being tackled is happening or about to happen. Make sure to have people with authority in the room for this step.

Going back to Pete’s group, Mary, an HR manager, volunteered to address the communication problem proactively. She decided to discuss the communication issues brought up by the participants with senior management.

Further, she would suggest that senior management send out a company-wide announcement regarding the shift to a work-from-home setup, including the steps that will be taken.

Senior managers would then meet with their direct reports in middle management to get their buy-in to make sure that the message was cascaded down the chain of command. Each middle manager would then meet with their direct reports to work out the details of the next steps for each team.

Step 3: Imagine that the decision succeeded, brainstorm ways of achieving this outcome, and integrate your ideas into the plan

Have the group imagine a future where the plan was a success and ask the participants to provide reasons for this outcome anonymously. Next, the facilitator will gather the statements and lead the group in discussing the reasons and identifying which ones need to be focused on. Then, the group will come up with ways to maximize the reasons identified.

Going back to Pete, there was one theme that emerged when Ann asked the stakeholders to anonymously list down the reasons for success: They imagined this was because senior management was responsive to the company employees’ concerns regarding the migration. To provide appropriate support, Pete’s team set up a number that employees could call or text. This number was always manned by members of the team, ready to answer questions from staff.


Protect your company from remote work disasters by making use of the “Failure-Proofing” strategy before making major decisions. You can also apply this technique to evaluate key projects and processes.

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