C-Suite Agenda

How to unify your team in times of uncertainty and isolation

As I write this, measures are taken to decelerate the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). It goes without saying but, align your approach with the health and safety guidelines, both from the nationwide government bodies and from your internal group services, if you have such.

Follow the orders and input from specialists, relaying openly what they recommend or demand. In the team, make sure to be honest and crisp. Say what you do know, and what you don’t know.

To many organizations, Coronavirus means uncertainty regarding collaboration and financial results. It might also mean isolation and working-from-home due to health and safety measures, causing a boost in remote work and virtual meetings.

How do you tackle this situation as the leader of a team or a business unit and mitigate the uncertainty and isolation, and create a sense of belonging?

To cope with this (or get the most out of this situation), you need to set rules, rhythms, and good practices in a variety of areas:

Team culture and dialogue

Clear agreements on ways to collaborate and communicate

Daily/weekly check-in

“The Second Meeting”

Team culture and dialogue
This is the time to revisit, build, and strengthen the team culture and how you connect with each other. Be the role model in this. The core in this area is your team DNA: Your virtues, your behavior and words, and your reactions and emotional response to situations.


In times of remote work where you and your colleagues do not meet physically on daily or regular basis, your role as “team glue” and cultural gravitation point is extremely important.

Initially, you need to be the anchor for the team members. You shape the culture. You need to act as a distribution hub for information and tasks, and must set the bar for dialogue, transparency, involvement, and collaboration. Over time, maybe days or weeks, this behavior will hopefully be mirrored by your colleagues and team members, but the responsibility is yours.

When having a dialogue, focus on the human aspects first, secondly on business. Ask people how they are, followed by a dialogue on the tasks and progress on activities later. ‘People first’ is the mantra here.

Clear agreements on ways to collaborate and communicate 

Remote work heavily relies on technology and internet-based communication. On the list of tools are phone calls, text messages, internal platforms like Slack, Yammer, and Microsoft Teams. Or Skype and other video calls platforms like Zoom and Whereby and collaboration tools like Trello and Jira.

What you will do



Take the time to jointly agree on a scheme in your department or in your management team on how you will work on and share the following: Handling information and documents


  • Handling information and documents
  • Having a dialogue and conversations
  • Planning and following up on tasks and activities



For example, your team may handle information and documents via Google Docs, have dialogue with each other via video call and slack and plan projects and tasks via Planner or Trello.

What you don’t do

Make agreements on what you don’t do. Here are some rules, that I have seen in practice:

  • We don’t use voice mail. Voice mail is one-way communication, tedious to listen to and decode, and wastes a lot of time.
  • We don’t call back when someone tries to reach us, unless that person calls twice within a short time.
  • Emails over 200 words should be a phone call
  • Emails must not be used for discussion

The consequence if you don’t

As a direct collateral effect of working remotely, data might end up in places that you don’t want to. Collaborate with your IT department on this. When working remote, make sure to have adequate IT security measures in place, like VPN connections and local firewalls.

Be in compliance with your company policies on personal equipment, and use of approved/supported applications, and on how you handle data that you download to local computers (GDPR, for example). If not, this can result in a clean-up project for your IT department afterwards.

Daily/weekly check-in

Rhythm is vital. Make agreements in the team on rules on daily and weekly check-in. Agree on making adjustments to the rules after a period of test (maybe after 2-3 weeks).

Culture-oriented daily check-in is vital to the feeling of connectedness and fellowship. It can be as simple as a message on Slack, Yammer, or chat with a “good morning” statement, a picture of your coffee cup, and some words on your daily plans. The point is to create a culture of belonging to mitigate the feeling of isolation.

Task-oriented daily check-in can happen in small working groups or individually. Personally, I have made it a habit to call or Facetime those individual team members, that I work closely with, on a daily basis. The purpose is to be present and aware of each other, to understand how you are doing, and what is on your mind.

In the teams, daily check-in via video call is a substitute for the daily stand-up, and it works the same way. 15 minutes sharing of activities, progress, and break-troughs, ping-pong on challenges, and next steps.

Limitations on internet bandwidth plays a vital role here. Prioritize voice over video. Make sure to invest in good headsets for your team members. Sound quality is extremely important. And, as always, focus on people first and foremost.

Weekly check-in can happen on conference call meetings. Depending on the size of the team, use video too. Weekly check-in has several flavors, depending on the type of meeting:

  • Information sharing
  • Coordination of tasks
  • Decision making

Make sure to state in the beginning of the meeting what your intention is, and what you expect from the participants, and how you intend to follow up afterwards.

Discipline is vital. Be prepared, be on time, don’t interrupt, mute your microphone when you don’t speak, and use the chat function to ‘raise your hand’. As meeting host or facilitator, speak in short paragraphs, and ask for comments regularly. Make sure to actively ask for each participants opinion.

“The Second Meeting”

A personal check-in is sometimes vital as a follow-up to the daily check-in. It is also known as “The Second Meeting”, as this is where nuances and uncertainties are handled in a safe environment.

Sometimes and for some people, video meetings are not the place to share skepticism or lack of understanding/time/skills. It happens that team members just say “yes, I can handle this”, without sharing the truth. That is why “The Second Meeting” is vital to capture this, and to handle it in a personal, safe setting.

Make it a habit to set aside 15-30 minutes after the team meetings, to handle such 1-on-1 dialogue as a mitigation to the lack of team maturity and psychological safety.

Be the role model; stay calm and connected

Over time, be the role model and build the culture in which you and your colleagues are used to share their thoughts openly and transparently. This is vital to mitigating the uncertainty and lurking isolation. Stay close, be frequent, and be the role model.


Erik Korsvik Østergaard
Erik Korsvik Østergaard is founding partner at Bloch&Østergaard. He has worked with leadership, advisory, digitization, strategy, change management and organizational transformation in nearly 20 years as people manager, project manager and consultant. Over the past years Erik has focused on codifying the mechanisms for the future of work, striving to establish a leadership framework that provides the modern organizations and leaders with a coupling between megatrends, theory and real-life practice. In 2018, he published the book The Responsive Leader: How to Be a Fantastic Leader in a Constantly Changing World (LID Publishing), followed by Teal Dots in an Orange World: How to organize the workplace of the future in 2019. Erik Korsvik Østergaard is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. He can be found on Linkedin.