Editor's Note: Aaron Levie will be appearing at the 2020 Inc. 5000 Vision conference the week of October 19-23.
It's hard to think of a time in recent history when leading a business has been more complicated or challenging. Thankfully, while we may all still be social distancing, that doesn't mean we have to do this alone. Every business is trying to figure this out, and smart entrepreneurs are looking for any opportunity they can to learn from what is working in other companies.
I spoke with Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Box, about how his company has navigated the past seven months while taking care of both its customers and employees. (Listen to the full conversation on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.) The interview was full of helpful insights, but one of the most striking things he said is that every conversation about working remotely has to start with an acknowledgment that this isn't normal. The way we're all working now isn't the way it would be if you sat down and decided to build remote work into the culture of your company.
"This is not even really remote work," said Levie. "This is a pandemic where we're working remotely, and it doesn't have the characteristics of remote work where schools are open and so your kids can be at school and you don't have to be both teacher and parent--while also you can't go outside."
That's exactly right. This isn't the way it's supposed to be. Even if you're used to working from home, the added complication of schools being closed and trying to navigate which activities are safe is causing a lot of stress and burnout. "There have been a lot of different issues that have all come at the same time that are causing this to be a very, very stressful and disruptive environment," Levie said.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do in your business to increase your chances of coming out on the other side intact.
1. Make Decisions Quickly
The first thing Levie talks about for any business is that when in a disruptive environment, you have to make decisions quickly. That doesn't mean that you aren't careful or thoughtful, but it means that leaders have to stand up and lead.
"I think our culture is one of the agility of collaboration of making sure that we move quickly," Levie told me. "We make decisions quickly. We're able to pivot relatively efficiently. So, I think between our culture and our technology stack, we were able to adapt to this environment."
Your customers and your team are counting on you to gather the right information, analyze it, and make a decision that you can act on. Waiting isn't just expensive; in some cases, it can be catastrophic for a business.
2. Use Technology to Support Your Culture
There is no question that the technology available to businesses today has an extraordinary impact on their ability to remain connected and productive. In fact, in some cases, the circumstances have forced businesses to make changes they might not have otherwise made but which have actually improved productivity.
On the topic of how Box is using technology to support its culture, Levie said, "It actually has created, I think, a culture that is even more inclusive, because we've been able to be remote and we've been able to have more people participate in these projects. So instead of a new innovation initiative that we would be doing that maybe normally would only have five or eight people working on it, that became the Slack channel that 100 people participated in."
That's an important lesson for every business--that you have the ability to engage people in ways that weren't obvious before. The technology we depend on to stay connected can actually broaden the scope of innovation at your company if you're intentional about making space for that to happen.
3. Focus on the Main Thing
Finally, and most important, when faced with a disruptive environment, it's worth looking hard at why it is that you started this business in the first place. Or, as Levie said, "In times like this, you sort of have to go back to almost the most fundamental kind of core, or first principles, of your business as possible, which is, why do you exist as a company? Why do your customers want what you have? Do you need to pivot that? Do you need to adapt to this environment? Why do your employees want to work in your organization? How do you protect them as much as possible?"
Ultimately that means that every entrepreneur needs to be "decisive and to care about their employees, care about their customers, care about their communities," according to Levie. That may look different across different businesses and industries, but the bottom line is the same: Take care of the people, and they'll take care of the business.