The COVID-19 crisis has certainly changed workplaces — and it’s also changed team dynamics.
“Prior to COVID-19, the team operated as a well-oiled machine; meeting cadences were well-established, we had regular connections with industry partners and we were making progress with regulatory development,” says Amy Klinkenberger, Senior Manager of Regulatory Affairs at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America (MBRDNA). “However, at the beginning of the pandemic, all that changed. Our routine industry meetings were now suddenly on hold, and the entire industry transitioned to work from home.”
To stem the tides, Klinkenberger started doing daily check-ins with her entire team to see how everyone was doing, provide news and discuss next steps. The extra communication was necessary at the start of the pandemic, she says. And her team seemed to have appreciated that kind of connection. As time has gone by, her teams have adjusted to the “new normal” and have re-established their cadence as industry meetings are getting back on track.
“We are busier than ever,” she tells Fairygodboss. “We have found new ways to be efficient at our work, quick calls to connect on topics, and quick decisions to move forward.”
We caught up with Klinkenberger to learn more about how she managed to keep herself and her team afloat throughout these trying times. Here’s what she had to say.
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?
Regulatory Affairs is an exciting area to work in, we have the opportunity to support the development of new standards and requirements for emerging vehicle technologies, including Electric Vehicles, Active Safety Technologies, Occupant Protection and Automated Driving Systems.
We monitor and support ongoing research at universities that will be instrumental in shaping future vehicle safety and emission requirements, and we meet with technical staff at EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), CARB (California Air Resources Board) and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to discuss proposed rules and provide formal technical feedback on proposals.
We collaborate with our research partners to ensure that cool new technologies are envisioned within the new rules, and we work diligently to ensure our research and development partners understand what the requirements will be when the product is ready for market introduction.
Paint a picture of a typical day for me. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
Check email! You never know if a new meeting has been added to the day, so this is the first thing I do before anything. Unfortunately, it is also what I do at night. I try not to go down the rabbit hole and continue reading emails before bed but, sometimes, it just happens. Communication is key in this job: always connecting and gathering input to guide and support future rules.
A normal day will include online morning meetings with colleagues in Germany, discussing the hot topics of the day and just checking in. On more than one occasion, my morning meetings have been interrupted by barking dogs. I have two Chihuahuas, Hank and Jibe. They are the best security system money can buy; they alert me to every package delivery and every squirrel or bird setting foot in the yard. Given the times, these interruptions seem to be accepted by meeting attendees.
The day goes on with either trade association meetings or internal meetings, where we discuss topics ranging from electric vehicles to cybersecurity and data privacy. Honestly, there is never a dull moment. Occasionally, there will be a phone call, but generally, the day is spent on Microsoft Teams and email.
What strategies have you used that have been most effective in promoting connectivity across your team?
Daily check-ins and targeted topic-specific meetings for quick decisions.
Across industries, reports show that women are experiencing increasing levels of burnout. How do you keep your employees motivated?
It is important to be flexible in these times. Even now, as we pull out of the pandemic, we need to be mindful that things will pop up, and we need to give consideration and the time to address those pressing matters, not only for women but men as well. When working from home, it is just so easy to keep working; I appreciate and recognize their contribution but remind them to take time for themselves.
Managing people — especially remotely— is not easy. How has Mercedes-Benz Research & Development/your own manager helped set you up for success?
Our success is based on the foundation of trust. With that trust comes the flexibility to get the work done in the time necessary. The company has worked diligently in establishing new communication tools to keep us connected. The use of digital tools and on-camera meetings really helps us stay connected and provides that personal connection.
What resources or support has Mercedes-Benz Research & Development offered employees during the pandemic?
Early on, the company established wellness days. These were a welcome benefit, allowing people to take a day away from meetings and providing time to relax. The timing of these wellness days were perfect, making weekends longer and during the summer months, we could enjoy some time outside away from computers and cell phones.
How is this kind of support reflective of the overall culture at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development?
MBRDNA cares about people — the success of the business is directly connected to the wellness of the employees.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a leader during this time?
Finding work/life balance. It is all too easy to keep working when your office is just steps away. Because I struggled with this, I was very aware that my team was also going through the same struggle. Therefore, I really encouraged everyone to take advantage of wellness days, and I am mindful that finding balance remains a challenge.
What is your favorite way to destress outside of work?
Anyone that knows me knows that my favorite thing is sailing. I have been an avid sailor for more than 20 years. Every extra moment I find, I spend on Lake Erie sailing on my boat.
What is your No. 1 piece of advice for leading through periods of crisis and uncertainty?
Stay calm, assess the situation and then make the decision. Maintain communication channels.
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