Need I even set the scene? Everyone’s in it. We can’t go 5 minutes without talking about it. Everyone’s feeling it, to some degree. COVID-19 is working its way across and around the world. While it was predicted (check out Bill Gates TED talk, 2015), we weren’t ready. Arguably we’re still not ready.
The WFH thing (‘work from home’ for those who were as behind as I was, even though I’ve been WFH-ing since Noah was a boy) is all of a sudden how we do things! There’s a rapid change if ever I’ve seen one. Most organisations have been trying to hold onto that little workforce unknown for some time now – very tightly. COVID-19 has thrown us into “WFH Experiment #1” – no controls, for some it’s the whole workforce – the ‘let’s just see what happens’ approach! If we go uber simple, there are 2 opposing camps: 1. we should have been doing this years ago, and of course people can be productive remotely! 2. this remote thing will make productivity implode – people will find it hard to stay motivated, difficult to extract themselves from Netflix or that drawer they’ve been meaning to clean for some time, and perhaps even give in to the enticing pull of COVID-19 24-7 reporting. And how do we know what they’re doing if we can’t see them?!
Throw in social distancing if you are in fact in the office (at least some of the time), and we have a very different today.
What are we to do?
It makes sense to make it work. Frankly, we at the Frog are excited about the possibilities, the new ways that people will connect, the reintroduction of ‘human’ into our work, the blurring of the line of work and play, the new found creativity that it takes to juggle things either side of the line (sometimes at once), and the energy that will come from the realisation that “oh yeah, we’ve employed grown ups who are practised at being accountable, namely for their very own lives”. Aside from the 101 stuff, like having regular virtual team meetings with your people (whatever platform you choose), by prioritising these 3 things in your new WFH or social distance office regime, we believe you’ll ‘bring it home’ (so to speak):
1. Embrace the imperfection of it – the overlap of personal and professional, and all that brings.
Remember this guy?
It was a few years back… but he has a special place in our hearts. (This has me smiling so widely, it’s close to wrong.) Why do we feel so mortified on his behalf? Because we understand that in one single moment his idea of himself as a professional has gone down the toilet. Why? Because he believes others’ idea of his professionalism has gone down the toilet too. How we see ourselves is so important in our dynamics with our colleagues, our boss, our stakeholders, and in our perception of our outcomes, our performance. The premise is, ‘at work’, none of us have messy lives, or domestic chaos, not ever! We are polished professionals who have our shit together – robot like, almost.
Your new working space at home might not be as neat or organised as your regular office desk, the washing machine whirring in the background, dogs barking in the distance. Maybe your Teams or Skype backdrop is a wall that needs a lick of paint. The comfort of your home ‘office’ has driven you to bunny slippers, trackies and a favourite hoodie, or you’re opting for shorts and ironed business shirt combo (for the virtual stuff). You haven’t bothered to blow dry. Alternatively, as per usual, you’re perfectly preened.
Thing is, none of this matters.
Humans have been entering the office for years, supposedly leaving their personal lives at the door (or not, to some less skilled managers’ iritation). And in so doing, we’ve missed the point – we’ve ‘missed’ the human. Herein lies the opportunity: bring forth the ‘human’ part of us, the real person – the person who has some sort of life beyond the closing glass doors of the office reception area, when they say ‘hooroo’ at the end of the day. The person whose life drives how they work and what they do, whose values and purpose connects them to work, or who is lacking connection and striving for it. Let’s see how being human gets better results, more thoughtful approaches, better leadership too.
As my mate Amanda Steele (‘Woman of…’) suggests indirectly in her recent LinkedIn article*, welcome ‘human’ openly. Amanda calls for ways to connect, to help people feel and do better in the current crisis, in isolation. In doing so, we can also encourage them to bring more of themselves to the party. Amanda’s going for competitions for the best WFH costume, and building WFH team Spotify playlists for better working, to help feel more connected to her colleagues.
Get good with your new level of exposure. Professor Robert Kelly did (our friend, above). We all know you’ve been hiding in there somewhere. And it will help immeasurably with 2. (below). If you’re in the office, and social distancing, make more of an effort to connect with your colleagues at a deeper level than normal – we all need more heart, especially now.
2. Manage yourself – seriously, get onto it.
Never has there been a time when this is more important. We’ve all been banging on about it for years. And when it comes down to doing it, verbatim reports suggest we’ve been only mildly successful. So now that you’re effectively on your own (aside from the kid / cat / co-habiter wandering into your virtual meeting), or at least 1.5 metres from the nearest colleague, take the time to make the most of a strange new circumstance. Develop habits that will help you see stress as an opportunity as opposed to a threat.
Like how? Like what?
- Go the 3 gratitudes at a specific time of day (or when you feel yourself dipping in energy or resilience) – call someone and share thoughts
- Practise 5 minutes of heart-centred breathing (meditation, being still – whatever you’ve already dabbled in, are skilled at or prefer as a new habit) – do it regularly throughout the day, especially before and after virtual meetings, or before jumping into a hefty mind-bending task
- Reflect on your emotional state throughout the day, and intentionally manage your energy by doing a burst of exercise when anxious, stressed or drowsy (walk upstairs and back downstairs twice, or jump up and down)
- Self assess at the end of every virtual or ‘at distance’ meeting: did I inspire others and help them imagine what’s possible or did I leave them feeling sapped and negative? Review your draft emails in the same way. If the latter, call someone to raise your energy and hope, and to get clear on intent. If the former, celebrate and go again!
Not only will these habits reduce any stress you’re feeling, they will help you focus on the task, manage your virtual meetings inclusively and effectively, and conjour up the creativity you need to adapt to this whole remote thing in an exhilarating way.
3. Be overtly accountable – be the grown up your organisation hired (and if you have been all this time, which I suspect is mostly the case, accentuate it).
Clients are so often saying “we need to lift accountability”, “no-one takes accountability” (except them, obvs) and then promptly standing on their people’s hands while they wait for that deliverable (metaphorically of course – things haven’t gotten that strange).
Here’s your opportunity to do it and do it well, all on your ‘adult’ own.
Since you’re ‘out of the office’, or have more space in your calendar, use more time to plan. Everyone knows we need to; few are brave enough to counter the reactionary nature of today’s work culture (yep, in most companies we work with) and steal the time back from their calendars to actually think. Reconnect with the purpose of projects, activities and tasks. Ask yourself what excellent looks like. Get clear on current reality and what it’s going to take to reach the goal. Contact people and tell them you’ll need their support in specific ways.
Set out what you’ll achieve throughout the week, and then each day (Top 2 priorities, or Stephen Covey’s ‘Big Rocks’ are helpful), communicate that to people who’d benefit from knowing, and check in with them on your progress. Equally, if you’re leading others, check in with them on their key goals for the day (in a supportive as opposed to annoyingly micro-managing kind of way). Wouldn’t it be grand if WFH Experiment #1 goes a long way to proving that people really can be trusted to focus, create, deliver, collaborate and manage others… and do it well, remotely.
Let’s weave the wonderful into the weird. Let’s make this thing work, at work or at home. Go forth, be great!
*Virtual Team Placemaking – Or How to Drive Connection in a Time of Isolation”, Amanda Steele
Author: Alison West