Updated: Apr 15, 2020
With the world still navigating through the transition to a remote working environment, I thought I'd compile some thoughts I've had while working remotely the past 3 weeks. Some of these ideas were also gained in observing how my wife, Kate, interacts with her team, supervisors, and customers in the private sector. None of these concepts are revolutionary but are certainly items to focus on right now.
So many of us aren't physically present in our workspaces any longer. We don't get to pop our heads into your cubicle or office to see how your evening was. I no longer know what project my coworker Craig (#CoworkerCraig) is working on because we haven't talked through ideas during lunch.
I can see how isolation can become a problem quickly in this work environment. Coworker Craig jokes that his entire adult life was building towards this moment...a remote-driven world... and is already well-adjusted to spending long, isolated hours leading WOW raids. I have felt disconnected from my team at times over the past three weeks, and my work has suffered simply because I can't bounce ideas off of them in the same manner. I personally took for granted how important the physical workplace is in feeling a sense of belonging. It shouldn't surprise me, having read so much research surrounding the importance of physical environments in student learning and development... yet, here we are.
One way to try and overcome feeling disconnected is...
Leadership at my work has done a really great job of trying to keep everyone as connected and informed as possible. At first, it was weekly team huddles at 9:30 AM every day for updates and check-ins, as new information was ever-flowing.
My area team would huddle every day at 4 PM to talk about the day's tasks, struggles and to offer support. I intentionally tried to have a 1 on 1 meeting with my supervisee each day of the week for that first week... just to try and feel connected still.
I witnessed my wife on endless Microsoft Team calls, making sure to connect with her clients to continue to promote the importance of community building during this crisis. Each chat helped members from across the world feel connected through this unique, horrible shared experience.
It's a relief to know that just a video-chat can help us to feel a bit normal for a moment.
Are We Meeting Too Often Now?
Oddly, I found myself somewhat unsatisfied by the meetings after a while. The information coming out of them was ABSOLUTELY important and relevant, but that wasn't the issue... I didn't need them to feel connected. Without knowing it, I'd apparently embraced and adjusted to the idea that this was the new normal for now. I felt less a need to hear about people's evenings and I could tell they weren't engaged by my sharing... simply because we aren't doing much.
Coworker Craig can't tell me about Trivia Night because it's not happening.
Nothing is happening.
It wasn't long before I comically began to think about how each meeting could have been an email. I'm not advocating against meetings... but endless zoom meetings begin to feel repetitive, and sometimes unproductive. This feeling of unproductivity got me thinking about...
Changing Expectations for Productivity
Remember... you're not working from home... you're home while the world feels like it's falling apart around us trying to do work. There's trauma in that. Supervisors: your staff is NOT going to perform the way they had been. How could they?
After years of practice, failure, and more practice, I now pride myself in big thinking and delivering on big projects and ideas.
Honestly... I can't be that way right now. I'll be the first to tell you that I can't be the person I am at work, a full-time father and a full-time partner.
There is no balance or boundaries there. I have to try and play all of those roles at once. It's a matter of essentialism:
When you're trying to make everything a priority, nothing is a priority.
Everyone I talk to feels an internalized pressure to perform as if the world wasn't going through a crisis. It simply cannot be. Discuss this with your peers and your supervisors... and set new expectations for what productivity looks like. How are you being evaluated now? How do you measure success? How do you manage the workload? What is no longer a priority?
Trust Your Team
Finally, a HUGE part of adjusting our expectations for productivity is that we need to trust our teams. It's already difficult to be productive in your home... being overly micromanaged will only make things more difficult. There is an important difference between checking-in with someone and checking on them. It's one thing to be accountable and another to track every moment of the workday and report back. That reporting is taking away time from doing actual work.
There needs to be trust. We need to believe that our workers are going to try their best to complete their priorities and we need to be comfortable knowing that they are stopping to watch The View (which gets interrupted daily by Coronvirus Press Conferences) or go for a walk, or take a nap. There are few luxuries in the world right now... it's okay for us to have those moments in our day. The work that needs to be completed might not get done during our 'normal' hours... but we need to trust that staff are still getting the necessary work done.
...How we get our work completed has become much less important.
Trusting your staff during a time like this goes a really long way in motivating and empowering them. This will help to foster autonomous workers and it will ultimately bring up team morale!
[Check back for Part 2 coming soon!]