Doing what we do means we spend every waking minute talking about what this will all entail and how it will unfold. We speak to tens of companies and maybe the most common question from leaders is “Shall we really get our teams comfortably and permanently set up for remote or is this too temporary to invest both from a financial and a mental point of view and we should just provide them with some temporary measures as this is sure to pass quickly and everything will be back to office life in no time?” What we say to them is that we believe working from home is here to stay. Once this is all over (and can we all just focus on staying safe so that it’s sooner rather than later, please?!?), the face of how we do “office” work would have changed as the extreme, forced, remote-work MVP would have been proven to work perfectly fine and if I were in the business of renting workspaces, I’d be seriously worried for my livelihood in a rebuilding economy where most people who would have cracked remote, flexible working would continue to operate that way.
Remote vs. Flexible
We would have already collectively already went through the huge work to get set up, we would have conquered most people’s reluctance to “mix” work and play and we would have been less terrified of the prospects of one’s progeny waltzing in the frame during a presentation. At first, most people would have started by clearing a specific space to make it their own and emulate an office at home, and likely, as the weeks or months go by, they would have changed the spot or worked at the kitchen table or in the garden at times for a change.
And at first, we would all have put in place clear and well-meaning, well-structured schedules we intend to follow to keep us sane and functional, and help us get the much-needed sense of structure. Most of these schedules would feature the same delimitation between work and home life and declare no work will be done after a certain hour or at the weekend, but in time those borders would have blended when we realised we can sneak an email in the middle of the child working on a homeschooling task or when it’s easier to banter on the Slack channel while on the balcony seeing the world go by at lunch. And that we can take our breaks when we need them and we can find the golden hours when we’re most productive.
That in itself is the key revelation behind flexible working (which is a very different concept than remote working and not necessarily included in it by default) which is that we each have a natural rhythm to our moments of inspiration and that we deserve a right to accommodate for it and do our best work -in as far as those moments are possible without direct interaction with others-. Because no matter what we do, we all want to do our best work and we instinctively see there are times when we are razor sharp in focus and full of great ideas and productive as anything and those are the times where we cram more quality work into an hour than in a whole week devoid of these moments.
Refocus On Humanity
Judging by the conversation online, it seems we all instinctively know that in this new digital paradigm, ironically, the focus will change from the work in itself as we knew it, and a new set of skills will be needed.
We know how and what to do on paper. What code or document we are meant to churn out. What the objective output is to be. We have this. What we don’t have is all this other interaction in between. The online video meetings, all the times when we learned about someone’s elderly parent that we knew nothing about despite working by their side for 10 years; these new small windows into our colleagues' lives, what we can peek in the background, whether it’s sunny where they are at, the disruptions at their house, their taste in furniture, all of these new and intensely human data points that come with it and we know we have to store and react to.
In this new reality, we’ll have to show our hand when it comes to soft skills - especially true of leaders who more than ever have to show true love and compassion and a deep understanding of their people, but applicable and necessary for all of us. So what should leaders do? What should we?
Start With Empathy
Always Remember The Commonality - We are all human, all intensely afraid. No one is above this.
Feel Your Team- not only your work team but your home team, your online friends and family community-team, the neighbourhood’s team that won’t let the elderly get out but bring them groceries, the country’s team trying to fight this for us.
Challenge All Convention - “We’ve always done it this way” doesn’t exist anymore, command and control in the micro-managing way of the past where you could walk behind people’s backs to look at their screens are impossible, working hours are meaningless. This is the time to unpick every unexamined pattern that you can and make room for better.
Practice Relentless Kindness - When you speak to your teammates ask yourself - “Am I being truly empathic now? Have I really put myself in their shoes? How would I feel? What would really help? What can I replace a meaningless cliche with to be valuable?”
Extend That Kindness To Yourself - What have you always wanted to do/learn/read? What things make you happy? Have you included enough of them on your daily schedule? How can you increase your mental and emotional knowledge and resilience? How can you tap into your passion reserves? We can channel all the instinctive conservation need that can make us individualistic and selfish into meditation and reflection instead.
Be Curious About Your Rhythm - Just as we can listen to our bodies to know when they most want to sleep or eat for best results, we can listen to our minds and see when they are most likely to create work-magic and allow ourselves to be productive in lieu of busy by following it where possible.
Be Obsessively Authentic And Open- (Instagram cca 2012 food-pic level of authentic) “Am I staying true to myself and revealing a piece of me in this meeting? Am I open and inviting that others relate? Am I employing any kind of impression management in this meeting?”. And don’t be afraid to use humour to lift the mood and treat the work slack channel as you would your buddies’ WhatsApp group
Summon Every Ounce Of Courage - it can be paralysingly scary. If it means not reading the news for a day or admitting something you didn’t want to, questioning what you don’t agree with, sending that borderline inappropriate joke or even starting that video when you don’t think you look your best - opportunities for acts of courage abound now in this new temporary reality.
Be Forensic About Being Human - forget the fear of being intrusive and ask those human questions, make those human comments, send that meme, make it a point to speak to people outside your team, spend the hour on a direct message getting to know them. Make sure you’re on top of your list (mental or otherwise) of regular interactions with people who matter to you while being open to new ones.
Obsess About Psychological Safety - Are we all speaking up? Are we all comfortably vulnerable with each other? Open? Flexible? Resilient? How engaged are we? How is our morale as a team? Are we doing any destructive impression management? Are we closing off and closing in and threatening the very fabric of the team?
Just as the planet is getting a chance to breathe, we can give the office a chance to shake the effects of damaging posturing, politics, unquestioned convention and lack of empathy.
We should regard this as a collective exercise in humanity when we have to all keep close, pull together and relentlessly focus on our EQ eternally trying to decipher the mood, needs and feelings of our fellow teammates whatever team they are from and then intensely and demonstrably care.
Imagine for a minute if your entire performance evaluation now hinged on only one KPI: “creating connection” - how would that change what you do? If that were your only job. To read others and be yourself. To allow, create and seek human moments. To care and be cared for.
If you read this and you thought “Gah another fluffy article about feelings and stuff, where’s the list of remote office software best companies use?” then I have bad news - the list is irrelevant (although it should nonetheless contain our work-tool solution for Psychological Safety alongside communication software and project management, get in touch so we kit you for free as the announcement at the beginning says), but what they use is inconsequential, what they do matters and that is keeping focused on this fluffy and uncomfortable business of feeling feelings and talking about them in a time where we need a new “Be-Human” imperative more than ever.