Updated: Nov 1, 2021
What are we witnessing ?
One whole year went by in acute anxiety, stress & uncertainty. Not that it’s over now but society & people are getting used to the new normal. Millions of people by now have lost their jobs & the impact on business & economy has been devastating. To put this in perspective, global GDP was estimated at around 87.55 trillion U.S. dollars in 2019 – meaning that a 4.5 percent drop in economic growth amounts to almost 3.94 trillion U.S. dollars in lost economic output. People have been forced to stay indoor, wear masks, use sanitizers, use gloves, doctors & nurses doing long shifts not knowing when this will be over or will It ever, vaccine manufacturers have been put to test, social distancing is the new norm, this is a whole new lifestyle change for people. Similarly for the lucky ones who could retain their jobs were forced to work remotely & work from home is now the new workplace policy. The entire feeling around covid times has been very dark, gloomy & depressing. Mankind cannot survive for too long being depressed. So we got to generate some positive energy & spirit everyday even during these times. We got to see this as an opportunity to try something different instead of giving up & be hopeless. Working professionals should and must look at this as a great opportunity to do something new & unique which could not have been possible during normal times. I am listing down a few things that we must try out to help Managers, employees & Leaders cope better & remain engaged during these trying times.
As more & more employees are working from home, therefore there is no travelling time involved here, also since employees are expected to be at home during lockdowns thereby it’s very tempting for managers to believe that employee’s availability now is more & that he can use it for increasing production time. Already several cases have been reported where employees are being asked to put in more time. This is a dangerous practice & must be avoided at all cost. There is a big difference between work from home when by choice & work from home by force. Also just like how not every country has the infrastructure to deal with covid, not every employee has a separate workplace at home to deal with this situation. The borders between family time & work time now is very grey & so not everyday employee will feel it however over a long period of time more & more people will start feeling stressed out & irritated. Managers must display empathy & long-sightedness. Instead of trying to squeeze out more production time which is very tempting, manager must encourage people to shut down on time & spend time with family. It is a moral responsibility of all managers to think about well being of support staff first over some quick bucks or points. Frequent lockdowns, social distancing, masks, sanitizers & most importantly news of losing loved ones & people dying all across the world is not a great state of mind to be in & that too for over an year. Our body is not built for this, stress hormones like cortisol is suppose to alert us during danger & then subside, constant state of stress like this always will have a detrimental effect on body & mind. The only way to counter this stress hormone is to generate more oxytocin in body & the only way to generate more oxytocin is by spending good times with family, friends & children. So allow them & encourage them to spend time more & more time off work & with family. So the saved travel time should be added to family time & not work time. Also note that remote working means no physical interactions between manager & employees and between employees as well, so that’s a big roadblock to engagement. There is absolutely nothing that can replace physical interaction, you can off course get job done by virtual meetings & Video conferencing however there is no way you can generate the same level of feelings without physical interaction. So we got to be creative, we need out of the box thinking to engage employees remotely with the expectation that whatever you try it will not match 100% compared to physical interactions, the goal should be to try as much as possible. Some of the things that can be tried out are listed below, the last one Is the most important.
a. A daily or at least a weekly video call with team members. ( Remember we are visual species, seeing is believing ) & make these calls a bit informal compared to your regular meets. Allow team members to have a good time & stray from agendas sometime.
b. All your Reward & Recognition programs must be done via video calls & parents or spouses should be invited not only to attend but also give a short speech on the achievement of their loved ones. This was impossible for a lot of companies to do under normal circumstances. The feeling of pride generated within any individual & their loved ones will be immense.
c. Use your communication software like emails, chats, meetings etc. wisely & utilize to the fullest. Use screen sharing, whiteboards, polls, together mode ( Microsoft Teams) etc. to engage audience.
d. You can bring in some fun elements like conducting a painting competition, or memes competition or cooking competition or push up challenge etc., all being done offline, recorded & presented virtually.
e. In the Navy, when ship crosses the equator they hold the famous “ Crossing the line “ ceremony when that day any crew could be given the charge of the ship & all the captains & seniors will have to obey him. It can be a great experiment & fun at the same time to have one of your team member act as a manager for one day in turn & you become the subordinate willingly. Let that person run the show for one day. You might discover your next in line & they might discover how much work you have to do all day. However you must be show sportsman spirit & not act against anyone who intentionally or unintentionally hurts your ego. Only you are responsible to drive out the fear factor from your employee’s mind that whatever happens will not be acted against in terms of career development.
f. Start thinking & modify this list if required.
For many employees work from home is nothing new since they might be part of a particular industry which promotes remote working. However a vast majority of people working remotely right now is having to do due to circumstances. I make no assumptions but it is a fact that a lot of people have taken a liking to this remote working culture specially if they are married & have kids. You got to admit that working from the comfort of your home, not letting go sight of your family even for a single day has it’s own charm. Your family also is experiencing this new situation develop where they can see you around all day & have access to you directly in case of any requirements arise instead of calling you at work. You might be thinking why I am talking positively about this, there are so many negatives to this working culture as well ? Well, that is exactly why I am spending time writing this article, to have you focus on the positive side only since you have no choice. I am not interested to talk about negatives of working from home since that will not help anyone. So, as I was stating that till the time this condition exists you got to take advantage of work from home. You must remember that you belong to those extremely fortunate people who could retain your job & continue to work & continue to pay bills & continue to feed your family without any breaks. You must understand that your organization had to move heaven & earth to make this possible for you so you must be grateful & thankful to your leaders to be there when you needed them the most. You must realize that your organization might had to suffer financial loss whole year & so even if they can or they cannot give you bonuses or increment for a year or two that should not cause a flutter in your mind. Now let’s look at few things that you should do & also keep in mind while adapting to this new work culture,
a. Not only for your manager but also for you it will be tempting to sit on your laptop for long even after office hours. Initially you might do it for the mere fact that you are enjoying this new style of working, however with time that initial enthusiasm will die down. However if you continue to do this then it will be difficult for you to come out of that ever “ON” mode & that can cause unhappiness in your family life as it will rob you of your precious family time. The reason is scientific, stress can be addictive. Yes you heard it right, according to studies done by lot of institutes including that of American Institute Of Stress, continued state of stress can release Dopamine in your brain which is primarily responsible for all your addictions, good or bad. So if you are caught up in a permanent state of work & stress you might find difficult to switch off & return back to normal state. So keep reminding yourself this & force yourself to switch off once your work is over, close the laptop for that day.
b. Another way to take advantage of work from home is to utilize your coffee breaks. Visualize yourself at office & think what you do during coffee breaks, you lock your screen & go to the coffee machine with colleagues because you have no where else to go to relieve yourself from stress. At home you are not restricted, so you have now options & better options. You can opt to meditate for 15 mins or lie-down or spend time with family & kids. Do anything but never touch another technology, not even TV. Remember you are trying to break free of work-addiction here & simultaneously giving your family time.
c. Keep in touch with colleagues & friends using group chats or phone calls or video calls.
d. Your work is always divided into 2 categories, Focus work & Fragmented focus work. In 1998 Linda Stone coined the term “ Continuous Partial attention” owing to lot of organizations encouraging multitasking & high human resource utilization. The workload on employees is increasing day by day so you cannot survive without multitasking since your working hours have not increased. The ill-effect of multitasking now have ben realized & lot of leading organizations are now discouraging multitasking due to rise in human errors, stress & poor quality of work. When you are working from home & if you do not have a separate workspace then you might get irritated sometimes due to family members barging in all the time. Don’t worry, it happens to all including myself. What I have learnt though & training myself to do more & more is separate focus work from fragmented focus work. When you are doing something like sending some emails or receive a quick informal phone call or texting or chatting or browsing or creating a daily report or attending a meeting where you do not have to actively participate or any work where chances of errors are less or even if error happens the repercussions are not big – then please allow family to be around if they wish. These are typically fragmented focus work where you can multitask or work with minimal distractions. However when you have some focus work to do like attending an important meeting or fixing a customer issue or training / learning or creating an important report or slide then you must not allow distractions. In advance communicate to your family about your focus work days or focus work times & accordingly make arrangements. Studies suggests that it takes approximately 20 mins for a person to resume 100% focus once he or she is distracted, so do not allow distractions for focus work.
Caution Business Leaders
Business leaders are always trained to look for opportunities of profit & growth. It is a practical reality that without a great bottom line you cannot take care of your people even if you want it. So your revenues & cash flow is always important. However this situation calls for different thinking. In the history of capitalism I cannot remember of this kind of situation other than War times to some extent, where thousands of business houses collapsed. The corporate world has suffered a mighty blow. Some died while others were able to bear the blow & some could even capitalize on this opportunity to expand their business. Some companies see this pandemic situation as a threat while others see this as an opportunity to jump on to a new sector. A lot of companies in order to survive have resorted to cost optimization plans which is fine provided you have atleast a 3 year plan chalked out on dealing with this situation. Since employees are not using office premises you definitely can save some cost on transportations, power consumption, assets & if you are on rental then you can strike a deal with the owner & save some cost there too. You can even re-strategize whether you need so much of office space or not since this pandemic has definitely shown you that you can continue work remotely when you are forced to. Leaders must have post pandemic plan ready, setting up the work from home thing was a big challenge however bringing back people to office post pandemic is even a bigger challenge. The working world might not function the same way as before. There will be a lot of hesitant employees, unwilling employees who might want to continue remotely & that can be a terrible decision to make for some industries where face to face interaction is absolutely critical in creating strong relation, trust & also data security. So one eye on attrition must be there. Leaders also must be very patient, understanding & communicative in dealing with this sensitive situation. Things that can really help organizations is how they take care of their people now, since you are going to get that same treatment back from employees once market opens up. Covid presents a great opportunity for organizations to walk their talk, it is time to live & standby your value statements. It is time to open up your treasury & not close it, you have saved that for exactly this kind of time, so do not indulge in only profit making & cost optimizations now. Put humans over revenue & numbers this time. Your good times will again come back if you are willing to lose this battle. The great Indian Monk Chanakya ( 4th century BC) used to say
“ You might have to lose the battle to win the war”.
Costco CEO Jim Senegal during the 2008 recession increased daily wages while all other companies decreased & even handed pink slips to many. Jim Senegal’s opinion was that during recession employees need more money in their hands than less, the result was fierce loyalty & love generated among employees & customers for Costco & it came out roaring post recession with an envious attrition rate & revenue numbers. In addition to this, also brainstorm with your core team on where you can invest now staying inline with your vision but keeping covid in mind & try to find out some innovative ways or workaround to deal with this situation. I must stop here, I have lots to say however I intend to spark up the right side of your brain & not overload your left side which any which ways is over used. So please take care of your people in bad times & start thinking atleast 3 years ahead. All the best.