“You are not working from home; you are at home during a crisis trying to work.”
This phrase has made its way around the internet in the past couple of weeks, as many of us learn a new way of working, and others adapt to their colleagues joining them in “remote work.” And during all this change, we are individually and collectively trying to stay safe, healthy and do the best we can with our work in the face of a global pandemic.
It’s in the Air
With this medium-to-high level of constant anxiety and tension in the air, it can be easy for you and your team to become distracted and have a hard time staying engaged. A pervasive feeling of “who cares?” can creep in when attending to a task that does not seem immediately important during a world-wide health crisis. Those of us parenting and homeschooling on top of all this will find giving full attention to our work near impossible.
So, what are we to do? Much of our work does need to get done — to keep people informed, to keep our supply chains flowing, and to make sure our work can continue after the virus has run its course. For those of us not on the frontlines, we may feel that our work has less significance right now and struggle to focus.
Be Transparent and Pivot
First, we must pause and acknowledge the challenges that we and our team members are facing. If you’re a team leader, individual notes to your staff members, letting them know you support them and care about what else they have on their plate will go a long way. As well, a note to the group each day will help keep everyone on the same page. Circumstances are changing daily for most of us, so acknowledging that will help manage some of our anxiety. Goals may shift for company. Transparency and honesty are key.
Next, begin to reframe how you and your team think about working from home. Matt Mullenweg, developer of WordPress and Founder & CEO of Automattic, calls this type of work “distributed” rather than “remote” work. He looks to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, for ways to keep everyone happy, motivated, content and fulfilled in their work. A tall order, but one that is achievable. The three keys are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.
Moving Towards Mastery
Your team members need room to grow. We all desire to improve our skills and abilities, reaching mastery over time. During this period of crisis, allow your team members to stretch. They may have hidden talents or abilities that can be useful now. Or, they may be suggesting new and innovative approaches. Look to team members that have experience in freelance or the gig economy — they may already have more experience with this style of work. In a time of rapid change there can be a lot of fear but there is also immense potential for creativity and growth.
This rapid shift to distributed work has been a struggle for many, as we scrambled to figured out new tools, software and even hardware for our teams. But now that we’re here, we’re getting a trial run at the future of work – particularly for the knowledge sector. Mullenweg recently discussed the future of work on the Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris and describes what he calls Distributed Work’s Five Levels of Autonomy. While all our frontline workers and many others are at “Level Zero” and can’t do their work in a distributed fashion, the rest of us are falling somewhere on the spectrum.
Most companies have had to make the jump from Level 1 (putting most things off until we’re back in the office) to Level 2 (trying to recreate the office in a remote setting). But Level 3 and up is where you and your team can actually start to find a groove and benefit from your new model of work. Here we try new tools and software to keep everyone connected (Zoom, Slack, collaborative Google Docs). We can also start to work at different times and make our days our own. (Hint: This is what Millennials have been asking for the whole time!)
Your team members can personalize and improve their workspace, and do work when it best suits them and their home situation. Nope, you don’t really know what your employees are doing — and that’s ok. Let them take a walk with an idea. Shower as you think. Get up and dance, do squats, play music, even light a candle! Pro tips — have fewer meetings and don’t be big brother.
Once you reach Level 4, it’s become about the specific output, not the process. Team members have more agency and trust is what holds you together. If you’re a global organization, you’ve truly gone asynchronous with everyone working at their own most productive hours. And Level 5 is the goal we keep striving for — where everyone brings their whole and best selves to their work and we “just have fun!”
Double the Meaning
Purpose is perhaps the most important of all three keys. Being connected with something bigger than ourselves is essential to keeping your team engaged. Right now, the purpose of your business may seem hard to hang on to for many of your staff. Find a way to encourage them by explaining the importance of your product or service during this time, or how it’s important to keep going so that you’ll be ready and waiting for when this is over. Whatever problem you’re trying to solve, reiterate the solution as an authentic contribution to the current situation or as an important component of our lives after Corona.
Once you’ve done this, you may still find that your team isn’t quite there with you. Many may be worried about family, friends or those on the frontlines, grieving or simply wishing they could help. Here’s where you can level up and add the next layer of purpose to your work.
Find a cause that is connected to providing support and helping others through this difficult time and share it with your team. Create a way for everyone to contribute — as a team and individually if they choose. For example, tie a giving strategy to your team’s weekly goals. For every team goal reached (X number of customers served, projects completed, or successful zoom meetings), donate to the cause on behalf of your team.
This week, my creative team is donating to Feed Our Heroes (Stand Together Canada), a new charity started to deliver food (and gift cards/vouchers) to our hard-working healthcare heroes while partnering with local businesses. For every team goal we reach this week, I’ll increase our donation. And we can each donate individually as we feel called to help — there is no set limit to generosity. Helping everyone feel connected to our work as well as to fighting this pandemic can give us the strength we need and the focus we desire.
Explore all the ways your team can help and find a cause that fits with your business, then check out these tools to help everyone rally — during this time of change to distributed work — and beyond. Stay well and stay engaged.