What have we learned?
We’re picking up where we left off from last week, and unveiling four more things we’ve had the chance to reflect on during the past several months. With school starting and talk of returning to our brick and mortar offices, there’s lots of uncertainty on the horizon. But taking time to reflect on things we’ve learned can help us apply that new knowledge as we move forward and navigate or acclimate to our new normal.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but do sweat the big stuff.
Once we realized that Covid-19 wasn’t going away, and the health risks it posed to our schools and offices and communities, organizations that eliminated non-essential tasks and instead focused on caring for customers and ensuring the safety of employees were sweating the big stuff. I think there was a time when we used to worry if someone saw our kids or pets or other household members walk past the screen during a video conference. Now we know that work can still get done, even if a peanut-butter-and-jelly covered 2nd grader just crawled into the lap of the person leading that call for a quick hug.
Consider the often-taught analogy of fitting a jar with rocks, pebbles, sand, and water – to get it all in, it requires you to put in the rocks first, then the pebbles, then the sand, then the water. We don’t sweat each individual drop of water or grain of sand, but we do pay close attention to the rocks. When we look at our organizational missions and our company vision and strategic plans, the big stuff still needs to be the big stuff, and that needs to take priority. We may need to revisit the plan, or pivot the vision based on the realities around us, but the top one, two, or three priorities of the company are where we need to focus our energy. Like the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the lift comes from 20% of the focus areas, when we have the right focus on the right 20%, the rest will fall in line.
Action Step: Revisit your organizational mission, vision, and strategic plan. Are you spending your days doing the things that matter most to keeping your customers satisfied, your employees safe, and achieving your vision? If not, make the necessary adjustments so you sweat the big stuff.
6. Tough communications are even tougher when they cannot be face to face.
Even if they’re not fun, tough communications have to happen. When they aren’t face to face (and sometimes even when they are), there is a risk that some of us will run from them, skip them, dodge them, put them off. That’s not the right approach. Some leaders weren’t sure how to tell their employees that hours needed to be decreased. Performance conversations were postponed. And in a vacuum, the employees filled in the blanks or made up stories, sometimes from the worst possible perspective. Businesses closed during the pandemic, some reopened partially only to close again. Some implemented safety practices and didn’t take the time to clarify with employees what those would be and how they would benefit employees and customers. People were laid off, let go, people left jobs in fear of things getting worse. Some of those could have been avoided by just having tough conversations. Tough communications require planning. While they’re tougher without being face to face, they certainly still need to happen. Video calls can help, and asking in advance for a chance to connect, distraction-free, can help as well.
Action Step: Consider the tough conversations you know you need to have – with a team member, with your leader, with a family member. Make time to plan for that communication, including making sure you’re clear on the goals and the best approach for each of the people involved, plus what you’ll do if something starts to go sideways.
7. There are heroes everywhere.
There are heroes in your grocery store, hospital, and health clinic. Heroes are our teachers, frontline workers, volunteers, Firefighters who drove their trucks around to honor birthdays and other celebrations, school administrators who figured out how to honor Class of 2020 seniors in special ways, people who took time to read favorite stories on Facebook Live so kids could have someone read to them, RV Donors who loaned their RVs to doctors so they didn’t expose their families, people who adopted pets during this difficult time, the list goes on and on. Each one of us has the ability to be a hero to someone else, and each of us has the ability to thank a hero for inspiring us. Sometimes in our workplaces we can be a hero to others – I’ve heard of some people donating their PTO hours to help colleagues during prolonged illnesses; I’ve heard of work teams volunteering together in their communities at food pantries or home building projects. We need to thank the heroes we meet and show them appreciation, where appropriate, and indeed by following their example.
Action Step: Take a look at the heroes around you. Make a note of the ways they’ve made the world better for someone. Thank them for this. Then go figure out something you can do to be a hero for someone else.4. There is always someone to care for.
8. Sweatpants are comfy, but it is false comfort.
Many people worked from home in sweat pants and delighted in the fact that they didn’t have to get ready for work in a traditional sense. But this same comfy approach also had some hazards. Right around week 8, some of us discovered that the comfort of our sweatpants made us miss out on the daily fit-check for our regular pants. Many of us have likely seen our social media feeds flooded with memes about our stay-at-home weight gain (and who can blame us, the gyms were closed!).
Even those who didn’t add any inches to their waistline during this period and rolled out of bed and right to the at-home workspace in comfy clothes missed out on a mental preparation opportunity that’s really important at work. The mental “space” that comes from dressing for work – getting into the work frame of mind, getting ready for the day, getting prepped. When we dress for work, we create a mental space that makes us ready for work tasks, and there are studies that show our work attire does indeed affect our productivity. Wearing the same clothes for work and sleep doesn’t energize our brain for the heavy lifting of the workday.
Action Step: Take a quick inventory of your work wardrobe - or at least the wardrobe you’ve been working in. Does it support your productivity? Have the last few weeks reinforced that? If so, then don’t sweat the small stuff. But if it doesn’t, change it up to be more productive.
How about you? What have you learned in the last 16 weeks?