Field notes on navigating the new normal

Five ideas to ponder as we all rise to what’s before us

One word that comes to mind is unprecedented. We’ve seen some of the disruptions that have come with the COVID-19 crisis in the past two decades, but not like this and not all at once. The markets were in free fall in 2008, but schools were still open for our children. People postponed events after 9/11, but people still congregated in person for solace.

While the world has changed dramatically in the last month and more change is surely ahead, we at Kenning are impressed by the resilience and creativity of our clients who are adapting quickly to the times and creating a virtual workplace that is brilliantly human and connected.

Here are five cross-organizational observations gleaned from conversations with clients who are courageously navigating this uncertain and stressful time.

 

1

Leaders are being more thoughtful about how accessible they are. Getting past hurdles and bottlenecks often requires thought partnering with the boss, but 1:1s can be too far apart and are often rescheduled. In the office, people can pop into the boss’s office to get faster input. To replicate this at a distance, we’ve heard about leaders trying to make themselves accessible for “pop-ins” by doing virtual office hours, during which they will be on the team’s preferred collaboration platform for anyone to grab them for a quick chat.

 

2

Performance measures can be fundamentally rethought and redefined. With schools closed, students and teachers are thrust into the uncharted world of distance learning with a hastily retrofitted curriculum. In response, educational leaders recognize that rating student performance will be difficult to do fairly, and some are moving to pass/fail grading systems. What can other organizations learn from this? Does it make sense to hold employees to goals and plans that were created for a context that doesn’t exist in the same way? Leaders have an opportunity to define productivity differently, and to establish a new perspective on how employees can contribute to business performance given the weight of the situation.

 

3

Isolation offers an opportunity for a new kind of connection. While sheltered in place and connecting via online platforms, people have responded with energy and creativity to bring a human touch and balance out the physical distance:

  • Plan a virtual coffee chat or happy hour – bring a beverage that says something about you
  • Take breaks by gaming together
  • Walk every day and post a selfie of your neighborhood
  • Share a favorite part of your home office in video conference with your colleagues who may not know much about you outside of your work office space
  • Engage in a 30-day push up challenge with your colleagues or friends, or better yet, raise some money for local relief organizations while doing it
  • Set up a virtual water cooler – a video link that stays open where people can pop in and out during a set time.

 

4

Finding the energy to engage requires periods of disengagement. Paradoxically, we should all be working to connect while also looking for ways to unplug. Research on the neuroscience of productivity suggests that having an organized mind actually requires regular daydreaming. There’s a case to be made for staring out the window a bit more, especially if you can see a tree or two. Similarly, too many hours using video conferencing can drain our energy as well. Perhaps schedule video calls for the morning and phone meetings in the afternoon to give your eyes a break (or turn off the video element to go back to staring at those trees). Some of our clients have become wise enough to recognize the value in scheduling a walking call to combine various health-minded approaches.

 

5

These are emotionally charged times, so let’s acknowledge that. We all hope for a swift end to the crisis and a return to normal life. But in the hardest hit areas of the world, there’s much stress and human tragedy. We all need to make space for emotion. We are taught that emotions have no place in the work environment, and we use very limited emotional vocabulary with our colleagues. Just saying the words, “I’m upset” feels taboo to some. But whenever people interact, emotions are there – and research says the act of acknowledging and naming an emotion helps us cope and deal with it more productively. Leaders and colleagues can make more room for emotions and inquire more about state of mind. Meetings might start with a check-in question such as, “What has your attention today?” before diving into the rest of the agenda.

 

What has your attention today? And what are you seeing in your workplace? We’d love to hear from you.  Contact us here.