leadership

3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees
3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees 1000 668 Jason Lauritsen

Regardless of when this pandemic ends (which feels like never to me right now), the way we work will never go back to how it was before.

Sure, offices will open and some people will return to their cubicles, but many won’t.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about work over the past several months, it’s that work can be done successfully well beyond the walls of the office—sometimes even better.

What this means for how organizations and leaders decide to change policies and reshape office environments is yet to be sorted out. But there is one thing for certain.

We are going to be managing employees who we can’t “see” in the office every day for the indefinite future. Remote work is never going away. In fact, as remote work expert Laurel Farrer put it this week as we discussed this topic as part of a panel, “soon we won’t even call it ‘remote’ work anymore. It will just be ‘work’.”

So, while it may take a while to sort out what this all means in the big picture, there is one thing we can focus on right now that will have an enormous impact on our teams and their ability to perform: We need to get really good at managing remote employees.

Why Do We wonder?

Over the past week, I fielded a survey of several hundred managers asking about their biggest challenges or questions related to managing virtual teams. There were a lot of great insights in the responses (more on that to come).

One group of responders took me back to the days when we used to gather around conference room tables to discuss employee engagement concerns. The challenge they raised sounds something like this:

“It’s hard to know how my team is doing/feeling/working when we are all remote.”

I get it. If you’ve only managed people in person at a traditional work environment throughout your career, you’ve likely come to rely on your ability to observe people around the office as a way to get a “feel” for how they were doing.

So, when you can’t see your people every day, it feels like you are somehow powerless to know what’s going on.
Ironically, this same conversation used to happen around that nostalgic board room table long before “pandemic” was a common word in our vocabulary. Even when we could see our people every day, leaders would find themselves together wondering about how employees were really doing, how they felt about what was happening at work.

My guidance to them then is the same as it is today.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Feeling like we don’t have a good handle on how our employees are feeling isn’t a new problem. Remote working arrangements have just made it feel more acute and painful.

Not knowing is definitely problematic. It leads us to make assumptions, and that’s never good because we rarely assume the right things.

If we remember that work is a relationship for employees, then perhaps we can learn from other relationships in our lives where this same issue arises. I’ll use my wife as an example.

On top of trying to survive a pandemic, my wife is running a campaign to be mayor of the suburban community where we live. She’s got a lot going on. Running for office is the equivalent of a giant popularity contest. Being in it requires thick skin and an ability to keep things in perspective.

Angie does a pretty good job of this, but I know there are times when it’s hard and she’s struggling with the stress. But, I don’t always know exactly when. And despite knowing her better than any other human on the planet, when I make any assumption about how she’s feeling, I’m almost always wrong.

When I act on those wrong assumptions, it has sometimes even made things worse. Piling more stress on top of what is already a big pile. So, I try not to assume.

Instead, I do what we should all be doing more often. That brings me to my first tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #1: ASK

When we are wondering about how someone else is doing, we don’t need to make assumptions. We can ask.

This is true for our personal relationships—our significant others, parents, children, friends, neighbors, etc. It’s also true for our employees.

It used to drive me insane when I’d meet with my executive teams and they’d start to speculate about what employees thought about certain things or how they were feeling about others. I am sure they got sick of me saying it, but I used to point to a wall where employees were working on the other side and say, “We don’t need to spend time wondering about this, we can go ask them. They are right over there.”

Perhaps the most fundamental skill we need right now as we try to adjust and adapt to managing in this new distributed and virtual environment is the ability to ask meaningful questions.

Consider questions like:

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how’s your stress level right now?
  • What makes work hardest for you right now?
  • How do you feel about your work from home set up?
  • What was your biggest win this week—with work or just in general?
  • How can I help make your work day less stressful?

The key is to ask questions that get the employee to reflect and talk about what’s really happening for them. One of my friends shared with me that her boss’s boss recently asked her, “Are you having any fun?” This unexpected question caused her to really pause and reflect on how she’d been approaching her work.

Asking good questions is vital, but it’s not enough by itself. Hence, my next tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #2: LISTEN

Sounds pretty simple, but don’t be fooled.

In the survey results from last week, a number of people lamented about the inability to observe body language when interacting with direct reports and others in the office.

This is certainly a real issue when working remotely. It makes it that much more critical that we pay attention to people and listen to what they are (and aren’t) saying.

I’m not going to give you a lesson on active listening because you’ve likely heard it before (if not, Google it and you’ll find loads of great resources). But, I will offer up a few key suggestions.

  1. Do not multitask. It’s so tempting to check emails while on a video call or meeting. Don’t do it. Shut down any other open windows, applications, or tasks and focus on the person in front of you.
  2. Take notes. Write down what you are hearing and any questions that arise in your mind. When you ask good questions, you should get interesting responses. Writing down important details means you don’t have to try to remember them or hold them in your mind. This frees you to pay attention to not only what’s being said but how it’s being said. Is there trepidation or anxiety behind those words?
  3. Ask the follow-up question. The first response is often the least helpful. Learn to say things like, “tell me more about that” or, “why do you think that is?” The second (or third) question is often when you get to the most important insights.

If you really listen to your people, they will share with you what’s working and what’s not. They will share their challenges with you. They will tell you where they need help.

Which brings us to the last tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #3: ACT

When you ask good questions and really listen to the answers, you should end up with a list of things that you can help. But, that list only matters if you take action.

You don’t have to solve every problem or address every need in the moment. But, you do need to do something to help.

When you take action to support your employees after they’ve shared a problem with you, it builds trust. The more often and consistently you do it, the stronger your relationship will become. They will begin sharing more important concerns with you.

Over time, you won’t have to work as hard at drawing out the issues because your people will know that you care and will help whenever they have a challenge in front of them.

Remote Management Impact in Three Words

This isn’t a new idea, just a refresher of a tried and true approach. Managing and engaging people remotely requires that we get the fundamentals right. There’s nothing more fundamental to fostering a positive relationship with your people than these three words:

Ask. Listen. Act.

These three steps taken regularly and with good intention will help you keep your people engaged and productive through the uncertain and changing times ahead.

P.S. One of the biggest challenges managers identified for managing remote employees is keeping them connected–to each other, to the organization, and to them as their manager. So, with my friends at Waggl, we decided to crowdsource some solutions.  If you click this link, you’ll be asked to share what’s been working for you to keep you feeling connected as a remote worker. You’ll also be able to see and vote for the best ideas submitted by others. Check it out now.  

Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work)
Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work) 700 468 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, I opened the weekly email from a thought leader I really admire, Marc Effron. Marc is probably best known for writing the genius book, One Page Talent Management.

I first crossed paths with Marc in 2006 when we were both speaking at the same event. We were both corporate HR execs at the time. From the beginning, I knew this guy was the real deal. 

And, I’ve been following his work ever since. His company, Talent Strategy Group, consistently publishes great content—much of it oriented towards blowing up status-quo thinking and replacing it with what really works.  

I’m a fan. Clearly. Which is why I was so disappointed to find an article in his newsletter titled, “Why the Fake You will Outperform the Authentic You (and how to fake it).” As I read it, I just sighed and thought to myself, “not you too, Marc.” 

For some reason, it’s become popular over the past few years to push back against the idea that we should bring our authentic selves to work. Adam Grant, another person I admire greatly, wrote in 2016, “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.” Thankfully, his view of authenticity seems to be evolving

My colleague Joe Gerstandt and I have been researching, writing about, and teaching authenticity for over a decade now, which is why I’m so baffled that we continue to get the concept of authenticity so wrong. 

Here’s an excerpt from Marc’s article: 

“At least once a month, I show a decidedly fake version of myself to very important people who have paid handsomely for my services. The fake me may show up in a client meeting, an executive education session or during an important speech. My clients don’t know that it’s the fake me and they don’t care. They simply want a great outcome for their organization.”

I bristled at the use of the word “fake” here. In 2020, we live in a time when literal “fake news” floods our social media accounts daily. Fake in today’s world means “intentionally misleading” or “lies.” 

As authors and thought leaders, we often use words that trigger emotional reactions that we hope will get you to click our email or read our post. That’s part of the marketing game. But, in this case, Marc’s use of the word fake here goes beyond a marketing stunt. It’s harmful. More on that later. 

More for the article: 

“You might consider yourself to be a genuine leader and can’t, or find it fundamentally distasteful to, imagine not being your “authentic” self at work. This is because many people like to believe that their authentic self is a carefully thought-through, practiced and shaped version of who they want to be. In reality, the authentic or genuine you is likely an artificial construct your brain has created – a big bundle of confirmation bias based on your intelligence and core personality and how both have interpreted your past experiences.

The genuine you is a constraint on your success if you believe that your success is derived from it. Once you stop worrying about being the genuine or authentic you, the more you can be the adaptable chameleon that succeeds in more situations. That sometimes fake you (if done well) is guaranteed to be a higher performer.”

Ugh. This almost reads like a moralistic argument for “the ends always justify the means.” And, maybe that’s the point. If you aren’t reading this carefully and thinking it through, this section could easily be interpreted in a lot of harmful ways:

  • Do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it makes you feel like a fraud. 
  • As long as you succeed, then “faking it” is worth it.
  • It’s okay to make things up and pretend to be someone you aren’t, so long as it gets better results. 
  • You will never have an authentic sense of self, so why both looking for or protecting it? Just make it up as you go and become something new in every situation. 

I hope that’s not what is being argued here because that would be a deeply sad and troubling reflection on what gets rewarded and promoted in business and society today. And maybe that’s the point of the article, to shine a light on how the entire system is designed to reward faking it. 

When I peel back the packaging of Marc’s suggestions as “faking it” and just look at the meat of his recommendations, I am not arguing that it’s bad advice. But, I’m suggesting that regardless of what’s comfortable for you or what’s in your natural style, you can learn skills to better promote your ideas, make friends, and show ambition without having to feel like you faking it. 

That’s why this article bothers me so much. At the very least, it reveals how poorly we understand and have defined authenticity. And that’s too important for me to let it slide.

Based on the work Joe and I have done over the past decade on authenticity, here are two critical things that Marc’s argument misses: 

1. Authenticity is a journey. 

One thing that Marc and I can agree on is that there is no single “authentic you” within any of us. As humans, we are constantly evolving and changing. Being authentic is the work we do to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, come to terms with who we are, and then show up in the world in a way that aligns with that. 

Marc is correct that while many assume they’ve done the work to live authentically, that’s just not the reality for most people. The journey of authenticity is challenging and not everyone has the know-how or willingness to take it on. 

Where Marc and I part ways is in what to do about it. Marc suggests that since you probably aren’t authentic, just fake it. While this may get you ahead in cut-throat corporate environments (and probably national politics), it’s harmful advice for most people in terms of overall wellbeing and happiness. 

In “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” author Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care nurse who cared for elderly patients at the end of their lives, wrote that the single biggest regret her patients expressed at the end of their lives was this: 

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” 

In other words, I wish I’d lived a more authentic life. While authenticity may not always be the fastest path to promotion, it won’t leave you on your deathbed wondering why you squandered so much of your life trying to be what others wanted you to be.

2. Authenticity includes your intentions.  

One of the biggest things people misunderstand about authenticity is that it’s not about doing or saying whatever you want without consequence. That’s not authenticity. That’s radical individualism. 

The model Joe and I teach of the journey of authenticity starts with self-awareness. And it’s not the traditional self-awareness work like understanding your personality, strengths, and behavioral style. Those things are important, but they’re just the start. 

The more important work lies in discovering and defining things like our values, purpose, intentions, and aspirations. In doing this work, we gain greater clarity about who we are today, but also who we aspire to be on our best days and in the future. When we are clear on these important things, it helps us make intentional decisions about our behavior. 

At work and in our lives, we make compromises and adaptations all the time. If it’s important to preserve a relationship with someone else, we may pause to consider how we are going to say something to another person if our words might hurt them instead of just letting it fly. We may end up saying it in a way that doesn’t feel as natural to us, but protects the relationship. 

As Marc illustrates in his piece, there are times when we have to adapt our behavior in order to authentically represent our values and intentions. You shouldn’t feel like you are faking it when you do this because it’s in integrity with who you are and who you intend to be.

It’s when we aren’t clear on what really matters to us, the winds of corporate politics and bureaucracy can blow us far off course until we wake up one day and wonder how we became a person we don’t even recognize anymore. Without committing to authenticity, you can easily fall into a pattern of faking it so much that you lose any self of who you really are. I believe this is a major contributor to things like burnout and midlife crises.  

Authenticity doesn’t mean no compromise or adaptation. It means that we make those choices with intention and purpose. Here’s a simple example from my work. My favorite dress code for work is jeans (or shorts) and a t-shirt. That’s how I feel most comfortable. If you saw me working around my home on any given day, that’s how I’d be dressed. As a keynote speaker, some would argue that for me to be my most authentic self on stage, I should dress in jeans and a t-shirt. 

But, this perspective overlooks the fact that one of my most important values is impact. I deeply care about the effect of my speech on the audience. And since I speak to corporate and business leaders most often, I know that many people in that audience expect an expert keynote speaker to wear a suit on stage. And, if those people saw a guy walk out on stage in jeans, they may wonder, “Where’s his suit? Is this guy legit? Is he really an expert?” 

Sure, I may be able to overcome those objections during my presentation, but I don’t want to waste those precious few minutes I get with my audience to make an impact over a pair of jeans. Marc would argue that I’m being “fake.” He’s wrong. That suit is an authentic representation of my values and aspiration. There’s nothing non-genuine about it. I’m not faking it. 

We change, grow, and evolve as people over time. The journey of authenticity embraces that change and brings a greater intention to it. When we try on new or less comfortable behaviors in service of our aspirations or values, it’s a step in our evolution as an authentic person. We are all going to be faced with making sacrifices and compromises throughout our lives. When we are living in authenticity, we can navigate these things with a clear sense of what is aligned with who we are and what isn’t. 

Don’t Fake It

The ironic thing is that if you adopt a broader view of authenticity as I’ve described, you may end up making some of the same behavior adaptations described in Marc’s piece. But instead of it being an opportunistic and perhaps morally questionable choice by faking it, it’s a choice in service of your values and intentions. It is the authentic you.  

Here’s my plea to you. 

Regardless of how much you want to get ahead or be accepted or find a little more success, don’t fake it. Instead, commit yourself to the journey of authenticity. Do the work to get clarity about who you are and what you want from life. When you can make authentic decisions and choices in your life and career based on this work, your life will be more meaningful and fulfilled. 

And at the end of it all, you’ll be able to look back and say, “I did things on my terms. I’m glad I didn’t fake it.” 

Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me
Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me 1000 555 Jason Lauritsen

I thought I was doing pretty well.

When our lives (and my business) got turned upside down in March, I hunkered down. I’ve been through some tough times before, so I knew that I could survive whatever was to come.

My wife and I figured out the “school from home” mess and made the best of it. And I went to work on pivoting my business for this new world. It felt like a puzzle to solve. While the circumstances sucked, they challenged me to learn and innovate. I even felt sort of energized at first.

I knew what I needed to do. Work hard. Focus on solving problems. Take risks. Go as fast as possible.

I’ve got this.

Then the start of the school year was suddenly upon us. Like many parents, Angie and I were confronted with decisions that felt impossible. Most critically, in-person or at-home school? We went back and forth for a while and finally made a decision.

Confronting the school decision seemed to somehow break me. I started to notice that I was exhausted all the time. When Angie would ask me, “how are you doing?” it became harder and harder to say, “I’m good.”

I started to notice that the energy I drew from “solving this puzzle” was diminished. Even the things that have always made me feel happy and joyful didn’t seem to be having the same effect. My resilience was waning.

I knew something was off but couldn’t figure out what it was. So I started doing a little reading and research. Before long, a lightbulb went on.

I’m burned out.

It’s been over five months now since the COVID bomb dropped on us. I’ve been grinding ever since. The stress and anxiety is ever present and I haven’t been doing the work I need to do to manage it.

I had plans to take some time off this summer to just hang out with the kids, but I always found work to do and suddenly summer was gone. I had a goal to meditate daily, but I let the habit lapse. Worse, I had replaced that with the comfortable numbness of a couple glasses of wine each night and whatever comfort carbs I could find.

Now that I’m aware of it, I am taking steps to heal myself. My energy is slowly starting to come back.

As I started to share this with friends and colleagues, I soon discovered that many of them were either feeling the same way or had navigated through the same challenge recently. I was surprised by how common this experience seemed to be.

Maybe you are in the same boat. Or maybe you recognize it in your partner, friend, or colleague.

This was just another reminder for me how important it is that we collectively work to support the mental health of our friends, family, and employees. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that their average weekly data for June 2020 “found that 36.5% of adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from 11.0% in 2019.” That’s a huge increase in what was already a big problem.

If we don’t care for the mental health and well-being of our employees, even the best engagement programs in the world can do little to preserve performance levels over the long haul. This may be one of the biggest challenges that lies before us.

Today at the bottom of the blog, I’m sharing some reading and resources related to this topic that I hope you will find helpful. Now is the time to lean into caring for your employees (and yourself). Things will likely get worse before they get better, so we need to be prepared.

You matter. Your work matters. Now more than ever.

Mental Health Reading and Resources

  • As you strive to support not only the mental health of your teams, but also their overall wellbeing, there is perhaps no better resource than the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). I’m sharing a page here where they provide access to several free resources related to mental health in the workplace. Resource: Mental Health at the Workplace
  • The most powerful thing we can do throughout this time for one another is to develop our empathy. This short post is a good reminder of how easy it is to assume we know what others are going through and, in doing so, miss an opportunity to really connect and help. Now is a time to use our natural curiosity to check in on those we care about. Read: Empathy Starts with Curiosity
  • Mental health isn’t a new challenge, but it’s becoming a more widespread and urgent one. COVID just poured gasoline on the fire. Now is a good time to get educated on mental health and why we’ve struggled with it traditionally. This can help us navigate a path to finding real solutions and support through work. Read: We Need to Talk More about Mental Health at Work
work from home
No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home
No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home 1080 599 Jason Lauritsen

A lot has changed over the past several months at work. This virus showed up and lit the status quo on fire. A majority of office workers now work from home. And we’ve been scrambling ever since. 

The most intense disruption has been felt in jobs and work that once happened in an office setting but is now happening outside the office, primarily in what we call “work from home” (WFH). 

According to data published by Stanford in late June, 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home full time. When considered against the fact that 33% of the labor force is unemployed, that’s a huge share of working people now doing it from home. And it’s a reality that was almost unthinkable six months ago.  

As a result of this major shift, there’s been a wave of articles and proclamations made recently that “the future of work is here” and that the move to WFH is here to stay. 

In the words of the great Lee Corso, long-time college football analyst and coach, “Not so fast, my friend.”

In the midst of a whirlwind of change and uncertainty, it’s natural to grasp for certainty. It’s also natural to want what’s happening to somehow be the end of the changes. We are all craving some normalcy and a world that slows down a bit so we can start trying to make sense of it again. 

But it’s far too early to start drawing any definitive conclusions about how the way we work is going to look when this pandemic is finally over. Given that even the most optimistic experts suggest that early 2021 might be when things begin to turn, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us yet. 

It’s more useful to step back and consider what we know and what we’ve learned. These insights can then guide us as we try to prepare our organizations for what lies ahead. 


On the other hand, the necessity of survival forced changes that were long overdue. 

  • Employees who had been told for years that their job couldn’t be done remotely were equipped to do so in days. 
  • Employees not only demonstrated an ability to work from home, but in many cases their productivity has actually improved
  • According to many I’ve spoken to, projects that would have taken years to complete in the past have been completed in months. 
  • The artificial barriers between “work” and “life” were broken apart as the new workplace involved bedrooms and living couches shared with children, spouses, and pets.  

As the proverb says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

There has been more disruption to the way work gets done in the past few months than in the previous decade. This virus forced us to cut through bureaucracy, red tape, and old school management practices to find a way to survive.  

And yet, both Gallup and Quantum Workplace have reported data that shows a dramatic improvement in employee engagement trends during the pandemic when compared to past years. 

What do we really know for sure at this point? 

We know that remote work is more viable and feasible than most expected. And we know that the reason we had not been allowing remote work in the past had little to do with it being possible and everything to do with management’s distrust of employees. 

We know that employees are far more resilient, resourceful, and committed to their jobs than most organizations assumed. Even in some really challenging situations (i.e. childcare, school from home, partner conflict, etc.), employees found a way to maintain productivity and get their core work done. 

We know that we are properly motivated, we can get things done and make things happen, even big complex things, a lot faster than we thought. Our slow, political, bureaucratic processes have been like anchors holding us in place. The bigger your organization, the heavier that anchor. 

What don’t we know?

The list of what we know is short. The list of what we don’t know is very, very long. That’s what makes jumping to any conclusions at this point dangerous. 

For example, we now know (and more importantly our employees know) that a majority of jobs can be done remotely. What we don’t know is whether they should be done remotely? Or if they should be done remotely all of time, some of the time, or none of the time. 

We have only been in this new reality of remote work for less than six months. We don’t really know yet how employees and their feelings will evolve.  When I started working from a home office, it took me years to fully make the transition and to learn how to be most effective in this setting (and I have the advantage of an actual home office). 

Some recent research from Quartz and Qualtrics revealed that “55% of people who switched from working outside the home to remote work at home said they prefer working from home when polled in early June.” But when you dig in deeper, the number is higher for those who work at a big company and lower for those who work in a small company. 

That data is from early June, before employees spent another few months isolated from colleagues and confined to their homes. We can only speculate at this point how employees are changing in both their attitudes and capabilities through this experience. Our workplace is going to emerge forever transformed. So too will our workforce

We don’t know yet the true impact of a fully distributed workforce. How could we? The fact is that we are running a giant remote work experiment during a pandemic. For me, working from home in the past was a combination of being in my office, on my couch, walking outside, using a conference room at a co-working space, and spending hours and hours in coffee shops both alone and in conversations with others. And that’s when I wasn’t on the road traveling. 

Today, employees are confined and limited to where and how they can work remotely. Work from home means “stuck at home” in a lot of cases, and it also means supervising children’s schooling, sharing space and duties with a spouse or roommates who are also stuck at home, etc. When the pandemic is over, a lot of variables will change and that means that some of what we think we’ve learned about how to shape work in the future may not be as valid as we think. An employee might come to hate working from home during a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want to do it under different circumstances. 

What should you do now? 

Given all of this, how can you prepare your organization for a new reality of work that hasn’t fully arrived yet?

  1. Talk to your people. There’s been so much change and most of us have been just rolling with the punches, trying to take it all in stride and do the best we can. But it’s hard. You feel it and so does every one of your employees. Now is the time to dial up your frequency of employee communication and feedback cycles. Surveys, focus groups, one-on-one check-ins, and any other means of keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with your employees is critical right now. Ask them how they are holding up and where they are struggling. Ask them how you can help. Ask them what they need. And do something to show them you care.
  2. Treat all of this as an experiment. Things are going to continue to change, the variables are going to keep changing. So, continue to try new things. A good experiment starts with a hypothesis (what do we think will happen?), followed by a specific and intentional action or set of actions, followed by measurement. The goal of an experiment is to prove or disprove the hypothesis and then use that information to start the next experiment. In other words, keep trying new things and measuring the impact. Learn as much as you can about what’s working and what isn’t so you can build on that in the future. Take full advantage of this unprecedented time to explore and learn.
  3. Focus on enabling employee performance. Employees have proven they will rise up to the challenge of remote work, but they’ve had to bear a heavy load to do it. Figure out what employees need and make it easier for them to perform what’s expected and make it happen. If employees are working from home, then supporting them in how to make that home work for them is just as important as it was to make the “workplace” a productive environment in the past. This could mean providing stipends for office furniture and technology. It might mean new technology tools. It might mean providing support and resources for childcare.
  4. Recognize that WFH is only one version of remote working. To say, “work from home” is the new norm or that it’s here to stay is wrong. You can say this: the days of telling people they have to work from the office and that their job can’t be done remotely without providing a really clear business reason are gone. What many employees have long wanted from work is flexibility. And now they know it’s possible and they will demand it in the future. 

Focus on people, don’t jump to any conclusions, and learn as much as you can. The future is always uncertain and unpredictable. The best thing we can do is pay close attention to what’s happening and apply what we are learning as we go.  

If you like this content, then you might really like my new online Engagement Leader Community. The work of engaging employees is getting harder. If you are wrestling with how to keep your employees engaged, happy, and productive during these crazy times, you will find some answers and support here. Check it out.

Keeping Employees Connected (Without the Terrible Virtual Happy Hours)
Keeping Employees Connected (Without the Terrible Virtual Happy Hours) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Whether it’s because your workforce is newly remote or because you can’t hold in-person meetings right now, you are probably worrying about how to keep your employees connected. This has been a common refrain in the conversations I’ve been having lately.

I’m excited that this is a top concern for organizations and leaders. It’s overdue. Even before the pandemic, it was debatable whether our employees were that connected. A move toward greater connection is a positive one that will yield benefits far into the future for both employees and employers.

Yours is probably like most organizations and has turned to technology to find solutions. Zoom meetings, virtual team huddles and happy hours, and video leadership briefings have all become routine. The good news from my seat is that it appears that employees, managers, and leaders are meeting more than ever.

But there’s some question about whether or not all of this meeting is translating into a true feeling of connection. In fact, the term “Zoom fatigue” has become pretty common. And it’s a real thing.

If you want to foster and accelerate a feeling of connection for employees, you can boil the secret down to this: meaningful activity.

When it comes to connection for employees, meaningful activity is crucial.

Let me back up for a minute to explain. In 2012, I published my first book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, which I co-wrote with my friend and collaborator, Joe Gerstandt. We wrote the book to equip people with the insights and tools they needed to build networks of authentic relationships as a pathway to achieving success.

Our journey to write the book began because people started asking us how we’d each cultivated such a big network of relationships. At first, we weren’t sure of the answer, but we were curious enough to try to find it. This led to years of work deconstructing our own experiences and comparing that against what research suggested about how relationships form.

In our research, one of the most powerful insights came from the book Achieving Success through Social Capital by Wayne Baker. Despite the sexy title, this is a powerful book. The big idea that stuck with us from this book involved meaningful activity.

First, I need to explain social capital in case you aren’t familiar with the term. Social capital is the value that we have access to through our relationships with others. This value can be both tangible and intangible. Being friends with the neighbor who owns every tool on the planet and will loan them to you because of your relationship is a tangible example. Another example right now might be knowing someone who has access to surplus hand sanitizer.

Intangible examples involve things like trust or support. Being able to reach out and ask someone for a favor or help, and knowing that they are likely to say yes, is a form of social capital. Having someone in your life who will always take your call and listen when you need a sympathetic ear is also an example.

Social capital only exists in relationships where people have created some real connection to one another. They have some level of familiarity, trust, and often shared experience. The more robust the connection, the richer the relationship likely is in social capital. But without that connection, social capital doesn’t exist.

For example, you might have a thousand friends on Facebook or followers on Instagram, but would any of them show up to help you through a crisis or to help you move? Maybe. But unless you’ve invested in building some real connection in that relationship, probably not. Social capital is what differentiates the kind of relationships that help you survive and thrive in times like these.

Here’s the catch that Wayne Baker highlights in his book: Social capital is an outcome. It’s not something you can grab or create directly. It’s like happiness in this way. Happiness is something we value and desire, but we can’t buy or create happiness directly. It’s a by-product of doing things that make us happy.

Social capital, according to Baker, is the by-product of participating in meaningful activity with others.

Social capital is the by-product of participating in meaningful activity with others.

This insight rang true for us at the time, and I’ve seen it work over and over for the past decade since. When we come together with others to do something we mutually care about, relationships naturally form.

If you’ve ever volunteered or served on a board or committee, you have experienced this. As you do the work, you come to know the other people through their work and commitment. You spend time with them and create a shared bond, often before you even know much else about one another. These shared experiences and mutual interests bond you together and create a strong connection.

The same thing can happen with a variety of types of meaningful activity from working together on a project at work to coaching your kids’ sports teams. Shared participation in meaningful activity is one of the most powerful ways we have to cultivate connection that will not only help get us through the pandemic but will last far into the future.

How Can We Use Meaningful Activity to Help in Keeping Employees Connected?

As we think about how to keep our employees connected in this more distributed working world, the magic ingredient is to add meaningful activity to social interactions whenever and wherever you can. Instead of just trying to create more opportunities for people to gather virtually, create ways for them to gather with purpose.

The more that purpose is connected to an outcome or to making meaningful progress toward a shared goal, the better.

To get your wheels turning, below are a few examples to consider.

Life-Hacking Groups

Many people are struggling with how to work most effectively from home. Some are wrestling with their health while others are struggling with focus. Some are having relationship challenges while others are trying to balance parenting with working. Each of these people is likely struggling to figure things out on their own, searching for helpful resources, and experimenting to see what works.

You could create some groups around these issues where employees could meet to discuss their common challenges and what they are finding most helpful. Perhaps you ask or challenge them to capture the best three to five ideas from each discussion to be written up and shared on the company intranet with all employees.

Creating groups around specific issues employees are experiencing can help them figure out what works.

Problem-Solving Teams

If yours is an organization where work has been disrupted in a way that leaves people with some slack time in their schedule, consider applying that time toward tackling organizational challenges. Look at the issues that are known problems but which never get addressed because of a lack of time and resources. If you aren’t sure what they are, send out a short survey to employees or just start asking questions. Soon you’ll have a bigger list than you can tackle.

Prioritize the problems and ask employees to volunteer to be part of a temporary team to discuss, research, and propose solutions to these problems. Employees of all levels can both find and add great value in a process like this. This approach likely requires some facilitation to ensure that the group is focused and that everyone has the chance to participate. You need to be committed to taking some action as a result of the recommendations. If there’s limited budget or resources, ensure they know that upfront so they can use that in their process.

Shark Tank-Style Innovation Challenges

Much like the previous suggestion, if there’s slack time to be used, put it to use finding and pitching new products or services. Employees closest to the customer often have a clearer sense of their needs than anyone and are passionate about solving for them. Give these employees the freedom to explore and propose solutions. By having them pitch the solutions at the end creates a competitive energy that will bond the teams together.

Peer Coaching/Mentoring

The idea of peer coaching and mentoring might be a new one to you; it’s an idea that is relatively new to me. But it seems like an idea that is ideal for this time where people crave both connection and support. In short, the idea is that two coworkers are paired together and asked to complete a series of conversations together. Each person asks the other a series of questions, documents what they hear, and feeds that back to them with some thoughts or suggestions. Then, they switch roles and do the same thing over again.

I came to learn about this approach through my colleague, Aaron Hurst, who’s company Imperative provides a platform to facilitate peer coaching. With or without his tool to help, the process is one that is rich in meaningful activity. The peer coaching process fuels the need for connection, learning, and problem-solving. You could use a simple version of this to facilitate weekly one on one chats for those on your team. All people need is the questions, some basic instructions, and the time to do it.

You can read more about peer coaching here.

Sharing Meaningful Activity Is the Key to Building Connection

My focus right now is to find and highlight the opportunities within the chaos that has been created over the past few months. One of those is that our collective desire for connection has never been more pressing or urgent. If we meet that need with the right kind of opportunities, those fueled by meaningful activity, the connection created in your team and organization will build a foundation that will impact your organization positively for years to come.

 

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Our Crisis of Trust at Work
Our Crisis of Trust at Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

As I’ve talked to leaders and managers over the past weeks, the two biggest issues on their minds have been supporting remote work and the “return to the office” plan. The general feeling I get from most I talk to is that they believe remote working is temporary, and they are expecting (or at least their leadership team is) to simply roll out some kind of plan that brings everyone back to the office relatively soon. A nice tidy return to normal.

Not.

Going.

To.

Happen.

The past two months have changed things more than you think. It’s laid bare some major issues that were already present in most workplaces, simmering just below the surface.

A storm is brewing. And I think it could be a pretty big one.

When offices started shutting down, it caused all kinds of chaos–particularly for managers and leaders who were firmly in the camp of “remote work could never work for us.” There was great concern about how to supervise these newly remote employees in order to make sure they were doing work.

Sure, there was also some concern for the employee’s wellbeing, but the broader concern was about productivity. People made jokes about employees watching Netflix, doing laundry, or parenting their children instead of working. Some organizations started making people log their hours. Others started hunting for ways to monitor if, when, and how much employees were working at home. They rationalized this as management and supervision necessity.

Thing is, none of this is about productivity. It’s actually about trust.

Trust at Work–Or the Lack Thereof

If your management team has spent much time worrying about if your employees are putting in enough hours or if they are actually working at home, you don’t trust your employees. If you did, you’d realize that they care about their jobs, and despite a bunch of new challenges, they are finding a way to get their work done. It won’t look like it has in the past, but they are getting it done.

Based on what I’ve been hearing from employers, that’s exactly what’s happening. Regardless of how well you are or are not supporting your remote employees, they are getting work done, often while caring for and educating their children and dealing with other big challenges.

The truth is that your ability to make remote work successful has less to do with technology or policy or process than it does how much you have trust in your people. Managers who assume the worst of employees and who have grown up in the “butts in seats” model of management are struggling mightily right now. Their employees always knew they weren’t really trusted but it’s now more painfully obvious than ever.

Managers who assume the worst of employees and who have grown up in the “butts in seats” model of management are struggling mightily right now.

Trust is always important to a successful working relationship, but it is vital when the relationship is “long distance.” If your organization had behaved in a way to earn employees’ trust before you sent them home, you are likely doing just fine with remote work. If you are struggling, that’s not good news when it comes to trust.

And the news gets worse. They probably don’t trust you either.

Up until two months ago, a lot of organizations had been telling employees that working from home, even for a day or two a week, was simply not possible. There were a lot of excuses made: security, technology, etc. It didn’t matter how much working remotely would improve the work-life for the employee.  The answer was always the same.

No.

Then along came a pandemic and within days, what was once impossible became possible. Remote work was enabled out of necessity and the charade was over.

Employees now know that working from home is not only possible but that they can make it work even when they are confined to their home or apartment with partners and children, even when charged with schooling their children at the same time. On top of that, they have learned that they may even enjoy working from home and find they actually be more productive over sitting in a cubicle.

Working in the office wasn’t exactly a paradise for everyone.  Remember, Gallup tells us we were only fully engaging about a third of our staff before this all happened. Being out of the office for a few months may have been a welcome respite for some.

You can’t blame the employee for being skeptical. If remote working is so easily possible despite being told the contrary for so long, what else isn’t true?

When their leaders send out the message suggesting it’s time to “come back to work” in the office, there will be skepticism and uncertainty. When the organization assures them that it’s safe and that they are taking every precaution, it would be hard to blame the employee if they don’t believe the message and push back.

From their perspective, leadership may feel less trustworthy than ever and they know that working remotely works. Why would they be asked to put their lives and safety at risk for no apparent reason other than “getting back to normal”?

A standoff is in the making. It’s a standoff born from our crisis of trust. 

Management doesn’t trust employees to work from home. And employees don’t trust management enough to come back to the office. Sure, employees can be forced to come back, but at what cost?

I am aware that this scenario is cynical and doesn’t represent every case. There are companies out there who have done a great job building and maintaining trust throughout this pandemic. For example, Twitter just made a big move to allow employees to make the decision about coming back to the office (maybe never). This is what trust at scale looks like.

But there are many more examples of the contrary. The violation of trust around the viability of remote working feels pretty minor compared to things like Uber using a 3 minute Zoom call to tell 3,500 people they no longer have jobs. Jobs are being slashed to save profit margins, inequity is being amplified, and people are watching. If trust wasn’t already lacking in these organizations, it is gone now.

This didn’t happen overnight. Trust has been on the decline around the world for several years. A scan of the Edelman Trust Barometer research reinforces that this isn’t a new issue.

Trust has been on the decline around the world for several years.

And the really inconvenient truth is that trust takes time (months or years) to build and seconds to break.

What Does All of This Mean About Trust at Work?

There are so many things happening so fast, that it’s been hard to know where to focus. My goal in writing this post is to help you focus on what really matters. If you aren’t talking with managers and leaders about trust and building trust with employees right now, move it to the top of your list.

Essential employees on the front lines need to trust that everything is being done to prioritize their safety and the safety of customers. They need to trust that you care about them more than a couple of extra dollars.

Work-from-home employees need to know that you trust them to figure out how to get work done. And that you wouldn’t ask them to put their lives or wellbeing at risk unnecessarily. Remote working isn’t going anywhere. It appears that we may be dealing with this virus into 2022. Even if it is resolved sooner than that, remote work isn’t going anywhere now that the people know what’s possible. A recent IBM study of 25,000 people revealed that 54 percent of those surveyed want remote work to remain their primary way of working. And 70 percent want it to at least be an option for them in the future.

It’s never too late to start building trust. Now is the right time.

While I’m not going to try to give you a comprehensive class on trust-building here, I’ll point you to one of the best resources available: The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey. This book provides some of the most actionable insights into trust building that I’ve found including a list of behaviors that build trust.  Below are a few to help you get started.

  1. Clarify expectations. Uncertainty is everywhere right now. One way to remove some of that uncertainty and foster trust is to work with employees to outline and document crystal clear expectations for their job performance. Make sure your employees can clearly articulate not only what work product is expected of them, but also “how” you expect them to work in the home environment. If you have expectations for responsiveness or availability, those need to be very clearly communicated. Even if the employee disagrees with the expectation, making it explicit and clear will help preserve trust in the relationship.
  2. Listen first. Don’t assume you know what an employee is dealing with. Coach managers to do frequent check-ins where they spend much of that time asking questions and listening actively to what the employee says. A quick way to lose trust is to jump to conclusions about what an employee feels or what they need. To build trust, ask meaningful questions and really listen to what you hear. Then use that valuable insight to provide the support they need.
  3. Extend trust. This is one of the most powerful, albeit counter-intuitive, means of building trust. When you demonstrate that you trust someone, it makes them more likely to trust you in return. This reciprocal nature of trust has been proven through research and it works. My rule of thumb as a leader has always been to trust people more than they expect. In a vast majority of cases, the person responds by being even more trustworthy than I expected.

In my opinion, the organizations that are most effective at building and maintaining trust will be those that emerge from the pandemic and economic downturn in the best shape, positioned to thrive in the future.

 

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How to Shape the Future of Work NOW
How to Shape the Future of Work NOW 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve been struggling the past couple of weeks to write.

Every time I sit down in front of my keyboard, I feel conflicted. The range of issues facing people leaders and organizations varies so widely.

On one end of the spectrum are those employers whose primary challenge is supporting the employees who moved from an office environment to working from home. Their biggest issues revolve around supporting work from home, engaging remote employees, and maintaining culture in a virtual working environment.

At the other end of the spectrum are those organizations that employ those deemed “essential workers” in today’s world. Things are very different for those in this group. Issues of safety and wellbeing are paramount. While they may have a few people working from home, they have far more who are putting their health and lives on the line each day to show up to work. The problems of the first group of employers I mentioned sound like luxuries to them.

The day-to-day realities of these two groups are very different. What’s helpful to one group, sounds almost trivial to another.

So, I’ve been a bit more stuck than usual.

Then I realized there was one conversation I’ve been having over and over with people who work at organizations that exist in all areas of the spectrum. It’s a conversation about our opportunity to change the very nature of work through this moment in time.

I’ve heard people say things like “the rules are out the window” and “everything is being hacked.” These same people talk about how things under discussion for years, which would have taken months, if not years, to get done in the BC (before COVID-19) world, are now getting done in days or weeks.

Things that executives had always resisted and thought not possible are currently happening.

The common thread in all of these conversations is that a window for innovation has opened wide. How we work, when we work, what we do to support and care for those who do the work, and many other issues related to work have been completely disrupted. Those who lead and manage people are being confronted with challenges they’ve never encountered before.

New problems demand new solutions.

And while the future remains volatile and uncertain, one thing is sure: Normal as we knew it for work is gone. We can never go back to the way things were before. And why would we want to? For decades, employees have suffered through a status quo experience of work that was most commonly disengaging and unsatisfying. Why would we want to go back to that?

What lies before us, regardless of the challenges currently at hand, is an opportunity to completely rethink and reshape work in a way that serves everyone better: employee, manager, customer…everyone.

Normal as we knew it for work is gone.

But we need to move swiftly and with clear focus on what matters the most. From my seat, that means breaking and replacing inhumane processes with those designed for humans. We must take advantage of the open minds and lowered guards from those in power to usher in a new era of work that truly works for humans.

Here are a few thoughts and recommendations for where we can make the biggest impact.

The Role of the Manager

From its inception over a century ago, the role of management has been oriented toward control. Employers tasked managers with ensuring that the company was getting its money’s worth out of the dollars they paid to employees. Unfortunately, even as the nature of work has shifted dramatically over decades, the role of manager hasn’t moved with it. Historically, this has been a sticky problem. But things are different right now.

Never before have managers been forced to think about and care for employee wellbeing more than they do right now. If you manage essential employees, you have to be dialed into how safe or scared they feel at work. You have to pay close attention to how the stress is affecting them because it obviously impacts their performance. 

If you manage a newly remote team, avoiding conversations with your employees about how they are balancing their family obligations and other distractions could have significant consequences to both their work performance and commitment.

In this moment, managers must have a heightened awareness of the humans who are doing the work. Partly that’s because we are all experiencing our own human challenges. This is creating greater empathy. In addition, the consequences of not attending to these issues are highly visible. The role of the manager in today’s working world is to cultivate human performance. I write at length about this in my book, but the short version is that people have a natural inclination toward performance and growth. When we have what we need, and our paths are free of obstacles, we will find a way to succeed. 

Managers must have a heightened awareness of the humans who are doing the work.

A manager’s responsibility to her team is similar to the gardener’s responsibility to her garden: to ensure that those miraculous living things have what they need to thrive and promptly remove any obstacles that might get in their way.

The opportunity in this moment is to orient management practices around checking in with the human first. One powerful example is to redefine and structure manager checkins with employees. I wrote a post about how to do this a couple of weeks ago that you can reference for more detail. It’s also a great time to focus on the education of our managers and leaders about issues of wellbeing so that they can better provide support to employees as they need it.

Managing Performance

It’s no secret that performance management is broken. And it’s never been more clear that managing performance through a once per year appraisal is ridiculous at best. Given all the concern about maintaining performance while employees are either under duress, working remotely, or both, now is the time to introduce and bolster processes that are foundational to effectively managing performance. Start with the fundamentals.

Clearly Articulate and Regularly Calibrate Expectations 

Given how quickly things are evolving and changing right now, managers should be in an ongoing conversation with employees about expectations. Each employee needs to be crystal clear about not only where they should be focusing their effort right, but also what expectations exist about how they get their work done. The key to all of this is what I call the golden rule of performance planning: “If it matters, write it down.” These written expectations can then be validated and renewed on a weekly or monthly basis to ensure alignment and clarity.

Have Regular, Ongoing One-on-One Conversations

Managers holding one-on-one meetings with employees has always been important, but right now, it’s vital. When you don’t have the benefit of in-person drop-ins or hallway conversations, having a regularly scheduled forum to check in about performance is extremely important. Using a regular agenda of questions to guide the conversation is a powerful tool to ensure that this time is used in the most valuable way. Some examples:

  • What have you been most focused on since the last time we met?
  • What kinds of obstacles or challenges are you running into?
  • What can I do to best support you right now?
  • What are you planning to focus on over the next week/month?

Coach, Don’t Criticize

In every interaction with an employee, managers should be providing some appreciation. Everyone is adapting right now and doing their best. Finding ways to provide some acknowledgment of the effort into making this new reality work will go a long way. At the same time, be careful not to use feedback in a way that kills morale. Instead of criticizing an employee for something that may not have gone well or for a mistake that was made, try to think more like a coach. Talk with the employee to understand what happened and why they made the choices they did. Then, provide some recommendations and guidance on how to get a different outcome the next time they face that same situation. Orient coaching toward improving future performance rather than dissecting past mistakes.

If we can build these processes, approaches, and skills into how we manage performance through this moment in time, there’s a good chance these practices will become habit. They will inherently become part of how we manage going forward into whatever the “new normal” looks like in the future.

Unnecessary Policy and Practice

Given how suddenly the shift from in-person to a distributed, work-from-home work environment happened, many traditional rules and policies were relaxed or even overlooked to make it happen. The focus, by necessity, had to be on how to get the work done and how best to support employees through this transition. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that some things that used to get more attention and energy are now missing.

For example, how has expectations of dress code or working hours changed? How has the view on managing work time changed in the past two months?

Most organizations are rife with policies and practices that have no real value or purpose.

There are probably a host of ways that work is happening differently now than it was before this pandemic. The critical question to ask is “why?” Many of the policies that have gotten bent or broken in this transition may not have been needed in the first place. Most organizations are rife with policies and practices that have no real value or purpose. They were probably written into existence as a response to one bad experience (i.e., one employee showed up to work dress inappropriately, so we wrote a policy instead of dealing with the one person).

Use this time to seek out and identify the wasteful and unnecessary practices and policies that have been revealed. Pay attention not just to policy but also busywork (i.e., weekly reports that no one was actually looking at) and unwritten rules (i.e., leave your personality at home when you come to work). Now is the time to actively identify and destroy these things so as we create the new normal, it is free of this unnecessary and harmful baggage from the past.

Seize this Moment to Shape the Future of Work

While I wish the price wasn’t so tragically high, a powerful opportunity to change work for the better is at hand. For those of us who believe that work can and should be a fulfilling and nourishing experience for everyone who does it, this is a moment where we must take action. If you are a leader of people, then use this time to show what is possible. If you support those leaders, equip them with new tools to help them develop new habits and mindsets during this time.

What we do at this moment will shape work for the next decade. Let’s make it count.

 

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Employee Engagement for You: The Latest News April 2020
Employee Engagement for You: The Latest News April 2020 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

EmployeeEngagement For You

It feels like the world has been turned upside down in the last few months.

As we try to adjust to our new realities, riding the daily emotional rollercoaster that is life right now, it can be hard to stay grounded.

In the midst of all of this, there are two things I try to stay focused on.

First is self-care. Now more than ever, we need to take care of ourselves. Get some sleep. Exercise. Journal, meditate, talk to people you love—whatever makes you feel less out of control. It’s hard to care for others if we are a hot mess ourselves.

Second, move toward something positive. Throughout my entire life, one thing that has always proven true is that the best way to free myself from fear or a feeling of being trapped was to take action. Even a tiny step forward can feel like liberation.

If your circumstances are feeling daunting or overwhelming, if you feel stuck in fear, find some small thing you can do that moves you towards something better.

Action is a cure to fear. Keep moving.

Jason

P.S. If your organization is taking good care of people, you should nominate your work for an Employee Engagement Award before May 22. It’s a simple process and great recognition. Click here to learn more.

Stuff You Should Read

We are all feeling unsettled and unsure right now. Our sense of safety and normalcy has been lost. Lives and jobs have been lost. And we fear losing so much more. With loss, comes grief. Read: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

As the new reality of remote working evolves, we need to keep our eye on mental health. Even before these unprecedented times, “Freelancers were 86 percent more likely than office workers to self-report depression.” Read: The Coming Mental Health Crisis as Remote Working Surges

Crisis can reveal the best in us. And it has in many communities around the globe as neighbors reach out to support each other. Will we carry this renewed sense of community forward with us at home and work? Read: Coronavirus Reminds Us What Functioning Communities Look Like

stuff you should hear

If you aren’t familiar with Esther Perel, that should work is a relationshipchange today. She is a renowned relationship expert who has been turning her attention to the workplace. She recently appeared on Adam Grant’s podcast “WorkLife” to discuss relationships and work. Listen now.

stuff you should watch

We’ve seen some really great and really poor examples of leadership recently in business, politics, and elsewhere. This powerful TED video from Simon Sinek helps explain the difference between good and bad leadership. It feels particularly relevant right now.

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What Your Employees Need From You Right Now
What Your Employees Need From You Right Now 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

For the amount of talk and training and coaching we’ve deployed over the years about change, you’d think we would be better equipped when big changes show up.

Maybe nothing would have prepared us for the collective gut punch that we are all experiencing right now.

I know that I certainly got knocked off balance by this thing. It’s hard to find your balance when things are shifting so quickly and dramatically all around us.

As I’ve been talking with people this week, one of the common themes has been “how can I help people through this?” And this is a really important question—particularly for employers. Here’s why.

Unless you are completely isolating yourself from the news right now, it’s hard not to feel afraid of what’s coming—virus, economic downturn, etc., etc., etc. Good news is hard to come by.

There’s a lot of fear out there. I published a post earlier this week titled “I’m Scared Too” to share my own feelings about what was happening and to provide some guidance on how to step forward in spite of the fear. When I wrote that on Monday, I was pretty unsettled and my emotions were pretty raw.

I felt compelled to write about what I was feeling as a way to model what it looks like to put your emotions into words as a way to process and move through that emotion. My hope was that maybe it would nudge others to talk about their own feelings as well. Writing that post was healing for me and it helped me engage more fully with the new reality we are facing.

The reaction to my post was interesting and informative to me. There was one thing that really stood out in the reactions I received.

We have a complicated relationship with fear.

Some people I heard from were grateful that I had talked about my own fear as it helped validate how they were feeling.

Others, mainly my friends, reached out with a message: “Are you okay?” For those who are concerned, yes, I am very okay. I didn’t realize that admitting my fear would trigger this reaction. It feels good to know that people care. These messages also hinted at something else I noticed this week.

There are a lot of us, particularly the dreamers and entrepreneurs and “change the world” types, who have adopted a belief that fear is a bad or toxic emotion. I even have a plate displayed in my office (that I painted) that says “No Fear.”

To illustrate what I mean, I’ll share that one friend, after reading my post, said to me these two things: “Fear is the worst response” and “fear keeps us from living.”

It came from a good place, but I think it’s dangerous to talk about fear like this—especially right now. The “no fear” culture isn’t about fear, it’s about courage. And we need to be very careful with our language right now.

According to a Smithsonian Magazine article about the brain’s reaction to fear, fear “is a fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect organisms against perceived threat to their integrity or existence.”

It’s a natural human response that’s meant to help ensure our safety and survival. Fear isn’t good or bad. Telling someone not to feel fear isn’t helpful. What we need not isn’t an absence of fear, but rather an abundace of courage.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”—Nelson Mandela

Acknowledging our fear is okay. In some cases, you must acknowledge it as a way to move past it. To move past it, we need to feel a sense of control.

Back to the Smithsonian article: “That perception of control is vital to how we experience and respond to fear. When we overcome the initial ‘fight or flight’ rush, we are often left feeling satisfied, reassured of our safety, and more confident in our ability to confront the things that initially scared us.”

Once I wrote and published my blog post on Monday, I went to work on planning for two things:

  1. The safety and health of my family.
  2. The sustainability of my business.

This has involved some reading and education; conversations with my family, friends, and colleagues; and writing down some plans. The future is uncertain and that feels scary, but through these steps, I’ve found my way to a greater sense of stability and wholeness in the past four days. The fear isn’t gone, but I’m managing my way through and past it by taking purposeful steps forward, controlling the things I can.

My Advice to Leaders Right Now

As leaders of people, managing through the fear is our most important task right now. People are uncertain and afraid. Start with acknowledging the fear and validating that it’s natural to feel that way. This starts with you.

If you feel stuck or paralyzed right now, uncertain what to do next, that’s likely the fear. Being afraid is okay, but we can’t stay here. People depend on us, so we have to find the right next step. And don’t worry; there is no perfect next step. This is new territory. Do the best can, erring on the side of caring for yourself and your people. If you make a mistake, just back up a step and try something else. That forward momentum will help alleviate the fear. I promise.

The main thing right now is to find ways to help create a sense of control for your people. Give them agency in this experience so that they too can feel that sense of forward momentum that moves us out of and past the fear.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Communicate and educate like it’s your job (it is actually). Don’t assume what people do or don’t know—whether that’s about the virus, prevention strategies, how to work remotely, how to maintain social distance, etiquette for video meetings… Things are moving and changing so fast that I’m sure you are overwhelmed. Imagine how your people feel as they are even further removed from the decision-makers. You literally cannot over-communicate in times like these. When city and state leaders are holding daily press conferences to keep the general public updated, your frequency of communication needs to be even higher than that. Consider daily team meetings, daily one-on-one check-ins, regular email updates/briefings on anything that’s new or changing, etc.
  2. Recalibrate performance expectations. As we shift to work from home or different operation schedules, it’s time to step back and focus on what matters the most right now. Things that may have seemed important two weeks ago may not matter as much today. Spend time with your people to talk through their performance objectives and projects. Identify what is critical now, what is less important, and what can be put on hold for the time being. Also discuss and clarify behavioral and communication expectations. For example, in a remote working environment, how are we going to communicate? What kind of response time expectation should have of one another? As an example, with my teams in the past, we’d agree that email is for things that need a response in one or two days, instant messaging (like Slack) is for a quick question, and text is for things that need urgent response. The more clear you are in expectations, the easier the transition will be.
  3. Allow maximum flexibility (and grace). In this unprecedented time, people are trying to juggle things they’ve never encountered before. Kids are out of school, and  for some, there is an expectation of parents to “homeschool.” People who never have before are working from home. Self-quarantine has us isolating from family and friends. Our routines and lives have been disrupted in more ways than we can count, and it happened overnight. As leaders, we need to help people find their footing and establish a new normal. This is going to require learning how to manage a work/life mashup that most never wanted and didn’t choose. Now is the time to both allow and encourage as much flexibility as possible in terms of both how and when work gets done. Provide tools, resources, and support to people as they navigate this. And, perhaps most important, extend grace to your people. Help them understand what the mission-critical work is that must get completed, and then allow them some wiggle room to sort out their life. Be generous and forgiving. Now is not the time to be worried about how many hours people are working. Just ensure that the critical work gets done over the next few weeks. Then, you can begin to craft the new normal.
  4. Make wellbeing a part of everyone’s job. In stressful times, it’s easy to stop doing the things that help us stay well and healthy. We eat and drink more, we sleep less, we stop exercising (no time!), etc. On top of that, social distancing means we are likely to start feeling more isolated and disconnected. In a health crisis, allowing your wellness to suffer is perhaps the worst thing you can do. We can make ourselves less vulnerable to illness by investing time in our wellbeing. But your people may not feel like they can allow themselves time for wellbeing activities unless you make it part of their job. Give them instruction to set aside at least 30 to 60 minutes a day for some kind of physical or mindfulness activity. Encourage them to schedule a 30-minute check-in with a colleague or friend at least a few times a week. (My wife and I have started scheduling virtual happy hours with friends.) Investing a couple of hours a week to support the wellbeing of people is an investment in the quality of all of the other hours of the week.

Use the fear as a wake-up call. To emerge from this crisis as whole as possible, we need to take action now to help our people through it. Fear isn’t the problem; it’s a signal that action is required.

When this is all over and the pandemic has passed, people will remember how their organizations and leaders showed up. Did you prioritize their safety and wellbeing, even when it wasn’t easy for you? Or did you wait, leaving them in their fear not sure what to do next?

Those companies and leaders who step up now will emerge from this crisis stronger and with more loyal, committed employees than ever before.

Go now. Your people need you.

 

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Employee Engagement for You: The Latest News March 2020
Employee Engagement for You: The Latest News March 2020 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

According to Scott Berkun, innovation is significant positive change.”

In case you haven’t noticed already, I’m trying something a little different with my emails lately. It felt like we needed some innovation to bring more value to your inbox.

Today is my first attempt at a new monthly newsletter format to share with you some resources that I find both important and interesting. My goal each month will be to share some articles, podcasts, and videos that can help us engage employees (and sometimes ourselves).

I hope you like it. Send me a note to let me know if this format feels like significant positive change. Love it, hate it, don’t care, whatever, I always love hearing from you. Just hit reply and talk to me.

Until next time, enjoy the content.

Jason

The fastest way to improve the work experience is to start with what you can control. Try some things with your team to find out what works, then share your story with others. This article provides some great ideas on where to start. Read: Nine Ways to Make Your Workday Better

Bad attitudes and toxic behavior can ruin a team or an office. Research has shown that negative emotions are contagious, but so are positive ones. To be a better manager, we need to understand “emotional contagions” and how to use them to our advantage. Read: Faster Than a Speeding Text: “Emotional Contagion” at Work.

Over the years, we’ve debated the link between compensation and engagement. But some recent research suggests that for our lowest paid employees, compensation may be far more important than we ever considered. Read: The key to lower suicide rates? Higher minimum wages.

Spending any time with Brené Brown content will make you a better human being. In this podcast conversation with Krista Tippett, she discusses her research on belonging. It touches on everything from vulnerability and authenticity to fear and spirituality. There are some profound insights to be found here for both life and the workplace. Listen now. 

Nataly Kogan, author of Happier Now, is on a mission to remind us to celebrate the women in our lives on March 8, International Women’s Day. I’m in. I hope you feel the same. She explains more in this short video.