Published on by Jason Rosenbaum, COO
Ah the old work/life balance discussion rears its head once more...except now we have a completely different set of criteria telling us not what that balance should look like, but what it can look like. The “life” part of that equation has been greatly restricted.
CFO / COO
In the not so old days, so many people treasured the idea of working hard so they could play hard. Having never ascribed to the idea that work/life balance means a perfect blend of 50/50 at all times, being able to get away, decompress, relax, and recharge from our work for extended periods on end was what allowed successful people to have the discipline and dedication to achieve their goals at work. The idea of vacation time meant creating space for you to unplug and recharge, then come back to work as your best, most creative self. Today we live in a different world and as we head into month 3 for most of us, our work world and our life world have officially collided and become inseparable.
For leaders, understanding this environment means rethinking and re-measuring everything: success, output, the concept of time off, communication workflow, etc. It is a delicate balancing act to expect the best out of people during a time of crisis. While we must continue to hold the team to a high standard, understanding and empathy will be key in procuring the best our people have to offer. If you’ve recently moved from an in-office work environment to a remote environment, you’ve most likely settled into a good flow of how things work. And while the systems in place may need improvement, the chaos of figuring out this part of your business continuity has steadied. Even if you were already used to remote work, none of us were prepared for the change that quarantine has brought: our kids, pets, spouses, partners, and/or parents being around all day, nor were we used to sharing our spaces with multiple people all taking Zoom calls at the same time. Extra shout out to parents playing teacher right now - two hardest jobs combined into one. And even all that is becoming more habitualized as people figure out how to balance the new work/life norm. However with that steadiness has come the inevitable lull. The adrenaline of the crisis has now worn off and the honeymoon period of the newness of it all has gone with it.
We must be keeping tabs on folks, checking in consistently, being visible, and giving as much flexibility as possible. Leaders need to be public about not trying to be a hero in these times, and understanding that in great work cultures it will be people’s default position to put their heads down and go even harder. This is especially true when your laptop is constantly staring you in the face day in, and day out from the comfort of your home. Be clear about new goals and provide clear metrics of success so people can plan accordingly. Parents are sharing daycare or teaching duties, and that may mean your usual meeting time needs to be moved or adjusted. If possible, try to match up to the hours where the most people will be online together so you can be the most visible for them and available to them for any help they might need. Make sure that while you’re giving the team extra flexibility they’re meeting you in the middle with hyper-communication, whether through your chosen calendar or internal communication tool. Hyper-communication among the team creates a system of accountability and understanding. If someone needs to adjust their day, clear communication creates transparency and trust for the rest of the team.
Finally, as short-term strategic goals are adjusted, effective and clear communication to the team will allow them to shift their priorities accordingly. In a time where the information and data driving most of leadership’s decision-making is changing every 24 hours, or less, the teams understanding of what to deliver and when, while also working under challenging conditions, is crucial to survival. Providing digital transformation to clients means delivering the right solution for the right problem at the right time. Providing work/life balance transformation to our teams means a healthier workforce producing consistently excellent deliverables.
These sections are probably in the wrong order - this is like the instructions you get on the airplane to put your mask on first before helping others with theirs. It’s been said we may not all be in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm. We are all feeling this in one way or another. Some folks are feeling it physically based on their geography. Some are feeling it because they’ve got elderly parents living with them. Some feel it because their young children are all now at home. In some cases, college kids are home now. And some because they have friends, families, and partners who are healthcare workers. Our families and home life have morphed into some kind of family/roommate/co-worker dynamic in a living/co-habitat/co-working space. Anyone train to be an owner, parent, teacher, day care provider, and nurse all at the same time? Compartmentalization has been challenged in every significant way and for many people compartmentalizing these different aspects of their lives is what made those lives and those schedules possible. Now it’s all just a jumble.
In every conceptual way decision-makers are being put to the test because the ground they’re walking on is constantly shifting...by the hour if not faster. How do we keep our families safe? How do we keep our teams safe? How do we keep our business safe? The good news is that these are not new questions, just the circumstances around the success or failure of the decisions we make are heightened more so than what we’re accustomed to. There is opportunity in natural selection of organizations and make no mistake that’s what this is. We’ve all heard the “adapt or die” adage recently, but the truth is that this situation is going to force brands to adapt in order to survive. A crisis can sometimes provide the cover leadership needs to make the difficult or unpopular, but correct, decisions or changes they should have made during “good times”. It uncovers the vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your organizational structure, business model, processes and policies, and many other business fundamentals. This exposure is what is needed to do what is necessary to not only survive these times, but thrive. If anything, the idea of some destruction in the name of innovation for the betterment of the company and the team should not be something we’re afraid of, but rather something to be embraced head on.
Lastly, be sure to heed your own advice. If you’re looking to get your team some extra time here and there so they can be at their best, you need to be doing the same for yourself. While martyrdom can feel good in the moment, this is a marathon and not a sprint. We need our leaders to be at their best every day, consistently, for a very long time to come.
The "Groundhog Day" Effect
As it relates to work and not health, the hardest thing about this pandemic seems to be the way in which it has changed units of time for us. Weekdays and weekends have coagulated into one continual week, where Sunday feels like Wednesday feels like Monday feels like Friday feels like Thursday feels like Saturday. Any day ending in a “y” feels the same. Our desk/office/computer/workstation is now only a few feet away from our couches or living rooms or kitchens or bedrooms now so it is easy to feel like George Costanza.(Independent George - Worlds Collide)
Looking for ways to break up the mundane work-cook-clean-eat-sleep cycle is vital. Whether personally it’s exercise, getting out (responsibly) for some fresh air, or finishing something around the house you’ve been putting off for a while is essential to mental strength. Within our companies, we can be looking for ways to help our teams by making life just a little bit easier where we can for them so they can be as fully focused on doing their jobs well as possible. Things like offering a small dinner stipend so folks can get a night off from cooking, running a virtual book club with teammates, or sending a care package of toys and games for their little ones.
Knowing our staff beyond the office is more critical now than ever if we’re going to be able to do our parts in alleviating as much pressure as possible off of them. Let’s remember this is not normal. At the end of the day it is still leadership’s job to provide an environment where people can be their best and, despite the tough conditions we’re currently in, our job is to still put forth the professional effort we expect from ourselves. That means bringing your A effort every day despite the challenges with which you’re faced. We will all have good and bad days. Good and bad hours. Heck even minute-to-minute people’s emotional strength can ebb and flow.
Be patient. Be steady. Be visible. And reverse that golden rule...remember to treat yourself how you’d like others to be treated because while we’re not all in the same boat, we are all in the same storm.