Are we geared for changes we never quite planned for?

The world is in the grip of an unprecedented crisis and the universal challenge is to stay home and stay safe, in the interest of personal and public health and safety. Meanwhile, businesses face the added challenge of simply staying afloat, even as we unwittingly participate in the world’s largest social experiment. One that will determine if we are equipped, able, and willing to work from home when we have no choice but to do so.

With social norms changing dramatically, the standards of life and living are redefined. Almost instantly, trust becomes the element that defines the standards—at home, in public, or at work. This piece is an attempt to understand these changes to life and work as we knew it.   

So how do we gauge trust?  Trust is without measure and can only be quantified in terms of action and output.

On a team, trust is measured by how comfortably your team communicates and collaborates with each other, and of course actual work output. Can we rely on our teammates to build us up rather than let us down? Here, honesty is not negotiable. It is hard to feel safe when the people you work with are not honest with you. In terms of work output, it’s a lot more tangible. Do we have something to show for the work we’ve done all week? If we do, then we’ve upheld the trust our teammates placed in us and we earn their respect and appreciation. In return, our action is also evidence that we believe our teammates will do the same. The fact is, trust is a two-way street.

With our customers, trust is measured by the semiotics or the signals a business sends out. This is seen in the ways a business reaches out and responds to customers and is best measured by the number of customers the business retains. There is also the measure of the messages a business conveys through its communication. How it reacts and responds to its customers, and the fine print of its terms and conditions with its markets. Here again, honesty is pivotal.Interactions with customers and markets involve an ongoing dialogue, either directly or indirectly and does not hinge on a single advertisement, marketing campaign or community outreach programme.

Building psychological safety while working remotely can be tricky when teams don’t get to physically spend time together at work. Teams and not just their managers, must carefully build and constantly reaffirm their confidence in themselves and each other. That’s because reading text chats is not quite the same thing as talking with people in person. When we read a comment without social cues like tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions, it can be hard to interpret. So quite often we are quick to imagine the worst and the most inane comments, harmless jokes, or just good old wheedling, which we may have easily ignored in an office, suddenly has the potential to create problems. On the other hand, in an office, what doesn’t sound or feel like work is often what makes teams more creative and productive.  

Sometimes prime location is a constraint. Especially when businesses are located in more developed cities, it means costs of living are higher. This means there is a larger pool of talent that lives away from these areas and remote work is the only way to have access to this talent. So businesses that don’t encourage remote work will never really be inclusive or have much diversity. With no real sense of inclusion and diversity in the workforce, teams that share socio-economic profiles may also share the same bias, or blind spots. Another plus with remote teams is that they socialize with their own local communities rather than each other, so there is always a real diversity of thought that the business can benefit from.

Old habits die hard.

For more than a century, the world of business has focussed on learning what makes people more productive working in an office. Innovations in communication and transportation gave us retail, advertising, and supply chains. It also gave us managerial capitalism, in which middle managers and top managers are empowered to make decisions that were once made by business owners. You can see this at work in the hierarchies in corporate offices. But developments in the new millennium have already changed retail, advertising, and supply chains. Now we’re getting to see the changes it will bring to work and management.

What you need to do while working remotely:

  • To start with, everyone will need to be a lot more diligent about time management and plan hours for serious work, attending to office communications, personal time, and social or family life.

  • Managers will need to find other ways to assess and evaluate productivity with specific tasks and well-defined goals and not just time spent at work.

  • Employees will need to settle into new routines by adopting new habits, like extensive documentation of vital work decisions, so remote teams are up to speed in spite of living and working in different spaces and time zones.

  • Teams will need to become comfortable with video conferencing, because people will always crave face-to-face conversation.

The technology industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and is fast becoming our world’s basic and major commercial culture. But at its very core are some self-perpetrated myths and tenets. The first being that much has changed in modern times and data decides everything. Also that today’s heroes are worthy winners because they can clearly cut through the old norms to seek out today’s bold innovations and be disruptive for better gains.

What the studies tell us is that all the data and the analyses have only proved what good businesses have always known: that the best functioning teams listen to each other and are sensitive to people’s emotions and needs.

Go easy on yourself, it takes time to adjust to new norms

  • Don’t set your schedule in stone, be flexible when it comes to what time you work. Earlier you may not have sat down to work after dinner, but you may now find yourself doing it. Instead, you may find yourself making changes to your work timings to avoid other stressors, like intensely hot days in the summer or scheduled power outages in your area.

  • Don’t expect your family to cope with your new situation, especially young children, elders and pets. They may not understand right away, let alone adjust to it. Just remember everyone on your team is either facing similar issues at home or can at least relate to it. So stay centered and forge on, and everyone will get used to the new routine and homeostasis will be restored.

  • Don’t compromise on maintaining a structured workday. It can be easy to get distracted by social media and online entertainment when surrounded by the comforts of home, but try to stay focussed on the fact that you are working from home. Netflix and Amazon Prime will be around long after you’ve finished your workday or work week.

  • Don’t jeopardize posture for momentary comfort. Carpal tunnel syndrome and collapsed vertebral discs are genuine problems that can compromise your productivity. Sure, it’s nice to be able to kick-back and work from your bed or sprawled out on your couch. It wont be that nice when your wrist, back and neck need medical attention.

The threat to data privacy and security.

This is a big threat, and it’s growing by the minute. Every business needs to be cautious about protecting sensitive and confidential information. This includes their own proprietary data, vendors’ and customers’ confidential information, and their employees’ personally identifiable information.

It’s not just about information left in plain sight or what’s lost in transit, it’s also about network security. Home internet connections are not nearly as secure as your business network. If your business is IT-based, then there are statutory, regulatory, and contractual obligations to keep data secure. Kurt Knutsson, “The Cyberguy,” warns that with the pandemic, more and more hackers are looking to breach devices now logged on to home networks.

You need to be healthy to keep working.

Some early numbers are already in and the story is not pleasant. One of the reasons is how much our concept of comfort food has changed. The idea to make everything more convenient and save time, made ordering in the norm. Comfort food for most of us who grew up in the fast food era is essentially pizzas, burgers, fries, pastries, milkshakes, and other junk food loaded with calories, polyunsaturated fats and refined sugar. The other is how much time we spend sprawled out. Whether it’s watching television or streaming content or videos about anything and everything, we now spend much of our days without moving more than one muscle at a time.

There is a growing sense of panic in this current pandemic. Twitter is aflutter with how this is the point of change that will decide the future of distributed or remote work. Though this may not be the time to define change, it may well be the time to introspect. A time to reflect on who we are as people, teams, and businesses. A time to redefine ourselves to be flexible to what change may come, think about the technology we may need, and reinforce the culture we want to propound in our businesses and lives. So breathe deeply and exhale. We can stay home and still get the job done, all it takes is trust.



Photo by DEVN on Unsplash


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *