Is the pandemic an excuse to put things off?

The pandemic makes working life really difficult for many people, making even the simplest of decisions far more complex. However, it is also an easy excuse to put off the things that we don’t want to tackle. It enables us to create an argument that these things need to be parked until we return to normal, but that could be a long way off; can these issues really wait.

Ricky gets Paul to explain why we do this, and what strategies can support us to take action now, even if it does make us feel uncomfortable.

This podcast was recorded while we are still in lockdown.  Like most people, we are working from home (kids and pets may appear at any time).  We are still focused on the questions that are getting in the way.

How can I ensure that people feel in control at times of change?

When the world changes around us, many of us feel completely out of control and struggle to find meaning.  This struggle then leads to even the most competent people hitting a productivity brick wall as they work to resolve these feelings.

Rob explains to Ricky how to spot this happening in the workplace and how leaders and managers can help people regain control through some simple steps, helping them to process the change which in turn allows productivity to return. This is more important than ever, with COVID-19 creating change in every part of lives.

This podcast was recorded while we are still in lockdown. Like most people we are working from home (kids and pets may appear at any time). We are still focused on the questions that are getting in the way.

Have we accidentally created two tribes?

Teams have been broken, split between furloughed and working, home-based or office-based.  Teams that were once aligned against a common purpose are now divided.  What does this mean for managing teams going forward?  How can leaders bring teams back together?

Rich, Rob, Ricky and Paul (and Paul’s dog) discuss the implications and unintentional side effects of some of the difficult yet necessary decisions that have had to be made.   How do we get back to one team and one vision?

This podcast was recorded while we are in the middle of lockdown. Like most people, we are working from home (with kids and dogs), making do and still looking to answer the questions that are getting in the way.

How can I get back out of the detail?

The vast amount of change that has been thrust upon us with COVID-19 has caused most leaders to have to grab control of the day to day to make sure that the business can ride the storm.

In this podcast, Ricky talks to Paul about the dangers of getting stuck in this detail for too long, and how you can recognise and do something about that when it happens to you.

This podcast was recorded while we are in the middle of lockdown. Like most people, we are working from home, making do and still looking to answer the questions that are getting in the way.

What is all this uncertainty doing to my team?

We are dealing with high levels of uncertainty right now, possibly the most uncertainty that most of us have or will ever experience. What impact is that having on our lives, and particularly our working lives?

In this podcast, Richard talks to Paul about how we react to uncertainty, and some of the things we can do to help us work through these times of rapid change, both for ourselves and the people that we manage or lead.

This podcast was recorded while we are in the middle of lockdown. Like most people, we are working from home, making do and still looking to answer the questions that are getting in the way.

What makes clarity so important when managing remotely?

Remote working might be part of the new normal going forward, but if you are not co-located with the people you work with, it is easy to get out of step with the team and the priorities.

Rob gets Ricky to explain why the work you do as a manager to create clarity takes is more significant when the team is remote.

This podcast was recorded while we are in the middle of lockdown. Like most people, we are working from home, making do and still looking to answer the questions that are getting in the way.

Working from home is, for some, a great adventure, for others an absolute hell. Either way it looks like it is going to be our future.

Why do we all respond so differently?

There has been a lot of material over the last few months providing tips on working from home, you have probably already read some of them.  Mostly the advice is practical, sensible, and heavily grounded in the tricks and techniques that many people who are already home workers are well versed in, but it misses the point.  A lot of the people currently having to work from home are not the kind of people who would typically work from home.  For some of us this ‘best practice’ might be useful and a healthy approach, but the assumption that there is a right way of doing things can be the very thing that is causing stress.  I have worked from home on and off for most of my working career.  I don’t do half the things that are being advised, they are just not me.  However, I am no longer the only home worker in my house, and this has allowed me to see the areas where the right answer for each of us is very different.

To maintain the best mental health when working from home, the golden rule is ‘do what works for you’.  If the suggestions help, then go for it, if they don’t, feel free to let them go.  The thing is, we are all different and we all think, work and react differently.  Trying to force your working style into the routine that someone else believes in the correct one will at best be hard work, but it could easily be chipping away at your resilience, mood and overall mental wellbeing.  Regardless of how you work, you will always be more productive by being you than spending energy conforming to so-called ‘best practice’. 

This is also something that we need to consider as managers.  Recognising that the way we want to work will not be the best way for some of our team, so we need to decide if we are interested in getting the best out of people, or making them conform.  This will mean letting go of some of the beliefs that you may hold about work.  For instance, does it matter if a member of your team starts early in the morning, but takes an extended lunch break just to get out of the house for a while?  There are two questions I find myself asking; “is the work getting done?” and “are the team OK?”.  The priority as a manager is to find a balance between these two, which means that if getting the work done requires more flexibility in working style to maintain the team wellbeing, then that is something I need to promote and support.

One of the ways that psychologists think about how we are different is by using the model known as the big five personality traits.  It offers an interesting way to think about the range of individual differences, and how we will each be impacted differently as we settle in to working from home. These are explored below.

Openness to experience – Some of us are very open to new things and will see working from home as a bit of an adventure.  If you are working with someone with a high in openness to experience you can expect them to be finding new ways that you can work together; this might come across as a stream of websites,  software or tools that they want to try with the team.  In moderation this can be really useful as they will find solutions to the challenges of working in a different way.  However, you may need to slow them down, as those who are much lower on the openness scale will find the volume of change created by home-working challenging enough without these additional new ideas.

Conscientiousness – Some people like the world to be formalised and ordered, others like the world to be flexible and spontaneous.  For those who are high in conscientiousness, the moving of deadlines and changes in targets that might be necessary to facilitate home working will need to be carefully communicated, and if possible locked down quickly, while those low in conscientiousness will look to keep things more open, creating as much flexibility as possible, just in case things change even more.  The key will be to find a balance between creating a new routine, yet not locking things down so tightly that your team cannot respond as the world changes around us.  One of the classic bits of advice often given to home workers is always dress smartly for work.  If you are high in conscientiousness you might find this really helpful, formalising the work part of the day, if you are low (like me) then remember nobody needs to know you are wearing shorts on a video conference – although do wear something, just in case you have to stand up to fetch something!

Extraversion – So, you don’t need to study psychology to work out that some people in the team are loud and outgoing while others are much more quiet and reserved.  The extraversion scale is looking at this difference in how we relate to the world, with extraverts looking to the outside world for their energy, while introverts look inside themself to recharge.  Homeworking can be really draining for extraverts, who are not getting the ‘fix’ of people to ‘top-up’ the batteries.  Even video calls are going to be like a slow charger compared to what they are used to.  This can cause the extraverts to become drained very quickly when working on challenging things as they cannot recharge quickly.  Introverts need time and space to recharge.  It is not that they don’t like spending time with people, just the time needs to be more intimate, and they prefer group sizes to be smaller.  While homeworking might suit introverts as they are being left alone to get on with their work, there is a risk here too.  Some introverts will so enjoy the working style that they withdraw too far from the group, not really joining in with group calls, or working on other things when the conversation seems like banter.  They can easily find themselves left behind by the rest of the team as the world rapidly changes. 

Agreeableness – Agreeableness is a measure of your preference for social harmony, people who are high in agreeableness like it when people are getting along, whereas those who are low on this scale will place their own self-interest over that of the group.  Having to communicate by video call makes it much harder than usual to have difficult conversations, without them becoming arguments.  If you are highly agreeable, this may be causing you to maintain social cohesion at your own expense, which may generate some resentfulness and frustration.  Low agreeableness might cause you not to see where you need to concede to allow the group to move forward, damaging working relationships unnecessarily.  Watch out for situations where you push forward too quickly in the desire to get things done, when others just needed a little more time to get their heads around it.

Neuroticism – Some people are more emotionally stable than others.  While everyone will react emotionally to things that happen, some of us process these events much more negatively, and this is what the neuroticism personality measure is looking at.  People who are high in neuroticism may find that they are unsettled at the moment, worrying about the future, their security or their family.  They may take work things more personally than they used to, and the lack of interaction with the team may mean that it takes a lot longer for misunderstandings to get resolved.  This may also play out in other areas of their life, so lockdown frustrations at home may spill over into work, and work into home, particularly as the boundaries between these is so blurred.  People who are low in neuroticism are probably less concerned about what is happening, which may also mean they are less stressed, which is good.  That said, while worrying all the time is a bad thing, small amounts of anxiety can be a great warning signal that we need to focus on an upcoming threat, which means that low neuroticism may cause people to be complacent during times of rapid change, like now.

Of course, these personality traits are not simple binary choices, they are spectrums, and very few of us sit at either end of the spectrum, most are somewhere in the middle.  The key is recognising that we are all slightly different, and therefore need to find a balance that works for us in new situations (such as remote working).   If you are in the position that many of us right now find ourselves in, finding it difficult to separate out work and home life as the boundaries blur into one, then think about your personality and what you need to do to make it work for you.  This might be breaking up your schedule from the usual work 9-5, or creating better work and home boundaries, such as designating a space for work, or dressing for work and then getting changed at the end of the day.  Mostly though, accept that right now things are different, and you probably won’t get it entirely right all of the time. Be kind to yourself, and those that you work with, as we all try to find a balance for this new way of working. It would also be nice if our acceptance of each other’s different styles became part of the new normal.


Photo by Dillon Shook on Unsplash

Where should a leader focus their attention?

This podcast explores the challenges that leaders face of where to focus their attention. In a crisis situation, leadership time is required to make fundamental day to day decisions, that generally would be taken elsewhere. Finding a balance between getting stuck in and keeping the wider view is one all leaders and managers face.

Rob and Rich suggest that time needs be split between Growing, Running and Protecting the business, and how the need to protect (in the current COVID Crisis) and run (with key staff on furlough) may cause leaders to lose focus on moving their business forward.

This podcast was recorded while we are in the middle of lockdown. Like most people, we are working from home, making do and still looking to answer the questions that are getting in the way.

Why are some teams more engaged in what they do?

Some teams just get it, they immerse themselves in the work or activities of the team to deliver amazing results. What is it that they have, that other teams don’t?
In this podcast, Paul proposes that this is down to a connection to the higher purpose, and along with Graham they explore what that means.

This podcast is part of a short series on productivity, where we are exploring how you can Sell More, Save More and Do More, both personally and for your team.

Tracking performance from home

Think about how you track your team’s performance in the office: if everyone’s hard at work at their desks from nine to five, and you can see (almost feel) that everything’s getting done, then that’s a success, right?

If you’ve already started working from home in the last couple of weeks, I’m sure it’s become clear that keeping track of your team like that is impossible when working remotely. The issue is that most managers are unconsciously accustomed to tracking their teams’ inputs. That is, so long as they can see time and effort being put into the job, meetings are happening and people are staying behind to finish up things, then they’re not too concerned with what comes out the other end.  

That might feel a little shocking, but ask yourself, when was the last time you really checked that the work you and your team were doing was really the greatest contribution you could make?

In the world of remote working, most of the methods you had of tracking inputs have gone. As a manager, you’re isolated from your staff and can’t tell if they’re really at their desks during regular office hours, or if they’re off having a nap, or catching up on Netflix.

Here’s what you need to realise: that doesn’t matter!

It’s time to reassess your measures of success, so you focus on the quality of what is being achieved (the outputs), not the way the work is done (the inputs). That way you won’t find yourself doubting your team unnecessarily. Either the work is being done, or it isn’t. There are some roles that still require specific tasks in a certain order. However these days most things can be achieved in a multitude of different ways, and your way, even if it is the best for you, may not be the best for everyone else (especially now that most of are working in unfamiliar ways and places)

Instead of hounding your employees several times a day to make sure everyone’s at their computer, take stock of the work that’s being produced. Is everything being completed on schedule, and to the same quality as you’d expect in the office (or near enough, as people need time to adapt to remote working)? Are your clients or key stakeholders happy with how everything is being handled? Are they getting what they need, when they need it?

If yes, then your team is still working well, despite being at home. They don’t always need to be at their desks at the same times as they would in the office, because we all adapt to remote work in different ways, best suited to our own personal situations. What matters is that their performance hasn’t dipped. The more control they feel about how they can organise their time, and make it work with the other pressures in their life, the more focused, engaged and resilient they will be.

When you find yourself saying no to these questions, that’s when you go back and look at the inputs. Make sure that there is a clear understanding of what is expected, and that they have the belief that this is still possible now that their working conditions have changed.  You may need to spend some time rebuilding clarity and belief, as the current situation and changes in how we work can easily create wobbles.  I

It is worth remembering though, that in the short term at least, it is likely that the change to remote working might be the only factor causing the dip, which can only be resolved through support (probably a mix of psychological, managerial and technological!) and allowing employees the time to adjust.

The key to tracking performance remotely is to redefine what ‘success’ means to you and your team. Previously, unconsciously, you might have related it to inputs and how long your people spend on tasks. Be wary of this, as it can lead to (very ineffectual) presenteeism, where the only focus for your team is putting enough face time in with you to appear busy.

Define success in terms of output-driven KPIs, that connect the work your team do with your team’s purpose. The purpose of a team or business unit is not measured in numbers of meetings,  reports delivered on time, or how many calls made; these are just inputs designed to help you hit your goal. 

By defining measures around what you want to achieve and not how you think it needs to be done, you can allow the team to find their own way. So, no matter when, where, or how your team chooses to work, you can be confident that they’ll perform as well outside the office as in it.