7 things we can learn about the way we work

Over the past year, we’ve learnt a few things about the way we work. While we were discovering them, we’ve learned to manage these revelations, run for cover and find things to do. But when we do so, we risk hiding behind their consequences, when we really should be highlighting and celebrating these “new beginnings”. It’s a change that has been in the wings for years.

Making space for change

They were seeds of ideas buried in our everyday routines, behind the normal way of doing things that made change efficient and rapid. Before new beginnings emerge, they are anomalies. They present themselves as problems, as elements that the system didn’t expect. So usually they are pushed back, because they put everything else into question. As individuals, we know that to be the case. But as a society and organizations, we often keep them at arm’s length – at the limit of what we’ll allow in.

The pandemic has highlighted certain aspects and has allowed some of these seeds to flourish. We’re now paying the price of that – physically, emotionally and psychologically. But maybe we can also see them as something that we can be grateful for, because we needed this unexpected, vast and intense life event to make us change our ways.

From the fatigue and new routines, and all the unexpected things that go along with that, new initiatives are born. Projects like the one launched by IBM’s CEO, Arvind Krishna – who posted a pledge on LinkedIn to support his fellow workers. Seven principles to help them face the new challenges that Covid19 has bought to the workplace. But when we look at them, isn’t this the way that we would like and would always have liked to work? Wouldn’t we like to work like this when “everything is over”? Maybe this is a change in the right direction?

A pledge from the CEO of IBM

1) I pledge to be family sensitive.

I want everyone on a video call with me to know that if they have to put a call on hold to handle a household issue, it is 100% OK. No one wants a loved one getting hurt, falling, or breaking something because you were on video.

When we go back to the office and to in-person meetings, will this still be the case? Have we really seen that life is always present, and that parents, relatives and caregivers hold roles that don’t disappear when they’re out of sight? Will we still be “excused” when something comes up?

2) I pledge to support Flexibility for Personal Needs.

I acknowledge we are all balancing our work and personal lives in new circumstances. I encourage those homeschooling, providing care to others, or addressing other personal needs to block time on their calendar during the day to be able to focus on those activities, as needed. And, I pledge to respect those boundaries when scheduling meetings.

It’s at this point that millions of women might just faint. Maybe he means that we won’t take it for granted when people work until 8pm? That managers have given up on the “always on” culture and won’t make their teams follow that culture when all they want to do is have their own lives? That we can work better with less time, just by organizing ourselves and respecting shared rules? That the flexibility that technology has given us over the years will also translate into our culture?

3) I pledge to support “Not Camera Ready” times.

I will not ask people to turn their cameras on while on video calls. While I encourage the use of video during meetings so we can feel more connected, there will naturally be times when it’s just not feasible given home circumstances. During these times, I want everyone to feel comfortable that they can simply turn the video off as needed. Again it’s 100% ok.

The pandemic has called out Zoom fatigue, and it’s not always possible to have the camera on. It’s about giving space to everyone to make their own decisions, while respecting others.

4)  I pledge to Be Kind.

I will keep in mind that I am “showing up” in others’ homes for the first time and want to be a good guest. As I meet members of my extended work family, I’ll roll with it with empathy. 

This is crucial: when work enters our personal lives, it’s always a big thing.  It’s always going to work better if we do it with kindness and respect for each other. Even when work won’t physically come into our homes it will still be the case. Work will always been an important commitment in our lives, and it’s part of the mosaic of life itself.

5) I pledge to Set Boundaries and Prevent Video Fatigue.

I will use new time limit boundaries for meetings, recognizing video fatigue is real and a new phenomenon for all of us.

Let’s be honest: meetings are draining our souls. Something isn’t working. It didn’t work either before. There are too many, they are too long, and too many that just aren’t useful. If video fatigue is bringing this problem into a new light, let’s take the opportunity to reevaluate how we do meetings, and how we can maximize this transformation.

6) I pledge to Frequently Check In on people.

I will create space for connection by asking people about their and their loved ones’ health & safety in 1:1 settings.

Maybe we took it for granted, and maybe it didn’t happen for a while before Covid came onto the scene? We noticed it’s absence when we no longer saw people in the lift, but meeting somebody else’s eyes isn’t just a theme for the pandemic. And it’s not a given that it will happen again when we return to the office, unless we are intentional about it. Now that we know how much we miss other people, will we find the time to seek them out “afterwards”?

7) I pledge to Take Care of Myself.

I will make it a priority to take care of my physical and mental health. What’s more, I will stand up frequently, stay hydrated, and try to get the sleep I need. I will block out time on my calendar to have lunch and dinner AWAY from my workspace. Where possible I will get outside each day. I’ll look for opportunities to change my routine while ensuring social distancing.

If we take this promise out of context, it might seem like an innovative promise from a CEO. Like one of those people leading by example, turning away from the expectation to be “always on”, for the sake of their own health.

We all know how important it is to have points of reference in life, and seeing a CEO that takes a walk in his lunch break, that goes back to his kids at 6pm, that takes a half day to go to the hairdresser or to start his weekend… how much good would that do to our working lives?

Seeing people for all they are

We need to recognize that we all have rich and complex lives. The boundaries between those areas are always going to be thinner or more blurred, which could benefit our lives by enriching each area and transferring energy between them. We have the opportunity to live these roles with flexibility and care, by being more aware and kinder with ourselves. It’s a chance to realise that there’s so much within and around every one of us, that complexity births strength in terms of who we are and what we can do. The same was true “before” Covid, but it was difficult to see, hidden by the stereotypes that made it seem impossible for things to change. Now we’ve seen it, we know it. But we all need to be aware of the coordinated and collective effort needed to change that into a new beginning, something that helps us to flourish in the post pandemic era.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here