I am receiving many messages from clients and friends asking for advice on how to work from home. I have organised the requests into three groups.
The first group is asking me about how I manage my time.
What works for me is to organise my day into half or quarter day blocks where I get to focus deeply on one topic. I try to schedule the more conceptual or tougher mental tasks into the mornings while scheduling phone calls, Skype calls and admin into the afternoons. Also, I found that dressing for work helps me to stay focused. I don’t necessarily dress like I would if going to a meeting, but I generally try to not look like I am going to the beach.
The second group is asking me about how they can keep their teams connected while working everyone is working from home.
This is a little harder. If your team is doing knowledge work, then I would check with them what kind of information and knowledge exchange they need to do their work. Don’t just have web meetings to stay in touch (although there is a need to remain socially connected), use meetings and platforms like Slack or MS Teams to exchange on what really matters. I have seen at some of my clients they are doing daily check-ins and half-daily updates of what everyone is doing. I don’t really think this helps unless everybody’s tasks are clearly defined. Most people, even when at work, are overwhelmed by all the information streams that appear to be important, but that does actually help people to make better decisions or do their jobs better.
Also, this time where people are working from home will also reveal whom in your teams are really independent and able to build their area of work without your direct supervision. Some of your team members will love this, and will find the “freedom” to work at their own pace exhilarating. However, some people will also feel insecure, they might even feel distressed. They might need more direction from you. But please, whatever you do, do not treat everybody the same. Give those that can self-direct their work the space and the freedom, while spending more time with those that need direction.
Lastly, it is not possible to keep all your people working productively remotely. There are distractions at home. Kids, pets, snacks and other comforts. It takes a lot of discipline to work from home, I know! So some people will simply not perform as expected. I suggest you focus on the key team members that are critical to keep your organisation going and try to support them as best as you can. Give those doing operational or administrative tasks clear instructions. But don’t expect everybody to perform.
The third group are clients who are asking me how they can use this abnormal situation to re-think areas of their business from a strategy and innovation perpsective.
Most of our thinking is shaped by recency bias. We tend to think of the issues that dominated our conversations and that attracted our attention in the last week or two. This bias makes it hard for us to reflect on what we are not paying sufficient attention to, or what else might be happening but that we may be filtering out.
Right now, everyone is talking about COVID-19. A few weeks ago everyone in South Africa was talking about the pending rating agency downgrade and the state of our economy and the poor state of our state-owned companies. I guess your workplace also have these topics that take up mental bandwidth, like the financial year-end or other many other topics.
I suggest that you use this time away from the watercooler and the coffee machine to think beyond the dominant and recent topics that almost magnetically drew your attention. What are those issues that often do not get enough mental bandwidth? Some suggestions could be:
- What have you postponed thinking about simply because it feels like a lot of effort to do while there is so much else that requires your attention?
- How innovative is your culture in your organisation really? Is this culture widespread or dependent on just a few individuals who are willing to try new ideas and make fools of themselves?
- How strong is your team and organisation at making sense not only of what is happening, but what is emerging?
- How much time are you spending in the future, imagining how things could be and then finding ways to come and fetch those stuck in the present or the past?
Let me know what you are trying, and what seems to be working for you and your team. Your comments and suggestions are useful to all my other clients and friends who are reading this blog.
I will also blog on the Innovation Coaching blog in the next day.
Let me know how else I can help you in this almost surreal situation.