A few weeks ago, in an article from The Atlantic Our Pandemic Summer, the author mentioned a friend who described how society is currently living due to the virus as the ‘now normal.’ In the context of our day-to-days and especially in the context of our work, this idea really strikes a chord.
As April and I were planning this webinar we decided it needed to be clear that working – whether that’s virtually or on the front lines – in this moment and time is anything but normal. For those of us working remote, we’re not actually remote working. We are pandemic working.
And there are a ton of us now working away from the office. According to MIT research, 34.1% of Americans who were commuting are now working remote. There are also massive numbers of workers who have been laid off or furloughed too. In only a short few months, the working landscape has changed an improbable amount.
This change means employers now have to reconsider who the audiences they are communicating with. There’s the veteran remote workforce whose routines are suddenly changed, but who may have answers to unforeseen challenges. The new remote workforce who are managing a new working environment with little preparation and all sorts of other important life things happening. Your furloughed workforce who are in a state of limbo and worried. Who lost their work community and need to still feel connected. And, last but not least, your pipeline who will matter again very soon and will be watching everything you do very closely.
All of those groups matter. What also matters is taking their very different realities in this ‘now normal’ into mind as you develop and communicate programs to keep your people engaged.
The Meaningful Brands report we run annually at Havas recently found that consumers look for an experience that is seamless, memorable, and personalized. It also found that anything less than this was considered an irritant.
It’s no different for your employees in this situation. In fact, understanding the difference in personal situations is probably even more key now. Some employers are doing truly brilliant things right now to keep people engaged and connected – eLearning, virtual workouts, virtual happy hours, virtual coffee breaks. A lot of activities that mimic the workplace. This is crucial to helping people navigate pandemic working. But, it’s key to remember that not all employees will be able to join or take advantage of those opportunities. That can be even more isolating.
One size will not fit all, so it’s key to listen to your people in order to build the most inclusive possible “now normal.” As you review and optimize your current employee engagement and outreach efforts, here are some of “the now rules” to consider:
LEAD FROM THE FRONT
Whether you are the CEO, chairing a call, or just writing a message to a colleague - make your optimism contagious. As Talent Leaders, continuously monitor engagement and stress levels to proactively respond.
Now is the time to overcommunicate. Update your employees even when there are no updates. Stay in regular, but brief touch across all departments, working groups, projects etc.
LOOK AFTER YOUR EMPLOYEES
Reset your expectations. Support continued learning but be flexible. Use ambassadors, mentors and buddies to add more moral and structural support.
LIVE YOUR VALUES
When in doubt, remember it’s your values that guide your culture and set behaviors. You’ll need to reset expectations, but your purpose still matters.
I’ll end this by saying, times may be uncertain and we may only have guesses as to what the future will bring, but what I can tell you for 100% certain – your people will remember the way you treat them now for a very, very long time.
Want to learn more? View our webinar here: https://usa.havaspeople.com/webinars.html
Tim Middleton, Agency Director
Havas People North America
As we accept working from home as the new normal, we asked a few of our US colleagues what their routine looks like, what gets them through their day and what they miss from an office environment. Hint: its people – it’s always the people.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing the routines and highs and lows of our current working situation.
First up: Megan Scott, Account Supervisor
If you could describe your WFH self in ONE WORD, what would it be? Hydrated
What does a typical WFH day look like for you? Do you have a set routine that helps you focus? I wake up at 7:30am and work out for an hour. Then I take a shower and put on clothes that are *not* the pajamas I wore the night before. I make my hot lemon water and yogurt and get to work around 9:00am.
At 10:30am, I’ve gone through my emails and made my list of things to do today, so I start cracking on with it.
At 10:45am, George (my cat) is probably bothering me to play, so I pull out his favorite shoestring and run around the room with him to tire him out.
At 12:30pm, I make myself some avocado toast with egg. Ideally, I’ve drank 33oz of water, so I fill up my water bottle again (have to meet the 90oz quota!) I go back to work ~1pm.
Around 1pm, George is probably acting up again. Out comes said shoestring.
At 3:30pm, I make myself a snack – apple with peanut butter (Jif and crunchy, duh).
At 5pm, I start thinking about dinner. But at 6pm I actually put my computer away and cook. Around 7pm, my family starts watching West Wing (I’m only up to S1 E7, no spoilers!)
Tell us more about what your "set-up" looks like! Primarily, I’m set up in a bedroom upstairs with a vanity (using it as a desk). It’s cold and boring, so I like to switch it up by moving outside to the lanai, or outside of the lanai in the sun. My computer charge doesn’t last too long, so I usually only get to do that for a couple of hours before being forced back into the bedroom upstairs.
What's your go-to to beat the afternoon slump? Matcha! My mom bought bags of Lipton matcha – it’s no Maman, but it does the job. If that doesn’t work, a strict timer of 30 minutes on TikTok.
What's one thing you now know you took for granted about working in an office? MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES!!! When you’re in the office, you don’t have to work very hard to remember to say hi or participate in passing convos. Seeing people triggers you to have friendly conversations. But when you’re working virtually and you’re NOT seeing people to trigger those conversations, you have to make a real effort to ask people about their weekends, or what they ate for dinner, or how their significant other is.
Photo Credit: NBC
For the past five weeks I’ve been sharing insights on working from home through our Remote Working Blog Series. As someone who has worked remotely for the past two years, five weeks ago I considered myself a bit of an expert at this whole thing. I have my workspace set up just how I like it. I live my life through conference calls and video meetings. I know to avoid the fridge at all costs. I was all set. What I didn’t realize was that I am no longer working remotely: I am working remotely during a global crisis. In my case also working remotely with a ten-month-old baby at home. I know others are doing the same, or working while homeschooling, or coping with the daily challenge of living alone in this climate. Let’s be clear – there is nothing normal about this.
I’ve learned that, while a lot of my standard advice on remote working still applies (and I hope if you’ve read any of it you did find it useful), I myself have significantly shifted my expectations. Not just in the way that I work, but the way that my colleagues and clients are working too.
Throughout this blog series I’ve also focused largely on people who, like me, would otherwise be working in an office environment. So I want to take a moment to give a shout out to the teachers who are teaching remotely, healthcare workers who are providing telemedicine, trainers who are running exercise classes over Zoom, and all the inventive, energetic people who have found a way to make things work from a home office, living room, or kitchen table.
Last weekend Saturday Night Live was broadcast not from 30 Rock in New York City, but from its cast’s homes. OK, it wasn’t actually live. It was filmed in advance and edited. But the cast were all working from home to produce the show – a first in its 45-year history.
Tom Hanks opened the show from his kitchen (it’s a very nice kitchen), and set the tone immediately, “Will it make you laugh? Eh, it’s SNL. There’ll be some good stuff, maybe one or two stinkers. You know the drill.” Alec Baldwin impersonated President Trump, but without hairstylists and makeup artists to physically transform him he played the role through voiceover in a sketch about a phone call from the President. Kate McKinnon made me laugh as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with homemade props and her cat playing the role of RBG’s personal trainer.
Adaptability was the lifeblood of the show. But did it work? Make no mistake, this was not the same show. However, the rough and ready nature of it conveyed a sense of resilience. It made me feel something. And it fulfilled a need that we have right now – to find humor in the world around us.
The cast of SNL are not alone in this adaptiveness. The weekend also saw ESPN broadcast NBA players in a virtual game of H.O.R.S.E. from the safety of their own homes, and home basketball courts. From what I’ve read, it was no substitute at all for a basketball game, but – hey – they gave it a try to at least attempted to fill the hole left by sports. And for that reason, people did watch.
Talk show hosts and news reporters are increasingly filming without the polished production values we are accustomed to. Chris Cuomo has been broadcasting his primetime show from his basement since being diagnosed with COVID-19 himself.
None of this is the same as it was pre-COVID, but we’re sure grateful to have it. Our expectations as an audience have changed, just as the expectations of professionals everywhere have.
At Havas People one of our values is, ‘We find a way’. Perhaps it’s never been more of a mantra. Now, mantras are great to steer you right and keep you going, but how do we actually do it? How do we find a way through this?
I think we do it by leaning into another one of our values, ‘We work together’. We need to realign our expectations of everything, including those we work with. And to do that, we need new depths of empathy. Because this affects us all, but in different ways.
Empathy is stronger than sympathy because it requires you to actually see things from someone else’s position. The best way to do that is to learn what that looks like. Ask the important questions like, “How are you feeling today?” and be curious and aware enough to follow up on that. Know that if someone tells you, “I’m fine”, they might not be fine at all. Because if anything is normal right now, it’s feeling anything but.
Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be using our blog to share some experiences of our teams at Havas People while working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis.
Spoiler alert: nobody has a kitchen quite as nice as Tom Hanks does, but we do have a lot of cats.
Stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.
Director of Creative and Strategy, Havas People North America
When is it appropriate to turn into a potato? (And other important questions about video conferencing)
By now you may have heard the story of Lizet Ocampo, Department Head at non-profit People For the American Way. It’s a tale of challenges in the face of remote working, video conferencing mishaps, and the importance of laughter at times like these. Lizet accidentally turned herself into a potato on a video call with her team. Not being totally familiar with filters, she was unable to turn herself back into a human. The incident – shared on social media by one of her colleagues – quickly went viral. Probably not because it’s note-worthy. But because it’s so relatable.
In Lizet’s case, this was a technical mishap, but as those of us working remotely spend an increasing amount of time on video calls and conferences, let’s stop to ask ourselves this important question: when is it appropriate to turn into a potato?
It’s a question of boundaries. Lines between work life and home life. Between friends and colleagues. And colleagues who are friends. Team calls and client calls. The difficulty is, everything is blurred at the moment. By necessity, home life, work life and family life are overlapping in ways that we never imagined. However, we still need for our meetings to be productive and efficient. Which means, while it might seem like common sense, it could be useful to consider some simple guidance on how to get the most from video conferencing.
Here are three things I find helpful:
1. Have a chairperson. Whether it’s an important client discussion, or an informal team catch up, you want to get the most from the video conference – and you want to make sure everyone is heard and understood. Make sure you have a chairperson who is able to act as a host. Although it’s not an in-person meeting, it’s still appropriate to make introductions and check everyone is in attendance. Even if the call is informal in nature, let your chairperson’s demeanor set that relaxed tone, but you still need someone to be in charge of the multi-way communication. Also, make sure you know who the chairperson is in advance. Most importantly, make sure the chairperson knows.
2. Encourage dialogue. It’s easier to have discussions face-to-face. Face-to-face you can read people’s energy. You can interject more easily. It takes extra work and planning to encourage dialogue on video conference. First, consider the platform you’re using and how many people will be in the meeting. Will you be able to see everyone on screen? Microsoft Teams only allows you to see four people at once, which can add to conversation lags and disjointedness if the meeting is bigger. Let your chairperson encourage dialogue by asking opinions. In smaller meetings it can help to ask people directly by name, “Kate, what do you think?” Kate might struggle with the less organic nature of a video discussion, and that’s OK. Acknowledge that it is less natural, and that there might be a delay, or an echo, or a child crying in the background. It’s more important that everyone leaves the video conference feeling that they got what they needed from it.
3. Know the tone. This is perhaps where the all-important question re; potatoes comes into play. Is this a client meeting or a team catch up? Is it a meeting with your boss or your team mate who usually sits across from you? Is it a quick check-in or a pitch? You need to know the tone of the meeting and set things up accordingly. So ask yourself:
1. How is your lighting?
2. Does your background environment look free from clutter and the leftovers from your sandwich?
3. Are you wearing a top that could be misconstrued as pajamas? (Are you wearing pajamas?)
Most platforms offer backgrounds that can be used to mitigate the need to control your environment. This is a nice touch, particularly for client meetings. And, yes, most platforms also offer filters. Some with the power to turn you into a potato. I’m going to be firm here: it’s not best practice to appear as a potato in a serious business meeting. I would add, it’s not best practice in a time-sensitive status call, and nobody really wants to see you as a potato when they’re discussing their personal development or any sensitive issues. Why? Because it’s a distraction. And because these are conversations that require an indication of intent that you take them seriously and are showing respect to your fellow attendees. So in answer to the title question of this blog, when the reason to hold a video conference is to have clearer, more authentic communication between people, it’s not appropriate to turn into a potato.
That said, there is a time and a place when it’s entirely appropriate. Be a potato. Be a unicorn. Be whatever makes you smile. These are unusual times, and often unusually stressful. Much as you can try to keep them separate, the lines between work and life are blurred. So when you’re chatting casually to your team or having a virtual coffee break with a colleague, why not have a little fun?
Lizet Ocampo agrees. Speaking with Time Magazine (that’s how big this story got), she said her team works incredibly hard and – while she was unable to remove the potato filter – she also left it on because, “laughter is needed for many reasons.”
That’s a remote working rule to live by.
After our second date, I very nearly never saw my (now) husband ever again. It was a good date. Great even. But the texts that followed… not so much. The tone of his texts didn’t show me he was interested. My texts gave him the feeling that I was seeing other people. In truth, we were both agonizing over every word that we typed – trying so very hard get across the emotion and energy that we wanted to convey. And then it happened. He picked up the phone and called me. Actual tone of voice and laughter and personality filled in the gaps where words and emojis had not been sufficient. We’re about to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. Thank goodness he made the call.
As most of the world moves to remote working, I’ve been thinking about the channels we use for communicating in the workplace. We’re spoilt – we have so many. And yet, we’re now missing the most important one: face-to-face communication. Yes, we have all kinds of video calling, and I think we’re using them more than ever both for work and keeping in touch with friends and family. But I can tell you as someone who has worked remotely for the past two years, it’s not the same. There are sometimes technical issues. It’s not as effective for reading body language or gestures. Most importantly, you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk and have a conversation – sensing the right moment to do so, reading their energy, engaging in dialogue in the same physical space.
Right now there’s an extra spanner in the works: many of us are working to different schedules in order to juggle childcare and other responsibilities. Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts are highly efficient when there’s time in your diary, but it can be tricky to mimic that day-to-day, face-to-face workplace communication in real time.
In short, whether through a messenger service, email or text, we are all relying more on written communications right now. That carries a few risks, but also a great opportunity.
Research by UCLA psychology professor emeritus Albert Mehrabian found that 7% of a message was derived from the words, 38% from intonation, and 55% from facial expressions and body language. There’s much that we can do with written communications to create the right intonation. We have word choice, syntax, punctuation, letter case, and sentence length to help us reflect our mood. We have emojis. But when you send that message or email, you lose the control. Because the mood that you write in is not the same as the mood of the person who receives the message. That’s when our imaginations go wild filling in the blanks as to what the sender of the message intended, gaps left by the lack of non-verbal cues.
That’s a tricky situation at the best of times, but let’s be honest – at this moment in history many of us are feeling stressed, anxious, tired, even scared. Just the right cocktail of emotions for you to potentially misread the tone of an email.
So what can we do to write effective communications that help fill the gaps when we’re missing non-verbal cues?
First, recognize that much depends on the relationship you have with the person you are writing to. I have team members who I communicate with almost entirely through emojis and cat gifs, and everything is understood loud and clear. But that’s not the same for everyone.
The grey area usually lies with people who you know, but not particularly well. You don’t need to be overly friendly – that can come across as inauthentic. Conversely, however, you don’t need to be formal. High levels of formality, if that’s not typical of your workplace culture, can be read as cold, and put people on edge. You don’t need to sound formal to be professional.
The best advice I have is to try and match the tone you would use when speaking to people face-to-face. Do that well, and you’ll create an even stronger working relationship – building on efficiency and productivity, but also feelings of camaraderie and togetherness, which are all-important at this time.
And here’s the real opportunity in this situation. When we’re dealing with uncertainty, unusual schedules, and a world turned upside down, how wonderful to be able to write carefully chosen and considered words that can really make an impact on someone.
Beyond deadlines and work requests, I can send a message to a colleague in Europe asking how they’re doing, and know they will read it in the morning and it might make them smile as they begin their day. I can choose just the right words to motivate a team I’m working with across timezones and working schedules. A colleague of mine recently sent an email sharing his feelings after standing outside his home in London and applauding during ‘Clap for the Carers’ in the UK last week. He was deeply moved by it, and in turn I was moved by his email – carefully chosen words, generously shared.
There’s no doubt that with a bit of thinking upfront, written communications can be incredibly powerful and a great tool for reaching people on their own schedules. Of course, I still recommend planning those video calls – we all need as much facetime as we can get right now.
And don’t forget the telephone. Sometimes just calling to follow up on an email or text can truly change everything.
Havas People Director of Creative & Strategy, North America