If I’d heard the term “essential worker” back in February, my thoughts would immediately have turned to healthcare workers. Even in a pre-COVID world, we needed them, simple as that. Fast forward to late May, and as the (very lengthy and 6ft-spaced) line of people outside my local Trader Joe’s in Austin moves slowly inside the store, people stop to thank the employees for their service.
The definition of “essential worker” has significantly changed, and not just in terms of guidelines or rules. The term itself now holds a meaningful place within our emotions – inspiring gratitude and pride. These are the people who put themselves at risk so that we could stay home. These are the people who helped us all to keep going – providing food, sanitation, infrastructure. These are the people standing outside Trader Joe’s in masks, wiping down hundreds of shopping carts every single day. So when we say “essential worker” now, it’s understood that this means those brave healthcare workers, but also grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, distribution center operators, and even fast food servers. For people like me who have spent their entire career working in an office environment, it’s humbling.
But as stay at home orders end, and hazard pay and benefits for many of these essential workers is walked back, has anything really changed? And if so, what are employers doing to reflect this?
For healthcare workers, “hero status” has rightly been conferred. We literally applaud them for their work. At a time when celebrities feel irrelevant (Madonna bemoaning this “great equalizer” from one of her mansions didn’t sit well with most of us), we are increasingly seeing and hearing from our frontline healthcare workers, and looking up to them as role models. Dr Fauci’s #PassTheMic campaign brings this idea to life with nurses, doctors and medical experts taking over the social media accounts of celebrities including Julia Roberts and Millie Bobby Brown.
We are far from the end of this, and the long-term effect on healthcare professions is yet to be seen. But, for now, while most of us are in awe of them, many people want to be them, with universities reporting a rise in numbers of applications for nursing programs (similar to the surge in recruitment of first responders that followed 9/11).
But what about those essential workers who are on a different frontline? Will the same hero effect remain for our grocery store workers, sanitation workers, and delivery drivers? Many of these often hourly-paid workers felt that they had no choice but to go to work or risk losing wages and benefits. There have been significant difficulties, and we’ve seen walkouts from Amazon, Walmart and Fedex, as well as fast food franchises and Instacart.
No doubt, it’s an unprecedented challenge for employers to manage, but they must realize that their employer brand and reputation are now one-and-the-same as their business brand and reputation. It should come as no surprise to them, precisely because many are seeing record sales at a time when they could not have functioned without their employees taking on some level of personal risk.
For right now, what are they doing to protect their employees? Do they have masks? What kind of leave is available should they become sick? Hazard pay was introduced by many in March, but is now coming to an end or being limited. Yes, stay at home orders may have been lifted, but for workers who come into direct contact with the public, the hazard has not disappeared. The way that employees are treated in these circumstances can – and will – be shared on social media. And it stands to reason that the safer your employees feel, the safer your customers will feel too.
But beyond the immediate crisis, how do employers share the value that their essential workers bring?
It’s even more apparent than usual that businesses thrive because of the people who bring them to life. And those people have stories to share. As essential workers during a global crisis, they have adapted, learned, set standards, and experienced new situations that the rest of us are blind to. Employers should empower their people to share those stories – and to do so authentically. Yes, there will have been times they felt stressed, and scared. There will be times that they didn’t know what to do. Sharing such insights only helps us to better appreciate and respect the work that they do. There will also be great, heart-warming tales that celebrate the impact essential workers have made.
I started this article discussing the definition of “essential worker”. But more important than how we define the term is how we value it. At some point this crisis will come to an end. That won’t make essential workers – all of them – any less essential. By celebrating the efforts and endurance of their people, employers can help to make sure that we don’t forget that value, and in doing so magnify their own employer brands and their meaning in society.
April Bryce, Director of Creative and Strategy
Havas People North America
Breaking up with multi-tasking: how my time in quarantine is helping me move on from an unhealthy relationship
Over the last few weeks many of Americans, myself included, have launched into full-time #WFHLIFE. While some of us have been exposed to the occasional work from home day, I don't think anyone making the transition was quite ready for the challenges it would present. And while everyone’s experience with working from home is unique, my experience has led me to one conclusion. I need to stop multitasking. Here’s why:
Studies have shown that when humans try to multitask, our brain creates a type of selection “bottle-necking” and as a result, leads to time lost as the brain decides which task to perform. I don’t know about you, but I already feel like there are not enough hours in the day. So, the idea that multitasking is actually making me less productive is reason enough to stop.
Research has also shown that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline. This was my ah-ha. For the longest time, the days where I felt the most productive also happened to be the days that I felt the most stressed. I would finish a day trying to accomplish a million and one things physically drained and with a splitting headache. Realizing that this was not sustainable, I have started to rewire my brain and focus on the task at hand. Now, when I hunker down and start working on a task, I eliminate distractions. I turn off email banners on my computer, I put my phone on silent and I set a timer. Once the timer goes off, I allow myself to check my emails/text and see if anything urgent came in. If not, I set another timer and get back to the task at hand. So far, this is working, and nothing has gone up in flames. I am getting my work done, I feel just as productive and at the end of the day I feel a sense of accomplishment – not stress.
Adjusting my expectations
There have been many days in quarantine that are filled with good intentions to accomplish 100% of what I set out to do. Unfortunately, life has other plans. Living in New York City comes with many challenges, most of all space. On top of that I also am working from home with a two-year-old and a husband who is also working from home.
Can someone tell me why I started this quarantine thinking I needed to bake a loaf of bread twice a week? There is so much pressure on social media to “make the most” of the time we are stuck at home, but when you are already time poor those expectations start to feel like a burden.
I’ll admit, I initially had very high expectations for myself and a very glamorous vision of what working from home is like. It took about a month, but I have since lowered those expectations and that vision is now covered in peanut butter and jelly. And this is okay. I don't need to work out twice a day, read a new book once a week, start a blog, all while working full-time and taking care of another human. Coming to terms with this has helped me tremendously and when I do manage to do something for myself like read, I am focusing on doing it one chapter at a time.
There is no doubt in my mind that many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the new state of work. However, I do think that we will come out of this with a better understanding of what we want the world of work to look like. I expect that employees will become better advocates for themselves and employers will need to make adjustments accordingly.
As for me, I hope that my willingness to NOT multi-task carries into an office environment. I except initially it will be hard to not be distracted by my co-workers and will naturally find myself multi-tasking again, but just like I did with #WFHLIFE, I will focus on making it work one day at a time.
Sarah Green, Account Director
At Havas, we’re fortunate to be part of one of the world’s largest marketing and communications groups. Havas People is one part of that, and we ourselves are global, with colleagues spread around the world from Melbourne to Austin, and at many points in-between. By the very nature of a global crisis, we’re experiencing this pandemic together.
Recently I picked the brains of some colleagues in different regions about their take on ‘pandemic working’ and how their lifestyles are changing. Some cultural differences were apparent, such as existing attitudes to remote working in different regions, which range from it being extremely rare to the norm. Of course, we’re all at different points on this weird and uncertain journey. While things are just starting to reopen in my home state of Texas, colleagues in Singapore have been in and out of lockdown, and are now back under lockdown for the second time, and for the next few weeks.
We’re in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats. However, certain things seem to ring true across our regions. I asked my colleagues what has surprised them most. Below, I share some of their responses. If you’ll please allow me a moment of intense cheesiness: we might be going through this in different corners of the world, but in some ways we’ve never been closer.
You can see and hear more from our global team by following Havas People on Instagram, where you can check out #HavasAtHome, and our #QuarantineRoutines.
Eleni Konstantinou – Berlin, Germany
The most surprising aspect for me has been a little piece I like to call #coronacomms. And by that I don’t just mean corporate communications, but also the increase in communications with friends and family. My husband and I both live abroad. He’s from Iran, which is heavily impacted, and I’m from Greece, so catching up with loved ones has become a part of our daily routine. This includes the challenge of caring remotely for our parents – helping to set up online grocery orders and prescriptions while keeping up with the latest rules and regulations. All with a smile on our faces as we need to keep their spirits up!
It’s been interesting to see a sense of camaraderie evolving. Somehow distances no longer matter. People seem to be much more understanding and willing to support others.
Tim Middleton – New York, USA
It’s not a surprise to me, really. We already had a strong culture and great working relationships, but I think we’re expressing it in different ways now. There’s an appreciation for having one another. For experiencing something unknown together. Seeing people thrive, or adapt, or just maintain is inspiring. People’s resilience is wild!
That said, no matter what, losing a sense of close proximity is extremely difficult. Your synapses just don’t fire the same way having a conversation over Teams vs. doing it in person. But as long as we keep making it a priority to care about each other, I think we’ll come out of this with an even better appreciation of each other and how we fit together.
Charlotte Fenney – Manchester, UK
I think people are being nicer to each other! Whether on email or over the phone or video conference, there’s a very friendly attitude and an interest in each other as people – an appreciation of what people are coping with. I’ve had meaningful conversations with people who I haven’t spoken to properly in six months.
We’re pretty resilient in Manchester. Our sense of humor continues to shine through! And I do see people becoming more considerate and thinking of others. I’m a Trustee at Manchester Central Foodbank, and the generosity we are seeing right now is incredible. Let’s hope that continues once things return to normal.
April Bryce, Havas People North America
Creative and Strategy Director
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.
I’m writing this post on March 22nd. The specific date matters, because by the day – if not the hour – our reality seems to shift as the Coronavirus Pandemic changes everything. Perhaps the workplace is one of the pillars of modern life most affected. Of course, for many the workplace is a hospital or doctor’s office, grocery store, water or power plant, or another essential location where workers don’t have the option to work remotely. To all those people – thank you.
But for those of us who can work from home, an extreme experiment has begun very suddenly, and on a massive global scale. While tech giants like Oracle, Apple and Google were some of the first to urge all employees who can to work from home to do so, it’s now the norm, if not a requirement. Banks are installing trading equipment in employees’ home offices. Lloyd’s of London has closed its underwriting room for the first time in its 330-year history. Universities have moved to online learning. Netflix yesterday held its first video conference table read for an upcoming production. Things that might otherwise have been piloted and cautiously integrated are suddenly mandates. It can feel overwhelming, even disorienting.
So at a time of such uncertainty (and, let’s be honest, anxiety), how can you harness the power of your remote workforce? Not just to ensure productivity, but to help your employees through this time. I’ve been working remotely for the past two years, and am exploring this and other questions in a Remote Working Blog Series over the coming weeks.
At the best of times, working remotely can be incredibly effective. It can even be fun. But there’s one major challenge. Loneliness. Soon after the invention of the computer, thought-leaders of the time predicted that we would all shortly be working from home. It did not happen. A 2016 study in China gave employees at a travel agency the option to work from home. 50% volunteered to take part. At first, it proved a huge success with high employee engagement, productivity, and reduced costs from reduced office space. But when the initiative was rolled out to the whole company it ultimately failed because of one major complaint: loneliness. For the same reasons, shared work spaces such as WeWork have seen success in recent years alongside the rise of remote working in the US. In the words of my hero Brené Brown, “We are hardwired to connect with others.” That’s why even in the perilous times of a global pandemic, we must fight the very human instinct to find comfort in being physically close to others.
None of us know how long we’re going to be working in these new ways. And loneliness poses very real risks to productivity, creativity, engagement, and ultimately the mental health of your workforce.
So my advice to employers at this time is to over-communicate. With your internal communications and realigned culture, make loneliness the enemy. Make health and happiness the goals. Business maintenance and productivity cannot follow without these.
How do you do that? The human brain is a complex thing. But it helps to think about the things that matter to us. The things that help us to feel healthy and happy. So here are some tips, aimed at promoting different aspects of employee wellbeing.
1. Be social As someone who has worked remotely for two years, let me tell you what I miss most: random office interactions. Chatting at the coffee machine. Morning catch ups with my team. Yes, even those awkward moments in the elevator making small talk about the weather with the guy who sits on the third floor and you can’t remember his name. Recreate those moments. I encourage you to turn on video for work talk and meetings, but make some rules about times when there must be “no work talk”. Schedule regular catch ups to check in on how everyone is doing and talk about what you’ve been streaming, any anxieties people have, good things that have happened, strange things that have happened, and – yes – even the weather.
2. Encourage physical health OK, OK, it’s not your place as an employer to mandate an exercise schedule. But there is a direct link between physical activity and mental health. And right now some of us aren’t sure what to do when our favorite workout class shuts down (I miss you, Orangetheory!), or you can’t go to the gym or play in your regular sports league. What can you do as a community of employees? Coming together to take on a running challenge, taking part in a video yoga class, or checking in on everyone’s Fitbit steps are all ways you can unite your people while giving them a healthy outlet. Camaraderie and team-building should follow. Have your people post their workouts or results on a social or internal channel. Build a community that gives people a meaningful and healthy resource.
3. It’s an emotional time There’s no point in ignoring the very large and scary elephant in the room. We’re all feeling new kinds of stress right now. I’m currently wondering how my work schedule now includes the care of my 9-month-old baby. I know I can make it work and Havas will support me to do so, but I’m definitely feeling more emotional than usual. As an employer, you must acknowledge these emotions. Help your colleagues to work through their feelings, because productivity and wellbeing can be real struggles otherwise. Managers should regularly check in one-on-one with their people. Remind employees of any additional support that is available. Allow people to be vulnerable and honest by creating a culture where they feel they can be. That can start with simply asking people, “How are you feeling today?”
4. Over-communicate In times of uncertainty, give people more information than they need. Reduce anxiety by not letting them wonder or worry about anything they don’t need to. Be honest, be clear, and be informative. I recently read a paper about the 1918 Flu Pandemic (yes, it’s been a time of unusual reading choices) which showed that cities in the US where social distancing was best observed were those where communication was constant, clear and above all honest. At times that might mean telling employees that you simply don’t know the answer. But don’t be afraid to say so – anxiety creeps out of the cracks in communication.
5. Celebrate the good times COVID-19 might feel all-encompassing right now. But, good things still happen. Work projects continue and get completed, new business can still be won, people successfully navigate new work styles and learn new things, acts of kindness are everywhere. Call out your employees who have done a great job, shared a success, or just done something nice for a colleague. Right now would probably be a good time to thank your HR, internal communications and operations teams. If you don’t already have an internal recognition and reward initiative in place, start one today. Give your people a platform to thank and congratulate one another.
While times are strange, there are so many simple things we can do to make them less so. And remember – nobody is single-handedly responsible for their organization’s culture. It’s a living thing. Turn some of these ideas over to people or groups within your business and let them get involved setting exercise challenges or virtual Friday night office drinks.
Most importantly – stay home, stay safe, and wash your hands.
Director of Creative and Strategy - Havas People North America
In just a few short days, the mood in our country has changed. Our reality has shifted. And, amongst a myriad of “new normal” practices, many people are working remotely for the first time – or for the first extended period of time.
Fear not, friends. I’ve been working remotely since I moved across the country from New York to Austin two years ago and I am not alone. In 2015, 3.9 million Americans were working remotely. In February 2020, that number had reached 4.7 million. 3.4% of the population.
Why does that number matter? Because – aside from the comfort during crisis of knowing you are sharing this experience with people across the country (and the world) – working patterns and practicalities have already been adapting for the past few years. Technologies have developed to keep us in touch with our colleagues in the most human and authentic of ways. In other words, remote working was already an area of focus for many employers. Which means we have established best practices to learn from, and personal advice from remote workers everywhere – including me.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share insights and advice for those working from home, and those enabling their employees to do so in this 'Remote Working Blog Series'. For many of you, I know this is the first week of this new normal. And so – for now – I want to share my five top tips for productivity when working from home becomes your new normal.
1.Maintain as much structure as you can. Shower. Dress for the day. Set yourself a time when you will stop for lunch. Decide when you’re going to finish work for the day and try not to let the working day creep into your evenings. When you’re stuck within four walls, the more separation you can create between your work and life, the better. That also means giving yourself every opportunity to focus on work during working hours. I can’t stress this enough right now – do not turn on the news if you need to be productive. Also (and I speak from personal experience) do not sit down to watch “just one episode” of a binge-worthy Netflix show at lunchtime. This will not end well.
2.Know when to turn off. And how to do it. When you’re busy, it’s all too tempting to keep working. Conference calls run into each other and before you know it, 6pm has passed and you still have things to get to. That’s why structure is so important. You must set yourself a cut off – even if you come back to work later in the evening. Right now, without so many of our usual beloved activities and gatherings, that could mean getting in a home workout, stopping to cook something for dinner, or finally letting yourself catch up on that Netflix show. Whatever it takes, find a way to unwind and punctuate the end of the working day.
3.Communicate, communicate, communicate. Chances are you still have the same team of colleagues. You’re just connected through technology now. Without a doubt, feeling isolated is one of the biggest challenges for remote workers. Just because you aren’t sitting down next to them or bumping into them at the water-cooler doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a little time every day to catch up with colleagues. Instigate a daily Google Hangout, or catch up on Slack. Make phone calls. Text. The more you communicate, the more normal this will feel.
4.Get outside. If it is safe to do so, go outside. Take a walk to the end of your street. Go to the park. Go for a cycle. The health benefits of being in nature and fresh air are important. According to a study at the University of Melbourne, even staring at a screensaver of nature can help your productivity. In the weeks ahead, I plan to replace my crowded morning workout with a walk outside before the working day begins.
5.Create a dedicated office space. Find a spot where you can be productive. Perhaps you have a spare room in your house. Perhaps you’re in a studio apartment and a clear, dedicated surface will have to do. Whatever the circumstances, find a spot that feels good. Consider the lighting. Our brains need good lighting, and you might be doing a lot of video calls. Is your chair comfortable? What can you do to make it feel more like a work space? Personally, I like to keep a calendar and weekly schedule posted to my wall, and have some photos of my son and my husband on my desk to make me smile during the day.
It’s not easy to switch a routine that you’re used to. It’s even harder to do so and maintain your productivity and motivation – especially in times of stress and worry. But with so much changing in our world right now, there are easy steps you can take to make the working day easier, and more enjoyable.
As a final note, my cat keeps me company every day while I’m working. Our animal shelters are struggling right now, and many animals need short and long-term foster care. Consider giving shelter to an animal in need. They’ll likely become your favorite colleague.
- April Bryce, Director of Creative and Strategy - Havas People North America
Is a four-day workweek in your future? As we look at the ever-changing landscape of the future of work and what “normal” looks like, four-day workweeks have come to the forefront of the discussion. What has long been a hot topic of conversation amongst drained and tired employees has recently had new life breathed into the conversation, with features on the idea in The New York Times, NPR, and politicians like Bernie Sanders, including the idea in his policy discussions.
What led to the resurgence of the debate on the four-day workweek? Microsoft. And statistics. Microsoft Japan tested a four-day work week this summer, giving employees a three-day weekend to enjoy every single week, while still receiving their normal paychecks. What was the result of this test period? A productivity boost of 40%. And the efficiencies don’t stop there. Here are just a few benefits of a four-day workweek:
Happier, more engaged employees – It’s no surprise people enjoy free-time. It’s also should be no surprise that Friday is the least productive day of the workweek. Giving employees more time to do things they enjoy increases their overall happiness, and likely loyalty to a company – without impacting outputs. It’s win-win.
Reduced meeting time – When Microsoft tested their four-day work week, they held less meetings and reduced most meeting times from 60 minutes to 30 minutes. It makes sense, as less work time equals less time available for meetings. This also leads to less wasted time. As HBR discovered in a recent survey, 71% of those surveyed said meetings are unproductive and 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. Less time in meetings means more time working on things that matter.
Energy conservation – To start, shifting to a four-day work week would eliminate 20% of overhead expenses, like electricity and air-conditioning. A shorter workweek also lessens paper usage as less items are being printed, reduces water consumption and overall energy consumption.
It makes sense as the world of work changes, and the way we think about work changes, organizations become more flexible in their working hours. Traditional models of a 9-5, Monday through Friday gig are dying. It is all about flexibility in the workplace, and a long weekend not only benefits employees – but company’s bottom lines as well.
Recently, there was a short article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the monitoring, tracking and data-mining companies are doing with their employees. It’s a natural response to be alarmed, but in my humble opinion this isn’t anything new. The tools to collect employee data and Large Company Corp’s ability to interpret that data have evolved, but the act of making sure your employees are using their time on the clock effectively, efficiently collaborating, and/or not breaking the law has been happening for a long time.
Stoking some nervousness around the potential police-state you’re working in makes for a great story and cute animation, but there is another way to interpret organizations having all this data that errs much more on the positive side. One that relates to our thoughts around the ‘Consumerization of the Employee Experience.’ The move by companies to treat their employees (and their data) with the same intent as brands do. Personalizing, customizing and aligning the working experience to the individual’s expectations (stated or unstated).
Interestingly, there was a recent post on the app, Fishbowl, about a similar situation where IT flagged to a manager that their newest hire was actively searching for jobs a month into their new role and on company time - the manager was looking for advice on how to broach this with their employee. Not surprisingly a large number of comments on this post were about the IT team’s actions (most employers make it quite clear that they are monitoring you and make you sign a contract in acknowledgement - IT is just doing their job). But there were also a handful of comments directed to the manager trying to understand what may have caused the employee’s unhappiness in their new role, asking why they wouldn’t use this information from IT to turn what might be a negative experience into a positive one.
That’s the key shift that employers, managers, leaders in companies need to make and need to prioritize. If we only use this new, rich employee data to contain, monitor and homogenize our people, we’re creating a terribly unbalanced relationship that fundamentally has no trust built into it.
However, if we use this data in ways to anticipate wants and needs, address nagging issues, build better processes and enhance experiences, we’re showing our people that they can trust us with their data, that we understand them on an individual, human level, and that we care about their experiences and well-being.