People are coming up with new ways to work and new ways to have a positive impact on the people in their adjusted workplaces. Since our workplaces have suddenly become extremely diverse as more people are working from home, this is no small feat. I love how times of crisis make people extremely innovative. What really drives these changes is navigating a series of mindset changes – something that occurred to me when I reflected on how the COVID-19 quarantine affects my family.
We’re all learning new ways to use technology for talent development, productivity improvement, team development, and focused communications. We’re learning how we respond to new and different problems, like dogs barking or kids interrupting our online meetings. Perhaps more importantly, we’re learning that those little interruptions are not a big deal and actually increase our empathy. Hopefully, the end result will be more effective leaders; leaders who can trust their people to get things done even when they aren’t in the same building; leaders who can build teams that collaborate despite being separated; leaders who are able to draw people out of quiet comfort zones to share thoughts with others.
We recently had a remote Easter Dinner (via Zoom) with my family. I noticed a few distinct differences in how we are reacting and adjusting to the current constraints. In Baltimore, my daughter has been working remotely in her company for a couple of years. She goes to the actual office about once a week for specific meetings, then provides support to her team with phone calls, video chats, text messages, and collaborative online tools the rest of the week. Her wife usually goes to work in a conventional work arrangement but is now home working remotely. They have two small children (2 years old and 4 months old.) With her wife and kids at home, she’s now finding creative ways to make time to make progress on her work. She is ready for the kids to go back to daycare and her true love to go back to work…like everyone else with children in the house.
In Austin, my youngest son and his fiancé are riding this out by discovering new ways to “go out” and party with friends. They said they were more connected to their network than ever before. He even told me how he lost in the championship game of their friends’ online beer pong tournament. I guess Zoom really is changing things. My son works for a marketing firm and is used to working wherever he may be (he was checking his campaign results over Thanksgiving weekend with us.) His fiancé is a project manager for software installations, and she can complete a surprising number of tasks remotely as well. They have two dogs, but no children, and both have said they wouldn’t mind working this way from now on.
After serving in the Navy for 4+ years, my middle child is home finishing his bachelor’s degree in social work. He gets to experience the dramatic shift from small classes to not just online learning, but also an online Spring Commencement. He’s not thrilled but accepts that this is the way things are and he’ll make the best of it.
Comfort to Resistance
We all face changes differently as our comfort levels are disrupted. But even among those differences, there are remarkably similar themes. Like others, I’ve tried to simplify this complex phenomenon into 5 general stages of mindset. These are broad stages with indistinct boundaries. I’m not sure anyone goes through these in a nice clean, linear fashion.
We’ll start in our comfort zone where there’s always a wide range of things people are comfortable with. Regardless, if we suspect a change proposes to disrupt something we’re familiar with, we immediately resist. Like denial in grief, it’s almost involuntary.
Then we start thinking. The vigor of our resistance usually rests with our level of fear. If we think we can figure out how to succeed under the change, resistance is pretty low. We tell leaders that they have to overcome resistance as they manage change, but what they really need to do is manage the fear. They can begin by helping people understand the likely impact of any change – on them – individually. For millennials with dogs and no kids, the change may be a chance to figure out how to reconnect using devices they’re already comfortable with. For boomers, it might not be so much fun.
Resistance to Advocacy
We move gradually but consistently from resistance to acceptance. The individual differences in this process range from quiet resignation to avid anticipation. Think “Oh crap…we have to work from home now” to “Oh man…we have to work from home now!” It takes a while, but we as we push on, the necessary changes usually work out for the better. As we acknowledge that the new is better than the old, we start building systems that will allow them to continue performing at that level, and maybe get better. We become advocates for the new way. Sadly, this quickly lands us right back into a new comfort zone.
The time to introduce a change is in the middle of the acknowledgement stage. That’s where we are now with the COVID-19 quarantine. Leaders, step up now and address the need to introduce new ways to work. That way, we don’t have to go back to normal. We can go back to BETTER.