We spoke with Stacia to explore the ways that workplaces will need to adapt their practices to better support the whole human experience.
Reimagining parenting in crisis
Stacia has worked from home for many years, so it wasn’t a huge shift when other workplaces began to mandate remote work in the response to COVID-19. But as the school year approaches, she and her husband have had to rethink the plan for their young daughters. Like many others, Stacia assumed everything would be sorted out by Fall. But with so much continued uncertainty, they made the decision to homeschool their kids.
“Our concern was not only that our kids would get sick, but also what happens if anyone gets sick, and everybody gets sent home and we have to go back two weeks later. That yo-yo approach seems the opposite of what young children need.”
In the wake of the recent changes, individuals like Stacia are realizing that they can do things differently. As a result, many people are rethinking what they want in a career or schedule, and shifting their priorities accordingly.
“There’s going to be a chunk of time every day when I won’t be accessible because I’ll be teaching my kids. Understanding is probably the biggest thing that can help parents, because when you give people flexibility, it becomes easier to set boundaries and a schedule.”
However, Stacia is quick to point out that not everyone has the luxury of making these kinds of decisions. So it’s critical to find new ways to extend this opportunity to the larger workforce so that everyone can find their ideal balance.
“I recognize that I’m in an incredible position of privilege to be able to adjust my work from home schedule, and many others won’t be able to do that. I think the key theme, though, of what we are trying to do now – and that might be helpful for others in different situations – is this idea of going from a feeling of immense powerlessness to making choices. The choices are unlikely to be ideal, but I find feeling like I’m choosing makes me feel better on some level.”
Making systemic and equitable changes
With Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in history, Stacia has always been fascinated by how people interact in systems - what makes them tick, what makes them more or less effective, what drives change.
Based on her experience, Stacia suggests that one of the ways organizations can change the culture is by simply giving people more control over their time.
“Part of the benefit of owning your own firm is you do have a significant amount of autonomy. But the biggest autonomy that I appreciate is my schedule autonomy. This is something organizations can provide all employees by being clearer on expected outcomes and then allowing the individual to figure out when and how they do it.”
For example, RedThread’s recent report on women and performance in the pandemic found that women are doing the majority of the caregiving and housework during this time. As a result, it doesn’t make sense to have the same expectations for turnaround time or availability.
“Giving people the ability to structure their day as they see fit will go a long way towards enabling people to reimagine how they spend their days. The only way to do this is through trust - trusting employees to get their work done and setting clear expectations around outcomes.”
Further, many of the challenges and biases experienced by women and underrepresented minority groups have been exacerbated by the work from home environment. So the question becomes, how do we make sure that the work experience is equitable for populations for whom this environment is potentially going to further disadvantage? Clarity around expectations and aligning around measurable outcomes is more important than ever.
“We need to adjust our approach to feedback so that it’s based on clear expectations and not based on things like time spent online or responsiveness to emails.”
“We need to adjust our approach to feedback so that it’s based on clear expectations and not based on things like time spent online or responsiveness to emails. It’s critical to run systematic checks of what’s happening with regard to women, underrepresented minorities, parents, etc. - to make sure that the performance process includes ways to identify and weed out bias.”
Trust is critical to creating new norms and accounting for unique circumstances. It can be a shift for organizations who have traditionally measured productivity through the lens of being online at all hours to learn to trust their employees. However it’s more apparent than ever that the feeling of scrutiny no longer serves or motivates employees.
Bringing humanity to the workplace
Stacia notes that we knew the impacts of the pandemic would be hard from the beginning, but many of us assumed that things would get easier over time. However, we’re seeing that it’s actually become harder in many ways. So organizations and managers need to continue asking their people how they’re doing, what they can do to help, and where adjustments can be made.
“I’ve worked from home for a long time, so I have a standing desk, an under-desk treadmill, a second monitor - but a lot of people are huddled over a kitchen table and that’s not sustainable. It’s critical to avoid making assumptions about what people have and what they need. Instead we need to ask people what they need to do their work, and understand that those needs will change over time. That’s the most important thing that organizations can do because everyone’s experience is so unique.”
As a leader, Stacia recognizes the balance between setting a vision and showing vulnerability.
“There is a tendency to always be looking forward, and a lot of people are already talking about coming out of the crisis. But the reality is that we’re still very much in it.”
“We’re all real people and opening up those conversations is always important, but especially now as we all go through this together. There is a tendency to always be looking forward, and a lot of people are already talking about coming out of the crisis. But the reality is that we’re still very much in it. So beyond vulnerability, leaders need to embody perseverance and show their teams that we’re still in this together, we’re still with you. It’s not a one time thing.”
People are still tired. In fact, many are even more burned out than they were when this all started. So it’s imperative for leaders to continue demonstrating perseverance, openness, and transparency.
“Give people the space and the grace that we all would hope to be afforded. The future of work will include a lot of work from home, and some of those things will still make us tired. Even after working from home since 2010, I still get tired after a day of zoom calls.”
As we rebuild expectations and schedules, making time for self-care is critical. Stacia emphasizes the importance of not only exercise, but also investing in personal development.
“Singing is something I’ve always wanted to learn, so I’ve been having weekly music lessons. Especially during the pandemic, it’s important to try to keep this time from feeling like lost time, because it’s not, and there are opportunities in the difficulty. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of difficulty, but what has helped keep me going is this idea that I’m making time to work toward something that’s meaningful to me despite (and maybe even because of) the pandemic.”
Looking toward the future
As we move forward, Stacia sees a few major trends at play, which includes a broader focus on employee experience. Even if the economy falters or recovers slower than expected, the last recession proved that when companies have fewer financial incentives to offer, the employee experience becomes increasingly important.
“It’s no longer about how we adapt to the digital workplace, but now it’s about how we ensure people are happy and successful in it.”
“The digital workplace is here, and that requires a new approach from companies and managers. It’s no longer about how we adapt to the digital workplace, but now it’s about how we ensure people are happy and successful in it. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, and we’re finding that work from home can be lonely and isolating. So the focus will have to shift from this adoption phase into figuring out how to thrive in this digital workplace.”
As we are more distributed physically in workplaces, Stacia also sees a breaking down of hierarchical structures. Continuing to rely on the same hierarchical chain will slow down the business - and already is. Giving employees more insight into what’s happening and encouraging growth and development will help employees feel happier and more empowered, and ultimately help organizations do better.
The pandemic has shown us that despite global uncertainty, we’re still getting work done. Flexibility doesn’t hinder performance, and as we continue moving forward, this flexibility is the key to supporting the whole employee and benefits everyone involved.Read less