DISORIENTATION & DISRUPTION
Suddenly finding oneself working from home can be a disorienting disruption to work and home life. Right from the start, working from home often disrupts daily routine, structure and focus, along with perhaps personal presentation that can be, let’s say, “casual”. Less business suit than track suit. Some people can comfortably be fully at work at home, and then at home at home, where for others the boundaries can be blurred and difficult to manage.
There is also the sometimes non-optional extra of demanding distraction – maybe pets, children, partners, flatmates, delivery men or oven timer on that enticing banana bread or sourdough recipe. Most people, most of the time, find it hard to resist those pressing domestic and social attractions, distractions, impulses and demands.
We also act differently when we know someone is watching, so, one way or another, the way we work at home is likely to be different to how we work at work. Have you felt that? Have you seen it in others? It’s also in our DNA to want other people to think well of us as part of the intrinsic NEURO-M motivational need of identity protection and enhancement. And, as much as we might protest with heartfelt indignation – No! Not Me! It makes no difference to how I work, don’t worry, it’s perfectly natural and doesn’t, on its own, indicate weakness or insincerity. People with strong self-regulation (a neurally-based motivation system) will typically find the transition to working in a less-structured and supervised, as well as purpose- and distraction-compromised environment, easiest, but there are adjustments and challenges for everyone.
EMPOWERING LEADERSHIP AS A PREFERRED STYLE
So what happens to performance, fulfilment and well-being when employees – and perhaps supervisors – suddenly find themselves working in a much less regulated environment? Well, if the team is normally closely managed with little independence, autonomy or trust, things are going to be less certain and more stressful, not least for leaders struggling with feeling they have less control. Let’s not even talk about the restless days and sleepless nights of micro-managers!
If there are also gaps in what someone understands their role to be, and the purpose and goals of their organisation and workgroup, things are going to be even harder. How do they self-manage if they aren’t informed or engaged with values, purpose, goals and expectations? And if communication and being on each other’s wavelength (yes, that is actual neuroscience) weren’t great before, what are they going to be like now?
It turns out that an effective management style for employee engagement and empowerment, rather than simple control and compliance, is even more useful for iso-working. Obviously, the most effective managers routinely communicate and reinforce purpose, set goals, and manage for engagement, empowerment and fulfilment, so none of this is new to them. The difference is, now that it’s harder to closely delegate, supervise and audit work, engaged and empowered employees will find self-management a lot easier than employees who are used to a different experience, with better initiative, effort, performance, fulfilment and well-being. (For more on why and how, check out “Self-Determination Theory and Work Motivation” by Gagne and Deci.)
CONNECTION X 3
Research has historically shown that remote workers require up to 3 times as much interaction just to feel as connected and informed compared to employees who work in the same location! That can be pretty hard to manage, and with some Zoom meetings working well, but others dragging on, getting side-tracked and being seen by some as wasting time, the solution is not just to have more of them.
In any case, formal meetings aren’t the only, or perhaps biggest, problem. Humans are social beings with social brains. When we don’t have the opportunity to socialise, we are much more vulnerable to feelings of isolation, exclusion and depression, with devastating impacts on effort & well-being. Work is not simply a productive experience – it is very crucially a social one. The problem with formal meetings is that they, alone, aren’t great for social fulfilment. Gossip is the lubricator of human relationships (the human form of “social grooming” as described by Robin Dunbar), and when it is absent relationships, trust, idea-sharing, cooperation, along with collective effort and fulfilment, diminish. That raises a simple question – is it possible for employees to leave their Zoom or other group chat facilities going in the background to recreate their workplace experiences, especially in highly sociable environments? Remember, anyone can turn it down if its distracting – that’s something many can’t do in the office!
There’s also the challenge of having quiet conversations where people can feel they have the full and private attention of the other person without making a big deal of it – this can feel pretty awkward over the phone and even on Zoom – and almost certainly clumsy and misunderstand on email. How can you create safe places for people to be vulnerable without fear of interruption, or being misunderstood or judged? This is a big thing for managers – using the technology and closed doors to have those really important conversations in ways that are comforting, supportive and informative.
What about the employees who sort of just – disappear? The ones who don’t speak up during group conversations, and don’t ask for help or feedback? Is that how they want it to be or are they just feeling overwhelmed, unheard or under-confident? It’s just as important for managers to have quiet and private check-ins with the people who don’t speak up as it is for those who do.
A really useful mindset for managers here is to consider what each individual in the workgroup might need so that they can flourish – and not just a “How are you getting on? Good? Oh, that’s great!”, but quiet conversations that unpack tasks and achievements, asking the employee how they felt they got on with their tasks and projects. What challenges they came across, and how they plan to move forward – just simple, positively-oriented coaching, mentoring and feedback conversations that are sincerely focused on the success and well-being of the employee. These conversations, especially where people might well be missing social interaction, are hugely powerful and highly rewarding.
So it turns out that really good management practice for iso-working is very similar to really good management practice at any time, but with the sensitivity, attentiveness and feedback volumes turned up to full. Conversely, leaders addicted or restricted to micro-management and coercion will struggle and stress.
SELF-MANAGING FOR OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE & FULFILMENT
As someone who has for many years often worked from home, there are some simple things that I found helpful in the early days to be fully at work, at home.
- Close the door, shut down unnecessary browser pages and turn off all social media, unless you are on a designated break
- Designate breaks
- To the extent possible, let others at home know that when the door is closed, you are at work and shouldn’t be disturbed. Pat-seeking pets included.
- Be at your workspace on time, presented appropriately for work (even if on the “Casual-Fridays” side)
- If you need an undesignated break (comfort, coffee etc) don’t get delayed by domestic distractions
- Plan your tasks and time allocations so you can monitor and self-manage your progress
- When you have completed a task, take a moment to reflect on what you just achieved – perhaps for accuracy, scope, usefulness, completion, how it might help others, and how you feel about your own effort and outcome. Taking just a few moments to appreciate what you have done, just as you might appreciate something that someone else did for you, is powerful as an intrinsic reward, serving as both fulfilment and motivation for future effort. It is even more important when you work alone and don’t get immediate feedback from others.
- Stay in touch with others, even if you don’t have to and it’s easier to “not bother them”. The more isolated people are, the more they rely on written communication, which is rarely inspiring or fulfilling, or simply not communicating at all. Even for introverts, this is not good for coordinating effort, building trust and personal well-being. Not sure when to be a bother? Try setting times for professional conversations and coordinating your designated breaks for chit-chat and gossip, just as you might do at work.
- When your day is done, it is done. Switch off, go “home”.
Of course there may be distractions through the day that can’t be put off, and so some will choose to put in a few hours at night after those distractions have gone to bed. And there will always be unique contexts and challenges, but the more that guidelines like this can be created and stuck to, the more likely the day will be professionally productive and fulfilling.
A SIMPLE, FAST & REVEALING NEURO-M CHECK-IN
To go beyond simple impressions of happiness which can change from day to day, it’s vital to investigate employee motivation and fulfilment at its source. Here’s a quick intro to some of the influences on being able to successfully adjust to working from home:
- Does an employee feel more, less, or the same levels of physical and psychological safety when working from home?
- How safe does their job feel as an income source? What about as a source of status, reputation and self-esteem?
- How do they feel about how their interactions and relationships have changed? Have interactions and demands at home changed too? With what affects?
- Is the work itself as enjoyable – or even more enjoyable- as it was before? How are employees coping with different ways of communicating, along with their access to information, advice and support?
- How confident and competent do they feel working from home? How are they coping with changes in autonomy? Is this a good thing or a set-back for them?
Mostly, you need to know how all of this affects their productivity, fulfilment and well-being. Some will have flourished, some will have struggled, and some will have been getting by, perhaps bravely papering over some cracks. With some, or perhaps many, not feeling they have the opportunity, comfort or security to have the conversation with a superior, especially virtually, it can be hard to know how individual employees – or indeed the whole group – are coping. And let’s not forget managers themselves – this change affects everyone.
THE NEURO-M ISO-WORKING SURVEY AND REPORT
Based on core NEURO-M principles of deep, intrinsic engagement, motivation and fulfilment at conscious and non-conscious levels, we have created a quick but powerful quiz that takes the temperature of the team’s adjustment to iso-working. Employers are encouraged to use it as a guide for initiatives that support and enhance employee – including manager – engagement and outcomes. The quiz only takes about 2 minutes for participants to complete, with results presented in a professional report, along with their implications and recommendations. Ideal group sizes range from 10 up so that the results you see are reliable and representative of the group.
LIMITED FREE OFFER
To help support employers and employee teams at this time, for a limited time the NEURO-M Iso-Working Survey and Report is available to eligible companies and organisations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the USA FREE OF CHARGE wishing to survey 10 or more employees working from home. How it works:
- Use this link to express your interest.
- We’ll ask you some basic questions and verify some details so we can get started.
- When the agreed close-off date is reached, we’ll collate the responses and send you the report.
That’s all there is to it.