Locally and across the country, more than half of American workers are now experiencing and living the new phrase – Working from Home. Like so many phrases that make their way through our lexicon or pop culture dictionary, the acronym WFH reverberates over the airways. Turn on the TV or go to the internet and there it is.
Lost in all the noise is the simple fact that people have worked from home in increasing numbers over the past 15 years because the advances in technology have allowed us to do so. Before this dangerous virus landed in our country, companies large and small were looking at how those changes in technology could be expanded to give employers and employees better “telecommuting” opportunities.
Over the past nine days, I noticed some interesting things in my conversations with my contacts across several industries. The feedback I am getting is that many are finding working from their house to be both liberating and distracting. Having worked for a number of years where some days I am in the office, and some days I work from home, I think I’ve mastered the things that tend to distract. Knowing that each of us has to deal with those individually, I quickly focused on the idea of these people being liberated.
Admittedly, my various contacts use different words and phrases, but essentially, that is what they were getting at. Almost to a person, they indicated they did not miss the non-work related pressures that are almost second nature in many corporate environments. Little things like a co-worker wanting to know what the latest gossip is, or your supervisor having a lousy day and sharing that with everybody. These and a host of other small niggling things that add up over time, and wrinkle your spine. The rush to get ready for a meeting is gone because the workplace distractions no longer have the outsized influence they used to have.
They are discovering again their ability to think constructively about their job, and their ideas about the work they do is undergoing a transformation. One person I spoke with confessed to me that he intends to finish the work he is doing, which he thinks will be in mid to late summer, and he is going to find something else to do because he no longer has a passion for what he does. For years he believed he was still passionate about the work he is doing, but the past eight or nine days has washed away the litany of small excuses he kept making about where he is in his career.
By the same token, another of my contacts finds this situation a kind of time out that is re-energizing his commitment to what he is doing. With both of these individuals, I asked if conflict was present in their work environments. Both answered in the affirmative, and that surprised me. Given their respective answers regarding their commitment to their work, I initially thought they would have different answers.
I dug down a little bit and determined that in one respect their work environments were identical.
Both individuals work in companies where, in the areas they work, several long-standing conflicts simmer just below the surface. Both stated that once they return to work, they are not going to remain silent any longer.
This is something that I talk about extensively in my executive training modules, and in my one-on-one coaching process.
I want to address another issue very much on my mind as we travel this road over the next six to eight weeks. Many are being forced by circumstances to embrace this environment like novice swimmers being tossed into the deep end of the pool. What is different now is that everyone is told to go home and “socially distance” themselves from everyone. In typical fashion government officials take the shotgun approach, and by making broad-brush pronouncements, ignore that millions of gainfully employed people can’t work from home.
Shutting down businesses such as restaurants, bars, and shops of all kinds does not set in motion the same alternatives available to corporations and those small businesses whose products and services are not tied to a storefront. The medical evidence we are receiving very likely justifies these draconian steps, and I am not arguing against the necessity of these actions over the short term.
What prompts this week’s blog, in part, is the increasingly paternalistic and cavalier dismissal of those whose jobs don’t fall within the politically correct spectrum. As someone that works in the conflict resolution arena, I see the potential for unintended consequences to multiply in ways our civic leaders haven’t considered. One of the more obvious issues concerns trips to the grocery store. Much is being made about people hoarding items such as toilet paper and water, and they miss the larger tragedy.
Those working in the retail world of bars, restaurants, stores, and shops will quickly run out of funds to buy food and household items, as well as the capability to pay a host of other bills. The demand for food banks will increase dramatically, and the increase in anxiety among those whose income stream is interrupted will also increase.
We are seeing local and state resources being overwhelmed, and while the federal government is putting in place emergency measures aimed at mitigating things for millions of Americans, the anxieties and fear will not dissipate any time soon. These checks will give some short term relief; yet, in the back of everyone’s mind is the knowledge the federal measures are a short term solution. They are not a substitute for the jobs in danger of being lost. A real fear exists that if their job is gone, so is their future.
An opportunity does exist for those who can do something about this environment; however long it might last. Each day I speak with those I work with over the phone, or through my internet meetings and I urge them to not use the phrase “social distancing”.
We are by necessity physically distancing ourselves to protect ourselves, our families, and our friends, but our obligation to reach out and maintain a social relationship has multiplied. While we are required to keep ourselves physically separate, we are not required to keep our distance in the larger social context. We should do the opposite.
Several times over the past week I used the telephone metaphor to explain the importance of staying connected. We all have the phone numbers of friends, acquaintances, and those we associate with professionally. I suggest at the close of every Zoom or Skype meeting, or telephone call to use the phone feature on the cell phone every day, and reach out to someone just to have a conversation.
If this separation lasts more than a few weeks, real harm to social networks will begin to occur. Before this sequence of events overtook our lives, we talked to people every day across a wide spectrum. We talked to people about our job, our family, the events our kids are involved in, the service organizations we volunteer at, and a host of other subjects. Also, we listened to others tell us about their lives. Most of us don’t realize just how wide our social circle is.
We formed these social connections over time, and we have an obligation to sustain them to the maximum degree possible. Even as I work from home, I talk to people every day for just this purpose – to maintain that connection. I am of the generation, that when growing up, the telephone was the way we kept connected. So I am comfortable calling people just to say hi, to listen if they are willing to talk, and to wish them a good day.
I wish all those who read my posts and my newsletter continued success, and good health.
“Trials come. Tribulation comes. Fires of refinement come. The purpose of refinement is to bring to light the things hidden in darkness and then remove them” (Robin Bertram)