Collaboration doesn’t need to be in-person and synchronous to achieve the desired outcomes

Originally published in the Globe & Mail June 12, 2023

As many organizations and teams continue to iterate on their approach to hybrid working, the question of how best to collaborate is constantly top of mind. Some CEOs have thrown up their hands and publicly stated that remote work doesn’t work for collaboration; however, we need to take a step back to the definition of collaboration and why and whether we should do it in the first place.

As Deb Mashek, collaboration and close relationship expert, points out in her book CollaborHate, the root word “collabor” means “together work” and suffix “-ion” signifies an act or process. Together work, in our current context, does not necessarily mean physically together – it means working collectively toward a specific outcome that ideally requires input from and provides value to all parties. This can be accomplished face-to-face, remotely, synchronously, asynchronously and a combination of all these working modes.

To collaborate or not to collaborate: that is the question.

Part of the challenge in our workplace collaborations is that we miss the important step of deciding whether we should collaborate at all. In a recent episode of the foHRsight podcast, Gustavo Razzetti, author of Remote not Distant, shared the concept of the “Collaboration Trap. That at some point 10-15 years ago, many leaders decided that collaboration was the solution to their company’s problems. Now there is so much pressure for people to collaborate – not only with their own teams but with crossfunctional teams, vendors, suppliers, customers, that collaboration has turned into being involved in a lot of tasks – meetings, emails, calls – that go nowhere.” In other words, often the time spent on collaboration is not worth the investment because the outcome is poor.

In Ms. Mashek’s book, she suggests that effective collaboration relies on two dimensions: interdependence and relationship quality. The best collaboration happens when interdependence and relationship quality are both high. This is because all parties are engaged, have skin in the game and have a high degree of mutual trust. On the flip side, if interdependence is high but relationship quality is low, parties rely on one another but don’t have the foundational relationship on which trust is built – this can lead to negative and unproductive behaviours such as micromanagement and throwing others under the bus – as Ms. Mashek calls it – “CollaborHate.”

Related to the interdependence dimension, Ms. Mashek suggests considering the following questions before agreeing to collaborate: 1) Is the opportunity aligned to your / your team’s / your organization’s values and objectives? 2) Are you / your team able to meaningfully contribute to this project (for example, skills and capacity)? 3) Are there appropriate resources for the scope and scale of this project? 4) Are the other people or teams on the project able to meaningfully contribute or hold up their end of the deal?

If the answer to any of these is no, the collaboration may not be set up for success and perhaps should be renegotiated, redefined or declined.

Where and when to collaborate

Once it is decided that collaboration is indeed the most effective way to achieve the outcome, the next step is deciding where and when the collaboration would be most effective.

This is often assumed to be synchronous and in-person, which is not always the case.

It has been shown that an asynchronous and remote collaboration can mitigate bias and groupthink. The most effective workshops I have led have had a mix of asynchronous, synchronous and remote and in-person components. For example, we leverage asynchronous and remote tools to gather data from participants and to push out information. We opt for synchronous and in-person meetings to discuss key themes, improve alignment and build relationships. In his book, Mr. Razzetti talks about six modes of working, that fall within two dimensions: “Me versus we time” and “deep versus shallow work.” In any collaborative project, there are activities that fall within each quadrant. Therefore, assuming that because a project is collaborative, it would be best accomplished synchronously and in-person is taking too much of a macro-level view. Instead, we need to break the project down into activities and decide which ones are best suited for in-person versus remote and synchronous versus asynchronous.

If we think about our experiences of failed collaborations, we will likely discover that location or schedule was not the culprit. Setting up shared outcomes, guiding principles, norms (including where and when work gets done) and regular communication improves the chances of success.

Legacy mindsets are the biggest hurdle to making real progress in our workplaces

Originally published in the Globe & Mail May 12, 2023

Technological advances are pushing workplaces and work forces to transform before our eyes, yet organizations are largely under-prepared to handle the resulting trends that have emerged. 
In Deloitte’s 2023 Global Human Capital Trends report, across the board, there is a significant gap between organizations’ commitment to identified trends (for example, the degree to which they believe the trend is critical to organizational success) and their readiness to address them. Specifically, in most of the trends, organizational commitment is more than 80 per cent, whereas readiness hovers around 20 per cent. The trends run the gamut from skills-based work and workplace technology to employee data and sustainability.

In a recent episode of the foHRsight podcast, Steve Hatfield, Deloitte’s global future of work leader, and I discussed this year’s theme of “boundarylessness” – the notion that the structures that made our organizations successful in the past are falling away. The boundaries between humans and robots, employees and employers, what’s in one’s job scope and outside of it, and work life and home life are getting blurrier and falling away. This creates an exciting opportunity for reinvention – to create more meaning in the workplace and in work itself, and as Mr. Hatfield says, “to circle back to a time when we are more human, unlike previous industrial revolutions where we became more robotic.” This year’s trends report certainly reflects this aspiration.

What is the biggest barrier to making real progress toward this opportunity in our organizations? As Mr. Hatfield puts it, “Legacy mindsets.” For many leaders, there is a perceived recipe for success, which relies on the technology and structures available in one’s formative years as a professional. These recipes, however, often don’t consider the significant impact technology and other macro trends have had on our ability to work and lead differently, with greater impact. For example, being in the office for a set number of hours and days can be interpreted as a recipe for success to “preserve culture” and “improve collaboration” because this was the only possible way of achieving these outcomes in decades past. Deliberating other possibilities, particularly in an environment where many are stretched thin and burned out just “running the business,” could be scary.

Letting go of legacy mindsets unleashes significant opportunities for a more equitable, productive work force. Here are a few ways how, from Deloitte’s report:

1. Navigating the end of jobs
: According to a Deloitte study, only 19 per cent of respondents believe work is best structured through jobs. Moving past organizational design and structures and instead focusing on matching skills to work enables more agility and equity in our workforces. As Mr. Hatfield refers to in our podcast, a Philadelphia fed study revealed that 36 million Americans could earn 70-per-cent more if we hired based on skills rather than pedigree.

2. Activating the future workplace: 
Despite the work organizations have done over the past two years to reimagine their ways of working (for example, 3+2, anchor days and mandates), there is still a significant gap between organizational commitment (87 per cent) to the future workplace (including hybrid and remote working) and readiness to address it (24 per cent). This gap will continue to exist until organizations are prepared to focus on the work itself, including individual and team needs versus where and when work is done. This means being equitable, not always equal. For example, the needs of a technology team are different from those of a front-line sales team. However, an equitable approach ensures flexibility and physical and digital workplaces are offered in consideration of what’s needed to deliver the work.

3. Negotiating worker data: 
“Who owns the data?” is a complicated question in our consumer and now professional lives. Access to employee data can be powerful in providing better employee and organizational outcomes. For example, knowing about cross-functional collaboration (through Organizational Network Analysis) or burnout (through tools like Microsoft Viva) can improve outcomes both for the organization and for individual employees. “Digital exhaust” as Mr. Hatfield describes it, helps us to lead people better, and to focus on the right key performance indicators (KPI) for the business. Trusting that data will be used for positive, and not disciplinary, outcomes is critical in shifting mindsets to embrace data transparency.

Legacy mindsets are getting in the way of real progress in our organizations, but they don’t have to. Across all elements of the employee experience, don’t be afraid to ask employees what they want, and deliver. Regularly tapping into the voice of the employee provides different perspectives and enables a shift in mindset, to focus on what matters.

As technology takes on more tasks, we need emotional intelligence to connect and engage

Originally published in the Globe & Mail April 14, 2023

As many of us are awestruck, anticipating what the latest and future versions of AI tools like ChatGPT will do for our education and work systems, we contemplate what the definition, prioritization and evaluation of skills will be.

The half-life of skills has been shrinking for decades. What happens when technology keeps getting exponentially smarter and cheaper and is now able to gather and process data, and write and analyze for us, way quicker, and often way better, than humans?

Digital literacy will be the minimum requirement. Developing human leadership capabilities will be critical because, for example, robots can’t authentically connect with others to lead and build relationships in the same way humans can … yet.

Authentically connecting with others involves:

  • Being courageous and staying true to our values, even when they are challenged
  • Role-modeling vulnerability and a growth mindset, acknowledging we don’t have all the answers
  • Leading with empathy in the broader context of emotional intelligence

These human leadership capabilities help build trust, which engenders collaboration and empowers teams to focus on the goals of the team and organization, rather than on personal agendas.

Understanding our own and others’ emotions has a big role to play in the future of leadership, and in the workplace more broadly. Once we are better able to understand one another’s emotions as data that can impact performance and team dynamics, we can operate with empathy and compassion, form deeper bonds and collaborate more effectively. EQ or emotional intelligence (defined by the ability to understand and manage our own emotions and recognize and influence them in those around us) is equally or more important than IQ for individual, team and organizational success. It can, however, be challenging to develop in fully remote or hybrid working environments, where we don’t see each other’s facial expressions or body language on a regular basis.

So how can we improve this critical capability, given the challenges of our tech-reliant world?

1. Name it to tame it

Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of Permission to Feel, articulates a vision “to use the power of emotions to create a healthier and more equitable, innovative and compassionate society.”

But in many cases, we encourage team members to make decisions with data and information, not with emotions. The key is to regulate emotions so we can be thoughtful and responsive, as opposed to reactive. But “we can’t tame what we can’t name,” suggests Dr. Brackett, and most adults find it challenging to label or explain their own emotions. Dr. Brackett’s mood meter can be a useful tool to stimulate reflection and conversations about feelings, so we can be more deliberate about proactively managing them.

2. Practice active listening

Reading others’ body language, including facial micro expressions, takes practice, which is hard to come by in fully remote and hybrid environments. And, misinterpreting others’ facial expressions can lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding, which can impact trust and team effectiveness. Asking questions and engaging in active listening can help you further understand others’ emotions so you can work together more effectively.

Active listening includes:

  • Removing distractions to being fully present in the conversation
  • Practicing good eye contact
  • Noticing and using non-verbal cues
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Paraphrasing and reflecting back
  • Listening to understand rather than to respond
  • Withholding judgment and advice

3. Be an emotion scientist

In his book, Dr. Brackett suggests that, to unlock the power of emotions, we must all take on the role of “emotion scientist” instead of “emotion judge.”

An emotion scientist:

  • Is open, curious and reflective
  • Views all emotions as information
  • Is in learner mode and investigates
  • Wants to get granular
  • Has a growth mindset

An emotion judge:

  • Is critical, closed and ignores emotion
  • Views emotions as an “error”
  • Is in knower mode and makes attributions (for example, “he must be acting that way because he’s an angry person”)
  • Categorizes emotions as good or bad
  • Has a fixed mindset

Operating as an emotion scientist instead of an emotion judge enables us to stay curious, ask why we or others are experiencing various emotions, and solve problems with more information.

Keep in mind, emotions can be contagious, so it’s important to be self-aware about the ones we are exuding and whether they are effective in achieving the best outcomes for our team. If yes, how can we deliberately harness the emotion to motivate others? If not, what could we do to manage our emotions for a more positive impact? Robots are not quite there…yet.

Don’t mandate workers back to the office, invite them to enjoy the power of community

Originally published in the Globe & Mail March 10, 2023

“If you’re organizing your birthday party, you would never say to friends that it’s mandatory to show up. … People would think, ah, this is going to be so boring!” Gustavo Razzetti, author of Remote Not Distant, pointed out in our recent foHRsight podcast discussion.

Why, then, do we feel the need to mandate people to return to the office or to attend meetings when they don’t need to?

As we continue to hear of organizations, like Amazon recently did, mandating employees back to the office, the divide becomes even greater between “us” and “them” – the people versus leadership – a power struggle more than a debate regarding work location and productivity.

This divide, compounded by an already weary work force, plagued by layoffs and burnout, has inspired trends like quiet quitting, career cushioning and the latest, resenteeism (not a typo with a missing “p” – it is the trend of staying in a job, resentfully, because of the fear of economic uncertainty).

Instead, consider inviting your team members to the office. Invite contributors to participate in the meeting. Think about your organization as a community. As Liane Davey, author of The Good Fight, cautions in a recent article, we are missing the value of community in creating our remote working routines: strong ties are weakening and weak ties (such as casual acquaintances) are missing.

For example, Glint’s 2022 research showed 35 per cent of employees working in a hybrid model and 25 per cent of those working fully remotely feel less connected to their colleagues than they did in 2021. And teams are struggling, needing to rebuild trust after years of exclusively two-dimensional communication and a lack of what Ms. Davey describes as “mutual knowledge” (context for other people’s behaviour that helps us to interpret our teammates’ actions). So, how do we create a sense of community for our teams in a hybrid model, with an invitation to be a part of something bigger, rather than with boring and disengaging mandates?

Until recently, we thought of communities mostly as in-person forums where people with a common interest or mission come together to connect. The pandemic gave way to thinking about communities differently, with the addition of digital and asynchronous connection, which enabled us to overcome geographical barriers and to rely less on in-person and synchronous modes of collaboration. Now with the best of both worlds at our disposal – most have returned to being comfortable with in-person interactions and technology has evolved to support digital connection in a meaningful way – we can be more deliberate about creating community within our organizations that supports culture and purpose.

If we think about our organizations as communities, comprised of subcommunities, consider the following for better engagement and inclusion:

Community is about growth

“People come together not just to be the same version of themselves, but because they see a new world together, they want to learn something together,” Tatiana Figueiredo, a community building expert, shared in our recent podcast discussion. “This is important to keep in mind in organizations because individuals’ growth is in service of organizational growth” if they feel a strong sense of connection to the organization’s purpose.

Formal and informal communities are equally important in building connection and belonging

Ms. Figueiredo suggests bringing people together, deliberately, based on different aspects of identity can create better connection and community. This can be done as simply as creating a community of practice, for example, for all first-time people leaders, through a Slack or Teams channel, or in a more structured way through employee resource groups like a women’s interest network.

Community experiences happen at three levels

Ms. Figueiredo breaks connections down into big groups (for example, chief executive officer messages, company retreats), small groups (for example, cross-functional projects, teams, employee resource groups) and one-to-one (for example, mentoring relationships). She stresses the importance of one-to-one relationships outside of one’s immediate team in fostering a sense of belonging. She also advises that many organizations don’t harness the power of small group connections enough, relying too heavily on town hall meetings and other big group connections.

Treating our organizations as communities shifts our mindset from mandating to inviting; from dictating to empowering; from transactional to relational. It can foster a deeper sense of belonging as more people are connected to one another, and therefore to the company, which can only lead to higher engagement and retention. In a hybrid context, prioritizing connection on in-office days is key – exchanging human energy is best done in-person, so save other tasks, like information-sharing, for digital or asynchronous time.

Career cushioning can soften the landing in uncertain times, but is this really a new trend?

Originally published in the Globe & Mail February 3, 2023

The past few years have brought us some catchy work-related phrases: the great reset, resignation and reshuffle, hybrid working, productivity paranoia, quiet quitting, quiet firing, quiet hiring and anchor days to name a few. The latest in a long list of work alliterations is career cushioning, which seems to have made its debut just before the holidays.

Career cushioning is giving yourself a fall-back plan, to “cushion your landing” in case of a layoff. It can involve anything to prepare for your next role: building new skills, taking courses, looking out for opportunities or refreshing your profile on LinkedIn, raising your networking game, keeping in touch with recruiters or testing the market for an entrepreneurial venture.

Cushioning is not a new term – it comes from the dating world, where daters would go out with multiple people at the same time to hedge their bets. So, in a workplace context, cushioning is not necessarily committing to a new job or venture, but warming up the opportunity pipeline, if you will.

Career cushioning may sound a lot like managing one’s career, which is not only acceptable but encouraged as a regular practice in most humancentric organizations. We’ve been telling employees for decades that they own their careers, that they always need to build new skills and think about what’s next. So how is this different?

How far career cushioners push toward actively seeking new employment may vary depending on how secure they feel in their current role or company, how enthused they are by their current role or company, and how valuable they believe their skills to be in the current environment.

We may be seeing an uptick in career cushioning because of similar factors that drove the great resignation, including re-evaluating work-life balance and changing expectations (for example, related to environmental, social, and governance issues, hybrid work or purpose-driven culture), compounded by job-impacting headlines regarding economic uncertainty, layoffs and automation.

A recent LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index stated that 85 per cent of U.S. workers are concerned about inflation, yet just 44 per cent feel prepared for an economic downturn. Research from Robert Half states that half of Canadian employees plan to look for a new job this year – up from 31 per cent six months ago.

So, is career cushioning a bad thing?

Employees no longer feel the same sense of loyalty and exclusivity to their employer, after having witnessed or experienced disloyalty on the part of their organizations. To protect themselves, to pursue an area of passion, or both, an increasing number of people (40 per cent of Americans, up from 34 per cent in 2020, per a Zapier study) are engaging in work outside of their current employer, through “side hustles,” which can be classified as a common form of career cushioning.

If employees are not letting responsibilities slide, or behaving unethically, and are meeting objectives as expected, career cushioning can actually help organizations accelerate a smoother outplacement, in cases where layoffs are deemed unavoidable.

So, what can leaders do to work with, rather than against, career cushioners?

  1. Keep it real: Savvy employees are always thinking about what’s next. They know it’s never a good idea to rest on one’s laurels. Having transparent career conversations with employees allows you to coach them toward future roles and lets you get ahead of and plan for transition, inside and outside of the company.
  2. Use data: Pay attention to engagement survey trends and have regular stay interviews with your people. As organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently said, “The dumbest time to run exit interviews is when employees quit.” Keep a finger on the pulse of why employees join, and why they stay, through surveys across the team and organization, and by regularly asking them, so that you can course-correct based on feedback before it’s too late.
  3. Prioritize knowledge management and succession planning: While trending terms like great resignation, quiet quitting and career cushioning are signals of unrest, leaders should always have a healthy amount of paranoia that their best employees could leave at any time. Often knowledge leaves with them and teams are left in the lurch because of poor knowledge and succession management practices.

If you are looking to add some “stuffing” to your cushion, don’t forget about your network. Whether your next anticipated career move is entrepreneurial or within the same or another organization, sponsorship (having someone proactively vouch for you) is critical. Building and maintaining relationships, by keeping your network active and participating in communities that inspire you, is the best thing you can do when you don’t need a job.

How can we define the future of work? Perpetual reinvention

Originally published in the Globe & Mail December 30, 2022

The phrase “future of work” has been used to describe many things over the years: Prior to the pandemic, it may have conjured sci-fi-like images of robots taking over the world or, more simply, open-concept office layouts. Postpandemic, the future of work has been synonymous with new ways of working, or “hybrid work,” which focuses on the where and when work gets done.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Ravin Jesuthasan, a global thought leader, futurist and bestselling author on the future of work. His word association for the future of work? Perpetual reinvention, which is perhaps a thread that connects of all of the above. With the recent public release of chatbot ChatGPT, and its ability to automate many higher-skilled tasks, some predict artificial intelligence will significantly affect work as early as 2023. This means, we need to get better at perpetual reinvention very quickly.

In his new book Work without Jobs, co-written with John Boudreau, Mr. Jesuthasan challenges the traditional relationship between a job and a job holder, advocating for more agile and dynamic ways of getting work done. This “new work operating system” starts with defining the work, deconstructs work into tasks, and then matches skills to work in a variety of ways (for example, through systems known as talent platforms or marketplaces), tapping into a broad worker ecosystem that includes full-time, part-time, permanent, temporary and digital/bot workers.

This approach not only allows for automation of tasks that are mundane or repetitive and/or less desirable (for example, unsafe) for humans, but it also alleviates the rigidity imposed by many traditionally defined jobs. It seeks to reduce the frictional cost of work, enabling talent to flow to work continuously rather than being confined to the static requirements of a job description and internal (and often slow) “hiring” processes. Instead of starting with a job and role description, and then hiring “the perfect” candidate for the role, starting with the work allows organizations to connect work to workers in a more flexible way, which enables them to respond more quickly to automation and threats such as the pandemic.

For this model to succeed at scale, a new system is needed that lets as many people as possible engage with the organization’s mission and enterprise. For example, Mr. Jesuthasan shared, Unilever started with defining its “North Star” in the form of its framework for the future of work and aligning all future of work programs and initiatives, including its talent marketplace to it. In creating an agile enterprise, aligned to its North Star, it is now easier for anyone to bring their skills to the organization. For example, retirees stay engaged with Unilever’s work ecosystem and continue to contribute to its mission, in exchange for a stipend aligned to their previous wage.

According to Mr. Jesuthasan, the role of leaders in this new work operating system will also fundamentally change. Namely, leaders will be required to:

Shift from leading with authority to leading with empowerment and alignment. As work becomes democratized and more distributed (across an ecosystem of employees and non-employees), empowering individuals to opt in to work that best aligns with their skills, versus dictating specific jobs and job requirements, will be a better way to engage workers, drive outcomes and achieve goals.

Manage diversity, equity and inclusion on a continuous versus an episodic basis. Traditionally, DEI has been considered for key events throughout the employee lifecycle (for example, hiring, on-boarding, development or restructuring). In this new paradigm, leaders should always be thinking about how to be as inclusive as possible: how to empower many to engage with the organization’s purpose and get work done. For example, as shared by Mr. Jesuthasan, a large health care organization deconstructed its nursing work, noticing that, burned out by the pandemic, most nurses didn’t want to work eight-hour shifts. In deconstructing the work and creating opportunities for eight people (not just nurses – as some of the work did not require nursing skills) to work one-hour shifts, they were able to meet business needs while attracting a more diverse talent pool and protecting workers’ well-being.

Connect people to projects versus executing process. For the past several decades, we have been managing through process execution: Hiring, onboarding, performance management or development are all processes with a regular cadence and a defined beginning, middle and end. In the new work operating system, business leaders become facilitators and curators of agile teams. They, in partnership with HR, need to become experts in work design and adept at defining skills needed to execute the various tasks that comprise the work, and then coach workers to seek work that best leverages their skills and develops them for future work.

Perpetual reinvention is indeed the name of the game in this new world of work. Organizations, leaders and individuals who can continuously adapt to new, agile ways of working, will be able to align and realign to their North Star and thrive more effectively.

How to say no in No-vember for a happier, healthier, more productive work life

Originally published in the Globe & Mail November 21, 2022

As companies are adapting to new ways of working at varying speeds, there is a need for organizations, teams and individuals to optimize and prioritize along new dimensions: What work is best suited in-office versus remote? What is best accomplished synchronously versus asynchronously? How can we rethink and revitalize meetings so we aren’t stuck in meetings all day with no time to think or do?

Many employees are overstretched and overwhelmed, finding there aren’t enough hours in the day to deliver on commitments. According to Microsoft’s September 2022 Work Trends Index, 48 per cent of employees and 53 per cent of managers say they are already burned out. In the same report, it was noted that last spring, meetings had increased by 153 per cent since the start of the pandemic, “double bookings” increased by 46 per cent in the last year and, in an average week, 42 per cent of participants multitask during meetings. This goes to show that, in many cases, there is no slack in the system. Prioritization must go beyond simply reordering an overflowing to-do list.

Much can be done at an organizational level and team leader level to help prioritize and create capacity for employees, so that they can focus on what matters. Not just cutting big projects and product launches, but reconfiguring how work is done and delivered. For example, does that quarterly business review really require a 100-page polished PowerPoint deck and eight hours of meetings? Leaders and employees alike should be empowered to evaluate each task and deliverable with the following three Ds: Delay, Do Differently, Don’t Do, to challenge the status quo.

At an individual level, it may be time to simplify our lives by saying “no” to things that do not serve us. Liane Davey, author of The Good Fight, highlights 30 drains on health, happiness, and productivity you can start saying “no” to in No-vember, perfect timing before the holiday rush adds to our stress. Below are five, though you can find the rest here:

  • Prioritization: “‘Priority’ comes from ‘priori’: first; not 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th,” cautions Ms. Davey. Otherwise said, when everything is a priority, nothing is. Your work priorities should clearly align with company and team goals and broader purpose. If the alignment is unclear, say so, and seek clarification. Let’s not prioritize until we determine what needs to be de-prioritized.
  • Collaboration: According to Deb Mashek, author of Collabor(h)ate, ask these four questions to determine whether you should say no to a collaboration opportunity: 1) Is the opportunity aligned to your values and interests? 2) Are you able to meaningfully contribute to this project (for example, skills and capacity)? 3) Are there appropriate resources for the scope and scale of this project? 4) Are the other people on the project able to meaningfully contribute? If the answer to any of these is no, you may want to take a pass on the collaboration opportunity.
  • Wasting in-office days: This doesn’t mean don’t go to the office, it means make it count when you do. In this transitory period, leaders may need to suggest what would be beneficial to do on in-office days, so we don’t have the worst of both worlds – hard to find space (as a result of fewer desks and hot-desking) with many workers in virtual meetings all day.
  • Perfection: Waiting for the perfect moment means potentially missing the window of opportunity, entirely. In our new world of work, where there is so much uncertainty, we need to not let perfection get in the way of good enough. For example, when it comes to adjusting to new ways of working, be aware that we will make mistakes, learn and iterate.
  • E-mail fights: Selecting appropriate channels for different types of communication is an essential part of adjusting to our new ways of working. Before sending that emotional or controversial e-mail or message, think about how it may be received: tone and nuance are difficult to decipher in written form. Instead of potentially getting into a battle, save difficult dialogue for the channels in which they are best-suited: in-person, video or phone, depending on your respective locations.

While we are on the topic of saying “no,” one final idea for leaders: establish NOKRs, not just OKRs (objectives and key results): what employees should not do to get the most critical work done. This will help them prioritize more effectively and remain aligned with the team and organization’s objectives without the burden of extra low-value work. Happy No-vember.

Take advantage of in-office ‘anchor days’ to strengthen relationships and build skills

Originally published in the Globe & Mail October 28, 2022

As organizations attempt to transition to a business-as-usual environment after two-and-a-half years of a pandemic, they are diving into new ways of working. Many are considering a hybrid model, where employees split days between the office and a remote location. However, if employers don’t provide a compelling reason to trade the comforts of home for long commutes, an “us versus them” power struggle between leadership and workers may emerge.

To break through the inertia, some companies are mandating anchor days when the team or whole company is requested or required to be in the office on specific days. For example, Uber just announced workers must return to the office starting Nov. 1, with Tuesdays and Thursdays as anchor days.

At first, I had a visceral reaction to the concept. After all, isn’t it counter to the flexibility we are trying to support, by essentially imposing new rules that don’t work for everyone? Having had experience transitioning to a hybrid working model in 2010 and again in 2014, I observed that if you empower teams, leaders and individuals to figure out how, where and when to get their work done, they do.

Sure, they may make mistakes along the way, but most get into a rhythm by trying and learning. This trial-and-error process is an important step in building ownership and accountability for outcomes, where location and schedule are simply a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.

While I used to be against anchor days, I now see them as similar to training wheels, providing a tangible construct to support employees in building new habits, before they are ready to ride on their own.

According to the latest Microsoft Work Trends Index, 73 per cent of employees surveyed want a more compelling reason to be in the office than “because I said so.” The reason should be clearly communicated, connected to the company’s purpose and values, and considerate of individual needs.

In this transitory period, it may not be enough to articulate “why” we should be in the office (some of the time). Leaders may need to suggest what would be beneficial to do on anchor days, so we don’t have the worst of both worlds – hard to find space (as a result of fewer desks and hot-desking) with lots of people in virtual meetings all day.

In his book, Remote not Distant, Gustavo Razzetti talks about six work modes for distributed teams. Each of these modes can be classified along two dimensions: “me versus we time” and “deep versus shallow work.” In doing so, we can better identify activities best suited to our in-office days. Here are a few ways leaders can help their teams prioritize on anchor days:

1. Deep collaboration: One of Mr. Razzetti’s six identified modes is Deep Collaboration (for example, teamwork without distraction, to accomplish a single task together). Not all collaboration is best accomplished in-person – it has been shown that an asynchronous and remote form can mitigate bias and groupthink. However, when we need to focus as a team on accomplishing one common task or goal, being together in the same room can enable quicker alignment and decision making.

2. On-the-job learning: Data from The Power of Proximity study suggests people give and receive more regular feedback when in proximity with people on their teams, even in a digital world. This type of feedback is considered “on the job” and/or “in the flow” learning, which is a critical component of building new skills.

3. Exchanging human energy: Or “casual collaboration,” per Mr. Razzetti. The Microsoft report indicates that:

  • 85 per cent of employees would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds.
  • 84 per cent would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialize with coworkers.
  • 74 per cent would go to the office more frequently if they knew their “work friends” were there.
  • 73 per cent would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there.

People miss and care about their work friends: it’s that simple.

Hybrid work, if implemented thoughtfully and given time to normalize, creates many win-wins for organizations and employees. Eventually, I believe anchor days can go away once people naturally recognize when they should and like to be with people versus not, and self-organize that way.

But until then, implementing such days, including clearly communicating the “whys” and suggested “whats,” is a temporary solution to encourage meaningful, intentional in-person interaction.

From wanting to stay in bed to dancing in September: how a small habit shift is having a big impact

Originally published in the Globe & Mail September 30, 2022

For many years, the song Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day has been on repeat in my head for the whole month. The weather change and post-summer wake-up call made me want to … well, stay in bed.

This year, I made a deliberate shift to change that tune to the more upbeat September, by Earth, Wind and Fire. I am choosing to embrace and celebrate all the newness. Now, when that feeling of being overwhelmed creeps in, instead of letting my stress fester, manifesting in unproductive ways, I blast September out loud or in my head. This small shift in behaviour is helping me reframe this month.

We don’t have to commit to major changes to achieve meaningful results. Simply making a conscious effort to adjust our response can be effective, according to The Coaching Habit author Michael Bungay Stanier. “When (insert situation/trigger), instead of (current behaviour), I will (insert new, desired behaviour) because (insert why it matters),” he suggests.

So when encountering a trigger, in this instance, the feeling of being overwhelmed, rather than letting stress fester and manifest itself in unproductive ways, I will respond with the new, desired behaviour – in this case, by blasting out September, in order to refocus.

Here are three areas where commitment to a small habit change can lead to meaningful results:

Return to Office: I was recently asked why it was so easy to get everyone to go remote in 2020 and now it feels virtually impossible to get people back into the office. The answer likely has to do with urgency (in 2020, we were in a state of emergency, and had no choice but to work from home), clarity (we have moved the goalposts too many times, and employees are confused) and, perhaps most importantly, habits. According to a recent survey of about 50 Canadian chief human resources officers, conducted by Cotalent and Strategic Capability Network, 55 per cent of employees are in the office less than expected by their organizations, despite 68 per cent of the organizations providing incentives such as events, meals and gifts to encourage their return.

As Roger Martin, the former dean of the Rotman School of Management, recently wrote in Fortune, the pandemic disrupted old habits of going to the office. When a habit is broken, he points out, its privileged position disappears and a new habit takes shape – in this case working from home. The subconscious gives privilege to that new habit and it quickly becomes the default habit. Encouraging a shift in habits requires more than mandates. Instead, consider prompting leaders and teams to find their own triggers (for example, a certain type of meeting) that would enact the new behaviour (coming into the office) instead of the current one (assuming virtual attendance is okay).

Culture: I recently came across a public-serving company that banned one habitual word from employees’ lexicon to drive meaningful culture change. The word? “Next.” As a customer, hearing someone say the word “next” is impersonal and does not inspire action or loyalty. Making this small change refocused front-line workers on the customer, as they were forced to choose language that inspired better human connection. I am trying to eliminate the word “busy” from my habitual language for the same reason.

Well-being: In a recent workshop, participants were asked to commit to one small behaviour shift that would affect their own well-being and that of their teams, in pursuit of more human-centred leadership: They were asked, when feeling overwhelmed, to commit to doing something for their own well-being (such as taking a walk or eating a healthy snack), instead of just powering through. This small effort would allow them to be better leaders for their teams, and in turn drive better results.

Staying committed to habit changes may be easier said than done – that is why so many of our New Year’s resolutions fail. According to behaviour-change technology company, Actionable, here are ways to improve the chances of making habits stick:

  1. Design your commitment thoughtfully: structure, relevance and duration are all important foundational elements to building new habits.
  2. Reflect on your commitment deeply and regularly: Build reminders to check in on your commitment into your workflow (such as using calendar notifications, alarms or post-it notes) at a time and in a way you know you will pay attention. Reflecting on how well you’re doing at a regular cadence (by rating yourself and writing down some observations) can help you stay committed to continuous improvement over time.
  3. Be accountable: Choosing a trusted partner to check in with on a regular basis not only makes the process more fun, but also helps improve the chances of staying committed and making the habit stick.

September represents the beginning of a new year for many – for those of us who are parents of school-aged children, for those of us who are of Jewish faith, and for those of us who start a new fiscal year or end a quarter. This year, many organizations are also (re)launching their new working models this month, attempting yet another return to office, in some capacity. It’s a great time to reflect on some of the habits we may want to shift to enable a better working environment for all.

As September comes to an end, I am feeling more energized and ready to take on the fall. Here’s to “New Year’s resolutions” that stick.

Thinking about quiet quitting? Consider these alternatives for a more fulfilling career

Originally published in the Globe & Mail August 29, 2022

Quiet quitting is the latest workplace-related alliteration that’s gaining momentum, especially among Gen Zs. It is not about quitting in the literal sense. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s about doing the bare minimum required, while remaining fully employed.

As the now viral TikTok video by a user named zaidleppelin suggests, by quietly quitting, “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond … your worth as a person is not defined by your labour.”

The notion is not new – “work to live, instead of live to work” is a philosophy that’s been embraced by cultures outside of North America forever. However, describing this as “quiet quitting” has negative, cynical connotations that can be harmful for workplace engagement and performance. It insinuates a fixed mindset, thinking of jobs as a discrete set of tasks, beyond which employees should be entitled to opt out.

The reality is, jobs are more nuanced and complex, requiring some give and take. Sometimes work requires an extra push to get to the finish line. And employees can only feel good about those instances if they are allowed adequate recovery (for example, “fire drills” can’t become the norm). As organizations have not necessarily operated with employee well-being in mind over the past few decades – expecting them to do more with less, leading to more encroachment on personal time and pervasive burnout – this type of quiet revolt could have been predicted. But there must be a happy middle ground where employees are motivated to do their best work and are fairly treated and paid for it.

What can employees do as an alternative to quiet quitting?

  1. Look before you leap: Before jumping on the bandwagon, think about what’s causing you to quietly quit. Are you resentful that you aren’t getting enough pay or recognition? Have you been given an unfair workload without adequate resources? Do you not see the point or context for the work your leader has asked you to do?
  2. Have open conversations: Once you’ve identified your “why,” take steps to proactively address it. It’s better, both for you and for the organization, to pitch a solution (which may include more resources, more context, or help in prioritizing), than to marinate in mounting resentment. Even in cases where you are not granted everything you ask for, you at least will have done your part in attempting to solve the problem, bringing transparency to managers who may not fully appreciate the full weight or implications of their asks.
  3. Reframe: Instead of quietly quitting, consider joyfully joining. As Arianna Huffington suggests, “rather than go through the motions in a job you’ve effectively quit on, why not find one that inspires you, engages you and brings you joy? We have, after all, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine how we work and live. Let’s not settle on quiet quitting.” Take the power back into your own hands – choose work that aligns with your skills and/or purpose. Going “above and beyond” doesn’t necessarily mean extra hours. When we are engaged and in our best-fit roles, we can work smarter, more efficiently and feel good about the impact we are making.
  4. Set boundaries: Know what your non-negotiables are and openly communicate them. Remember, your team and leader(s) are not mind readers, so if you continue to allow your non-negotiables to be sacrificed, they will assume you are okay with it. It’s important, however, to also be aware that jobs are a give and take and we need to flex sometimes if we expect flexibility.
  5. Quit (for real): Instead of taking a passive-aggressive approach, if none of the above are suitable solutions, take your talent elsewhere. Life is too short to be in a job where you are resentful and not operating at your best.

If quiet quitting is a new form of “presenteeism” (where employees are physically at work but mentally elsewhere), there is cause for concern: we can’t afford to have organizations led and operated by disengaged zombie-like workers. However, if it is a rallying cry for better prioritization, fair pay for fair work and career and time management, then it is long overdue, but perhaps deserves a reframe. Whether you are for or against it, the fact that this provocative term has struck a chord with so many is something organizations need to pay attention to, as they continue to manage a fed-up, burned-out work force.