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What's Next!

| November 10, 2020

by Jim Bruce

What’s Next!

[Author of today’s Tuesday Reading is Jim Bruce, Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates. He previously served as Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. Jim may be reached at [email protected].]
The election is over. No matter the election result or your reaction to that result, the coronavirus which arrived in the U.S. very early this year is still with us, now at increased strength, and it will very likely continue to be with us for some time. The number of infected individuals will decrease (though it is now increasing) if we all wear face coverings, socially distance ourselves from one another, and limit the number of people in meetings and in other instances where people gather. And, it will especially decrease after the arrival of a vaccine, currently expected very late this year or in the first quarter of 2021. However, we are warned that, for any number of reasons, it could be later in 2021 including even near the end of that year.
And, to be reasonably effective, a minimum of 50% of the population – that would be about 165 million people – would need to be vaccinated. Clearly, vaccinating that many individuals will take some time. The record for vaccinations at a single site in a single day was set at MIT on October 3, 2019 when at least 9,378 individuals received the flu vaccine that day. Clearly, there were a lot of individuals involved in executing the 10-minute process followed by each individual in getting vaccinated — collecting information on the individual, preparing the vaccination, administering it, and then waiting a few minutes to ensure that there was no untoward reaction to the vaccination.
Using this 10-minute figure as a model for coronavirus vaccinations, vaccinating 165 million people would take 1,650,000,000 minutes or 3.4 million 8-hour days. It is not clear to me that anyone is planning a national program to staff and deliver the vaccine to half the country’s population in say a six-month period. Yet, it seems plausible. A helpful data point here can be found in a CDC report stating that in the 2018-2019 flu season 63% of children 6 months to <18 years were vaccinated as were 43% of those 18 and older. So, it appears theoretically possible even if the COVID-19 vaccination process required more time, including a second shot as some of the vaccine candidates do.
The point I’m trying to make with this discussion, is that even if the country is deeply committed to controlling this virus, it will likely take well into next year – dare I say, toward the end of next year – for life to begin to return to something that seems normal. CDC and other experts believe that actually the worst is yet to come and that it will take until the end of 2021 or even the beginning of 2022 for a state more like we had before the beginning of 2020 returns.
Given this, in today’s Tuesday Reading I want to focus on three things (from a much longer list) you need to be acutely aware of and act upon as you continue through this pandemic: Taking care of yourself, taking care of your team, and the new normal that is already appearing.
We have all been mostly working away from our offices, generally at where we live, for the past six months. And, for some of us this has been effective, but not so much for others. Whether it is working for you depends upon you, the situation where you live, the work/study situation of others in your household, etc. As they say, it’s complicated. And, it depends, as well, upon your manager, your team, and others you interact with using Zoom, Slack, email, etc.
You may have settled into a new normal that you may have begun to like. Or, you may have concluded that it doesn’t work and need to make some changes. Or, you may be ready to go back to the way it was in the “dark ages” of February 2020.
The good news, or if you choose the bad news, is that too many things have changed for too many of us that there is really no going back to things exactly as they were. And, after all, you really want to change some of those things a bit too.
Take care of your yourself.
Since you are the central player in your “play,” let’s start there:

  1. You cannot really help others care for themselves if you are not caring for yourself. Caring for yourself increases your productivity and effectiveness as a leader. To do this well, begin with a regular morning routine, either the one you had before COVID-19 or something that better addresses your current state. After a good night’s rest, begin the day with your “get-ready-to-go-to-work” routine. Don’t hang around in your sleep clothes. Wear clothes similar to what you wore to work. Have breakfast. All of this will set the stage for you to do work, not sleep or lounge around in front of the TV, etc.
  2. And, caring for yourself also includes exercise, eating well, and, preferably, a dedicated place to work. Palena Neale, international leadership coach, puts it this way in her essay “Serious” Leaders Need Self-Care, Too”: “… a healthy diet has been linked to better moods, higher energy levels, and lower levels of depression. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow, boosting both learning and memory. Getting good sleep has been linked to increased focus, improved cognitive function (including creativity and innovation), greater capacity for learning, and improved empathy.”
  3. Ask for help when you need it. We are all facing the same general set of challenges. We all do need help from time to time. And, we all need to overcome the embarrassment or shame of asking for help. It’s hard for many of us (including me). The simple advice that I both “receive” and “give” here is “Get over it.”
  4. And, don’t forget the usual practices you have for each day. As you make a plan for your day, make sure that you include everything you expect to do for the day. Be sure to include any activities associated with the fact that you are actually working from home, tasks like helping a child with his or her online class, etc. And, have a time to put aside your work for the day. Trust me, it is very easy to just keep working until you have to stop.
  5. Finally, make sure you have the right equipment to do your job. If you are missing hardware or software you need, explore the possibilities for you to acquire what you need from your manager. It is very hard to work when you don’t have the right tool set.

Take care of your team.

  1. Show concern for others. It’s too easy when we start a Zoom (or other) call to jump right into the business of the call. Given the pressures we all are facing, a better approach would be to check in to see how everyone is doing. Make it routine to show your concern for your fellow team members. And, if someone on the call needs more attention, circle back around to that individual after the call. (You may want to make a note so that you don’t forget it.)
  2. Look for and publicly recognize good work and life events, for individuals and for teams. Let people know that they and their work really matter, that it really does make a difference.
  3. Be especially mindful of any new and different responsibilities you have acquired and which you may choose to delegate to others. Make sure these individuals are fully informed about their new responsibilities and have the resources they need to be successful.
  4. And, do take time for lunch together or an after work informal get together on Zoom. Informal gatherings are essential for a well-functioning organization especially when most members of the team are working remotely.

A future new normal.
Raj Choudhury begins his November Harvard Business Review article Our Work-from-Anywhere Future by writing “Before 2020 a movement was brewing within knowledge-work organizations. Personal technology and digital connectivity had advanced so far and so fast that people had begun to ask ‘Do we really need to be together, in an office, to do our work?’ We got our answer during the pandemic lockdowns. We learned that a great many of us don’t in fact don’t need to be collocated with colleagues on-site to do our jobs. Individuals, teams, entire workforces, can perform well while being entirely distributed — and they have.”
This suggests that the new normal could have many knowledge-work staff continuing to work at home. Space is one driver for this. It takes more space to accommodate a worker in COVID–19 sensitive environment than is currently allocated to a typical knowledge worker. To accommodate staff, some universities and commercial organizations are already busy reconfiguring office and work space to provide a safe socially distanced environment for workers and visitors to their space. Some universities are also making major changes to their air filtration systems to bring them to the new standards associated with filtering COVID–19 particles from the air. Another driver might be the continued needs for more space that most universities are experiencing. Having some staff work from home might alleviate the needs to build new space.
All of this, along with the positive experiences many have had working at home, suggests that not everyone will be coming back to their campus desks and offices at any time in the near future. There simply will not be sufficient space. This may work out well given the positive experiences many have had in working from home.
The coming year will be challenging for most of us as together as individuals and in our organizational capacities, we address the task of bringing this coronavirus under control. The option of not doing it is really not an option.
I hope that you will do your part as we collectively take this on. Stay safe!
.  .  .  .  jim
Suggested Reading:

  1. Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Our Work-from-Anywhere Future, Harvard Business Review, November-December 2020.
  2. Amy Gallo, What Your Coworkers Need Right Now Is Compassion, Harvard Business Review, March 2020.
  3. Allison Goldberg, 9 Creative Ways to Stay Connected to Your Coworkers When You’re All Working from Home, The Muse.
  4. Laurene Hirsch, When will offices be full again? Maybe Never, some executives say, The New York Times, October 2020.
  5. Lee Hutchinson, Going all-in on remote work: The technical and cultural changes, ars TECHNICA, August 2020.
  6. Whitney Johnson and Amy Humble, To Take Care of Others, Start by Taking Care of Yourself, Harvard Business Review, April 2020.
  7. Brian McDonald, Leading in an ALL CORONAVIRUS Environment, MOR Associates, Tuesday Reading, MOR Associates, March 2020.
  8. Linda Rodrigues McRobbie, What is an office for now?, strategy+business, September 2020.
  9. Arielle Pardes, WFH or Work at the Office — More Tech Employees Can Now Choose, Wired, October 2020.
  10. Christine Porath and Mike Porath, How to Thrive When Everything Feels Terrible, Harvard Business Review, October 2020.
  11. Pelena Neale, “Serous” Leaders Need Self-Care, Too, Harvard Business Review, October 2020.