“I’m worried about a maternity returner and the younger members of the team who aren’t getting exposed to the informal chat around the office. You just can’t develop the same links with people and get those bits of knowledge that help you do your job when you’re working from home 100% of the time. It’s not so bad for those of us who are established in the organisation and our particular role. In fact working from home has been really good in many respects.”
If that sounds familiar, read on.
Colleagues most in need of connection
There’s no doubt that whilst we’re leading remotely we need to be proactive at helping others pick up the information they’d otherwise absorb by office osmosis. One way of doing this is to invite colleagues who are particularly at risk of missing out to have short agenda-free catch-up chats (15-20 minutes) with you.
New members of the team (who’d been in role < 12 months before March 2020)
Members of the team for whom this is only their first or second role
People living alone
Colleagues returning from maternity, shared parental leave, adoption, sickness or any other type of long leave.
Go woodland walking with colleagues – remotely or in-person
We’ve been recommending woodland walk and talk with colleagues who live within a distance you’re prepared to travel, or remotely. By remotely we mean both walking in woodland close to your respective homes and talking on the phone with headphones – because holding a phone detracts from the experience of nature and hampers the ability to gesticulate.
Make it an awe walk
The benefits of walking, and in particular in green spaces, has been known for some time but new research by Trinity College Dublin and the University of California, San Francisco has illuminated the many benefits that come from deliberately setting out to be amazed by the nature around us.
Focusing on the nature you can both see can be a helpful way to break the ice, because let’s face it this isn’t the sort of thing you’d probably usually do with your colleagues.
Benefits of awe walking
In the study, participants took a weekly 15 minute awe walk for eight weeks. A control group took the same 15 minute walks but weren’t asked to pay attention to the wonder of nature. The results are very uplifting. Compared to the control group, the awe-walkers:
Reported increased positive emotions
Experienced distress in their everyday life
Displayed more ‘pro-social’ emotions such as gratitude and compassion
A curious additional finding came from the analysis of selfies both groups took on their walks. Both groups were asked to take snaps at the beginning, middle and end of their walks. The awe-walkers increasingly made themselves smaller in their shots as the study went on, focusing on the scenery around them. Their smiles also grew wider. This suggests awe walking helps us get out of our own heads, which can often be a very helpful thing.
Make it a team thing
Instead of 1:1 walking why not arrange a regular team awe walk where the conversation can ebb and flow as it would in the office? It might not be practical if there is a large geographic spread in the team but it’s worth a thought.
What do you think?
If you do it, let us know how you get on. We’d love to see your photos. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter and Instagram @talentkeepersuk.
Want more like this? Get our Many Happy Returns Report
We spoke to 10 Chief People Officers about how they’re continuing to create a sense of belonging and how they’re responding to the challenges faced by Covid-19. Click to get access to their thoughts in our Many Happy Returns? Report.
Returning to work probably requires you to find a different pace and a sharper focus compared to how you’ve spent your time whilst away. In this article from Comeback Community™(our platform for people preparing for/returning from any type of extended leave) we’re sharing seven superbly simple tools to make an impact with the time you have.
If you’re coming back on reduced hours, or no longer have the inability to ‘stay late’ and play catch up on things not completed during the normal work day you might be wondering how you’ll deliver all you did before. The answer? Don’t even try to! This is an opportunity to start afresh, consider the impact you want to have and make a plan to get there.
SEVEN SIMPLE TOOLS:
Rocks, pebbles, sand
If you only worked one day a week
Stop, start, continue
Biggest task first
Five minute start
1. Rocks, pebbles, sand
Author of the excellent book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey, talks about figuring out which things in your life are the ‘rocks’ – the big, important things – that you’ll be miffed if you don’t make happen. His analogy is a vase (your life) to be filled with rocks, pebbles and sand (the stuff that fills your time). If you put the sand in the vase first, followed by the pebbles (the smaller, less important stuff) there won’t be so much time for the rocks. Put the rocks in first, followed by the pebbles then the sand will slide down to fill the gaps.
You can think about this at work too. What are your rocks? These are usually the things that really make a difference to at least one of the following:
to you or your team, department or organisation’s profile
your customers/clients’ success and their desire to continue to work with you
a step change in a process or knowledge
profitability or rankings
2. If you only worked one day a week
Struggling to work out what your rocks are? Imagine you only worked one day a week. What would your line manager want you to do in that time? What is it that you do or could be doing that really makes a difference to your team, organisation, sector or even the world?
Now add a second day, what else would you be doing? More of the same or something else? Coachees we’ve worked with tell us this is a useful way to work out what really matters and to commit to doing it.
3. Stop, start, continue
If you’re coming back to work on less hours than you worked before, it’s vital you consider what you won’t be doing – and who is going to do it instead. If you’re working four days a week instead of five, what 20% of your role is going to be deferred, delegated or ditched altogether? When you drop a percentage of your role, think strategically. What do you need to hang onto for personal satisfaction, meaning and career advancement? Whilst it might not be possible to retain the parts of the role you want, you need to give it some thought before you have the conversation with your line manager.
Even if you’re coming back to the same hours it’s worth giving some thought to what you are going to:
This is about coming back on purpose, intent on being effective (doing the right things) as well as being efficient (getting them done in timely fashion).
4. Biggest task first
If you’re a list-lover you probably like getting stuck into e-mails and other quick wins at the start of your working day. This is a mistake. When you’re time poor those precious, freshest hours at the start of the working day need to be spent on your most challenging tasks. Spend 90 minutes tackling the most important thing and then move into e-mail management and quick wins as a break from the intense work.
5. Five minute starts
We’ve all had those times when we’ve had such a big task in front of us and we haven’t known where to start, so we didn’t. We delayed until another day thinking that the passage of time is going to make it easier for us. Wrong! The best way to get moving is to commit a small chunk of time, even just five minutes, to getting it going. Those five minutes are about getting over your inertia and once you’ve started to ‘move’ it’ll feel easier and you’re likely to work beyond the initial time you set yourself.
From Wikipedia: The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.
You probably know this experience well: you write a to-do list for the week and find you only get half of it done. You’ve been full-on all week so you really don’t understand what happened. This is a classic and it’s because most of us are pretty poor at accurately predicting how long a task will take us. This is where time-boxing comes in: allocating a set amount of time to do a task. Be it writing a report, producing an outline for a lecture, preparing a pitch deck or reviewing customer feedback, you can choose how much time to give it and then no more. Activities have a way of filling whatever time we give them and our minds tend to be much more focused when there’s a deadline. Try allocating 45 minutes to a task that usually dribbles on for two hours and see what happens….
7. Schedule time with yourself
On that note, who said diaries were only for recording meetings with other people? Try blocking out time in your diary to work on your ‘rocks’ (see above). We all know the magic happens between meetings so if you find most of your working week is spent in scheduled sessions with other people, this is definitely a technique you should try.
Sometimes it can feel lonely at the top and it’s good to know what your peers are thinking and doing, especially when there’s no playbook. Our NEW report Many Happy Returns? presents the five main themes that emerged from our conversations with Chief People Officers and HR Head Honchos over the summer.
** RECEIVE YOUR COPY NOW – simply add your name and e-mail address to the box at the bottom **
The HR professionals we spoke to about the challenges of remote working and the return to the office spanned many different sectors: accountancy, advertising, asset management, event management, insurance, law, manufacturing and market research.
The five themes:
THE NEW ‘MIXED ECONOMY’ – maintaining equality of opportunity for employees regardless of where they work.
STRUCTURE AND CERTAINTY – acknowledging the need for security employees are craving, and that’s difficult for HR to provide.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES – helping employees feel comfortable with remote working.
THE FUTURE OF FLEX – continuing to modernise attitudes around flex and capitalising on the gains made during lockdown.
ALL TOGETHER NOW – healing the hurt of furlough and rekindling team connectedness to move forward with purpose.
What accounts for the HUGE difference in wellbeing, engagement and effectiveness of working mothers in your organization? How much flexibility they have over their schedule. Simple. McKinsey analysed the experience of 887 different workers over the pandemic and found some interesting and alarming differences (for instance, it’s better to be a remote working father than any kind of worker without kids).
Nearly 60% of mothers who have flexibility around how they organise and achieve their professional goals report positive wellbeing compared to just 19% of women who don’t have this autonomy. Even more staggering is the gulf between their self-reports of effectiveness. 61% of those with schedule flexibility said they were being effective compared to just 15% of those without. That’s an astonishing 75% drop.
The takeout for employers is this: be crystal clear on your organisation’s mission and how each individual is expected to contribute to it then trust employees to get on and do. Be clear on delivery dates and other important expectations but don’t tell workers when and how to do things. Their work for you sits within a bigger, more complicated and exhausting picture and right now most parents need a bl**dy big break from EVERYTHING. The least you can do is allow them the freedom to flex within the parameters you set.
Stanford University behavioural and learning scientists, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz discovered a huge upswing in creative-thinking when walking compared to sitting.
I’ve long been a fan of moving meetings, often by myself – yes, I know that sounds oxymoronic – to problem-solve and think about the bigger picture of the business. This thinking tool took on new meaning in 2014 when Rocky, our now nearly six year-old whippet came into our lives, and I had to find diary space to walk him without losing work time. These Monday Morning Moving Meetings with Myself, as I call them, have been fixed in my diary ever since and lately have been crucial in identifying my focus areas for the week ahead during Covid-19 enforced work from home.
“Stanford researchers have found a HUGE upswing in creative thinking when walking compared to sitting.”
In recent weeks we’ve heard many coachees talk about exercise reducing and sleep worsening as they attempt to combine 1.5-2 jobs into a day meant for one (1.5 jobs = childcare split with a partner plus a substantial full-time paid role or two jobs if there’s no partner at home to share the load). This is in stark contrast to child-free professionals or those whose kids are now teens+ who are glowing from Yoga with Adrienne, outdoor running and culinary creativity in place of frazzling-commutes. The stress many of our coachees are experiencing is palpable and easily detected over the phone (we offer coachees a choice and many opt for the phone instead of Zoom or MS Teams to give them a breather from screens and webcam).
One coaching conversation in particular sparked my decision to create the film you see here. The coachee had returned to a new, bigger job after extended leave, was feeling completely overwhelmed and not making time for exercise. Exercise is positively additive to work performance, especially when that time is outdoors in green spaces – sometimes you have to run through the trees to see the wood for the trees, if you know what I mean.
Stanford University behavioural and learning scientists, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz discovered a huge upswing in creative-thinking when walking compared to sitting (average increase was 60%). Check out Marily’s TED Talk. A word of caution though – don’t expert walking to get you to the final answer of a very complex puzzle, it’s much better for generating ideas or ‘divergent thinking’ than ‘convergent thinking.’
In this post-run film I share what I ‘achieved’ in 37 minutes (and I think my skin looks better too? Oh the benefits….)
Some of our coachees have started taking their coaching time whilst walking, seeing the time with their coach as a combination of health and work-enhancement. We always take notes so we can send key points over to them afterwards if they haven’t taken their own.
When will you take a moving meeting with yourself?
If you found this post useful you might be interested in our Reflect & Refocus team workshop for teams who want to regroup, reflect on what they’ve experienced over the last few months and re-contract for how they work together in this new ‘mixed economy’ of partially remote/office teams.
Play, Purpose and Potential for Motivation & Performance whilst working remotely: a guide for line managers.
Play, purpose and potential are three positive motivators identified by Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi (ex-McKinsey & Co and co-authors of Primed to Perform) that often lead to increased work performance but are most at risk whilst we’re working remotely. See their piece in Harvard Business Review.
So what can people managers do about it? Read on for our nine practical suggestions for stimulating play, reinforcing purpose and nurturing potential.
Play (the motive that most boosts performance)
Give your team an audacious goal. “Imagine if this time next year we could say we’d achieve X, what would have happened to get us there?” This could kick-off as a 45 minute group brainstorming challenge over virtual afternoon tea (everyone to bake/buy own scones, jam and cream).
Have a fun problem-solving task running in the background such as how to celebrate the return to work on a budget of £500. Invite people to add pictures, films and notes to a shared folder.
Put a playful provocation in the post to your team. [Post coming soon sharing something that went in the post from our CEO to everyone in the team].
And remember to ask your team for ideas on how to inject playfulness into how you’re working. You don’t have to have all the answers.
Keep your clients and customers alive in your team’s mind. You might ask each team member to dig out some customer feedback they’re proud of and reflect on what that customer might need now.
Keep your team connected to their why. Be the person who reminds others of why they do their job and what they enjoy about it. Can’t recall? Try thinking of a time each of your team members was particularly upbeat at work and what was happening – that should spark something.
Review (and revise) the team why. This is about everyone in the team knowing the purpose of the team; not the activities of the team but why you do it. Depending on how your organisation is affected by Covid-19 there may be an urgent need to revise the objectives of your team – or it may simply be a good opportunity. Try this activity which then forms a neat basis for a first post-social distancing team meeting:
– Ask each team member for the 1-sentence response they’d give the CEO if they asked why the team exists.
– Invite each team member to come with a revised sentence of why the team exists (it’s purpose) in the light of where the world is now. (They might not want to revise the first, that’s fine, but you’ve provoked thinking).
– Invite everyone to list what they believe to be the three most important things the team as a whole should continue doing, start doing and stop doing (nine in total).
Remind each team member what you most value in them, how those qualities are making a difference now and why they’re going to continue to be important. For recent joiners, you might comment on specific qualities that made them stand out during the hiring process.
Encourage low-cost CPD the whole team can benefit from. Two ideas we particularly like:
– Every team member chooses a non-fiction book that relates to work/the specific work you do (even if only loosely). Agree a deadline. Read the book with the aim of picking up three ideas that could be useful to the team, why and how they could be applied. Everyone shares via a short film or live on a team call (5 minutes max).
– Every team member to identify someone (inside or outside the team) they admire for a particular technical skill/strength/characteristic. Everyone commits to approaching their ‘person on a pedestal’ for a 30 minute conversation to learn more about how they got good it, any useful resources and tips on how the learner can build their skill. Some beautiful cross-team relationships could form because of it…
Invite team members to access Strengths Profile (currently free during Covid-19). This is a tool that raises awareness of what an individual naturally finds energising. It can be the basis of conversations about how to better use the individual and collective strengths of the team – as well as identifying opportunities for growth by tapping into ‘unrealised strengths.’ When we use our strengths we’re more engaged, perform better, feel happier and give more discretionary effort. Even in an organisation with – and perhaps because of – significant interruption to usual workflow, reduced orders/customers and financial constraints, there is opportunity for personal growth. As a leader you can be a beacon of hope and optimism by sharing this idea.
Through our work conversations and coaching practice since social distancing began we’ve caught more than a whiff of mistrust and micromanagement in the air. Our founder, coaching psychologist Jessica Chivers, shares her 10 psychology-based tips to help people managers be productive and healthy, and facilitate the same in their teams.
Regular 1:1s Continue to have regular 1:1s. It’s important team members know they have individual focus time with you. Some research from the 80s suggests a fortnightly cadence is optimal but you might want to switch to weekly and make them shorter. If you’re not getting them with your leader, send her/him a nudge with calendar invites.
2 minutes talk time Have a daily team call. Each team member, including you, has 2 minutes talk time: 1 minute to reflect on what went well yesterday and 1 minute to outline today’s priorities.
3 key things Develop a habit of identifying 3 significant tasks/outcomes to focus on each day. At the end of the day reflect on, and write down, 3 key things that went well and why[i]. The first helps you know when to stop for the day. The second helps you draw a line under the working day and go into ‘home time’ feeling relaxed and positive.
The 4 quadrants of the Johari Window The Johari Window[ii] is a simple and useful tool for illustrating and improving self-awareness and mutual understanding between individuals in a group. Now more than ever your team are likely to be encouraged by you widening your ‘hidden pane’ and disclosing things about yourself you haven’t shared before. Why? By telling others how we feel and other information about ourselves we reduce the hidden pane, and increase the open pane, which enables better understanding, cooperation, trust, team-working effectiveness and productivity.
5:1 praise v criticism Individuals in the highest performing teams[iii] receive a ratio of at least 5:1 positive to critical commentary. Simple ‘thank you, [name]’ and ‘I agree with you’ comments make it easy to create that ratio. This ratio also applies to marriage maintenance[iv].
6 Thinking Hats Psychologist Edward De Bono’s 6 thinking hats is a way to make better decisions[v] either as an individual or as a group. A particularly useful tool when you’re working remotely and looking for ways to increase engagement and feelings of team cohesion.
7People (not work) days a week Like a parent, you’ll no doubt think of your team 7 days a week. But that doesn’t mean working 7 days a week. A brilliant boss creates an atmosphere where the team knows they can be open about work worries and personal problems and be in touch with you whatever the day should they need to. Be a role model for your team and step away from the job on days off.
8 hours work day maximum 6-7.5 hours in 4 or 5 x 90 minute blocks with recovery time in between is actually better than 8. That’s based on the ultradian rhythm[vi] our bodies go through day and night. The first 3 of the 90 minute blocks should go on your 3 key things and the remaining 1 or 2 on other work tasks or reviewing and finalising the 3 key things.
9pm phone cut-off and 9 hours rest Note ‘rest’ not ‘sleep.’ Most adults need7-8 hours sleep to start the next day refreshed. Having at least another hour of quiet, calm downtime (think meditation, yoga, talking with partner or stroking the dog whilst stretching gently in front of your nightly 9pm Netflix hour – mine is currently Billions) aids sleep. Smartphones after 9pm are an absolute non-no.[vii]
10am daily team call Early enough to have a full day ahead and late enough to have had a wholesome start (Joe Wickes 9am PE lesson and porridge with berries, nuts and seeds?). Rotate the Chairing (Edward De Bono’s Blue Hat) and remember to give each person 2 minutes of talk time sharing their 3 things that went well yesterday and 3 areas of focus for today.
[i] Research by positive psychology scholars such as Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky and Robert Biswas-Diener have found active reflection on things that are going well and why leads to greater wellbeing. In a two-week study where participants were asked to write down three good things that happened during their day and why, the researchers found an uplift in self-reports of happiness and positive effects were still being observed up to 6 months later. It’s important to write down what went well and not just to think it because this brings structure to your thinking and causes you to linger longer on the positive experience. It’s important to consider the why as well as the what, because this increases your sense of perceived control and agency. In her book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky discusses eight ways gratitude boosts happiness.
[ii] Devised by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (Johari is a contraction of their names) in 1955. The Johari Window represents information – feelings, experience, views, attitudes, skills, intentions, motivation, etc – within or about a person in relation to their group, from four perspectives:
1) Open quadrant: what is known by the person about him/herself and is also known by others 2) Blind quadrant: what is unknown by the person about him/herself but which others know 3) Hidden quadrant: what the person knows about him/herself that others do not know 4) Unknown quadrant: what is unknown by the person about him/herself and is also unknown by others
Six Thinking Hats was created by Edward de Bono, and
published in his 1985 book of the same name. It forces you or
the team to move outside your habitual thinking style, and to look at things
from a number of different perspectives. The hats are white (look at the
facts); yellow (where you probe for the positives); black (devil’s
advocate/consider the downsides); red (feelings, hunches and intuition); green
(focuses on creativity and new possibilities) and blue (used to manage the
thinking process). This technique facilitates team cohesion because everyone ‘wears’
the same hat at the same time. Mindtools.com is a resource we often signpost to
clients and coachees and they give a good overview: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_07.htm
[vi] The pioneering sleep
Kleitman discovered something he named the “basic rest-activity cycle”
— the 90
minute periods at night during which we move progressively through
five stages of sleep, from light to deep, and then out again. While it’s much
less well known, Kleitman also observed that our bodies operate by the same 90
minute rhythm during the day. When we’re awake, we move from higher to lower
alertness every 90 minutes. Other researchers have called this our “ultradian rhythm.” Read more by
the founder of The Energy Project, Tony Schwartz, here: https://hbr.org/2010/05/for-real-productivity-less-is
A number of coachees and clients have been asking us for help around how best to plan a working day when you are caring for for children. We know there will be a big difference between what an employee with two children aged 11+ and a furloughed spouse at home can reasonably do in a day compared to a single father with a primary school child.
We have created a 1 Day @ A Time FOCUS PLANNER (there are a few pdf versions below) to help you think about and plan the day ahead.
If you have young children and you’re co-parenting use the two-column version (shown in picture) to plan each day together to avoid overlap/ensure there’s always one person ‘on-call’. Then the other person is free to focus, go into flow and get their work done. If you have older children you might stick it up where they can see so they know when you are focussed and when you can be interrupted.
How to use the 1 Day @ A Time FOCUS PLANNER
As a bare minimum we suggest:
Identifying the THREE MOST SIGNIFICANT THINGS you want to get done today.
WHEN EXACTLY you are going to focus on each one.
HIGHLIGHTING the time slots you will be working on each of the three most significant things.
Even if you have the whole day available (e.g. older children and/or a partner who is available to take care of them all day) we think writing down three key things you want to get done today is good idea because:
It helps you stay focussed when other things threaten to derail you.
It’s almost certainly going to lead to a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.
It allows you to know when to stop.
If you’ve shared your planner with the family it helps them to know when you are working on one of your 3 significant things and when you’re ‘happier’ to be interrupted.
As a psychologist I know that making a public commitment to taking a particular action increases the likelihood that we’ll do it. We feel uncomfortable with incongruity and not following through undermines our credibility. So too with organisations and that’s why employers signing workplace charters is an important step towards culture change. The Mindful Business Charter, developed by Barclays, Pinsent Masons and Addleshaw Goddard, celebrated it’s first birthday last week and has four principles:
openness and respect
smart meetings and mailings
respecting rest periods
I applaud all who sign
such charters because the decision has often come at the end of much internal
debate, many challenging conversations and the creation of new processes and
policies. One can’t hang a sign outside saying “we believe in this” if
everything inside the organisation says the opposite. No no no, employees will
be quick to tell the world – in one way or another – that their organisation is
It’s significant that
this charter began as a project straddling two different professions where both
can be each other’s biggest client. What often gets in the way of sensible
working practices is the belief that “the client” needs something immediately/yesterday
and we must deliver now, to the highest standard, irrespective of the toll it takes on the
individuals managing the relationship. At the time of writing over 20
organisations have signed the MBC. All but one (Network Rail) it appears, are
law firms or financial services companies. There isn’t, as yet, an MBC website to
The challenge now
becomes for these signatory organisations to get their employees to tell the
world about the positive day to day difference the charter has made and to
share practical examples of how things are being done differently so others may
learn and follow. When employees spread their ‘good day at work’ stories on
Twitter, LinkedIn and in face to face conversations in the playground, at the
gym and on public transport we know change really is happening.
Richard Foley, senior partner at Pinsent Masons, how about a TED Talk on the change you’re creating?