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 I am having mixed feelings as we draw near to office opening in January 2022. I have spoken to quite many people who feel the same way. Although a part of me cannot wait to meet my colleagues in person, work from an office space where the energy of those around me inspires me, I will miss being able to multitask from home, watch my kids return from school, and fix them lunch. While not being presumptuous because those mixed feelings remain, I want to share five lessons I have learnt these past months while working from home.

1. Empathetic Leadership is Key

These past months, leaders have learned to show more empathy and lead from their hearts — genuinely caring about their team members’ lives, the challenges they face, and their overall feelings. I have learned to be more considerate of people’s situations and consider others’ perspectives. I think about managing singles who live and work away from their home country and are going through a lockdown with no loved ones around.

 Little things like checking in and genuinely caring about someone’s welfare before jumping into the business of the day can keep a smile on their faces and even help reduce the stress they are experiencing. I would love to keep this going back to the office. Did you sense more empathy from others while we worked from home?

2. Virtual Meetings: Spice Up Your Meetings

 Virtual meetings are critical for remote work because of the need for synchronous collaboration in the absence of in-person interactions. While most people argue that working from home has made them more productive and efficient, I am not fully convinced it is effective in some circumstances. I think at one point or the other, we all zoomed out. I would argue that strategy sessions and sessions that require brainstorming some good ideas will require more than the 30-minute long meetings we are accustomed to. In some circumstances, 30-minute long meetings are not productive. At the 30-minute mark, we are only just warming up and coming into the zone. I will definitely not miss squeezing in six to seven back-to-back meetings in a day for engagements that just sometimes would have worked well as an offhand conversation over lunch, at the car park or by passing someone’s desk at the office.

 Working virtually, we can squeeze in more meetings into our day and for some others remove the distractions, allowing us to have a day packed with six to seven meetings. It is those distractions I miss: colleagues stopping by your desk to chit-chat a bit and get that mental break before delving back in to work.

I’ve found myself looking forward to some meetings, especially those with some creative icebreakers or connections built into them. It is an innovation I would love to keep when we get back to the office.

●  Music:

Thomas Ruschke my colleague, is very good at hosting meetings; he starts with some form of pumped-up music that gets attendees positive, sometimes dancing. It helps me to manage my nerves better and I look forward to engaging in those meetings. Consider doing this, especially in meetings where many attendees would be interacting for the first time or where you need to keep the energy in the room uplifting and engaging.

●  Ending with some movement or fun is another:

My team has devised a way to make larger meetings fun. It is an avenue to get to know each other better, have some fun and laugh. I find out that it works in enhancing the team spirit especially with the limited or lack of physical proximity. At the end of these long meetings, we take out ten or more minutes to do a scavenger hunt,  Locate An Area on a map game, solve a riddle, etc. These are creative ways you can get to bond virtually. I think we can continue this even in person.

Did you acquire any new techniques to keep audiences engaged that you hope carry on into the office when we all get back in?

 3. Social Connections: Culture Gets tested

Parts of our organizational culture have truly been tested these past months.  Culture expresses goals through values and beliefs;  it guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms. Some of those shared values and beliefs require Norms and rituals built over time to deliver in the environment we were accustomed to — that was the office, a physical space.

 Quoting Jahanzeb Shah in his work on culture,  “Organizational culture is the collection of norms, values, beliefs, expectations, assumptions, and philosophy of the people within it.” Research has shown that for better and worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked, these past twelve (12) months at home have tested leadership on this. Studies show that there is a link between job satisfaction and organizational cultures. Managers like myself struggled to use some of those daily rituals and day-to-day practices to enhance our team and sub-cultures and how to best adapt to ensure we keep job satisfaction high while some tools to keep and enhance our team’s culture were taken away. I refer to the little things like taking the team out for dinner to celebrate a win or organizing a cake for a team member’s birthday and sharing that moment together. In some cases, it was all about sharing pain or crisis together.  There was magic about doing this together physically; it was an intangible experience I struggled to put on paper. With work from home, celebrating in person was no longer possible.

 In my previous role, one of my tools was creating a shared meaning by walking the floors and checking in on the team’s temperature followed by an informal chit-chat that promoted connection. Those informal meetings, off-guard moments allowed us to share a bit of ourselves and listen to each other and some days ended with some inspiration and motivation on why we are here, getting my team pumped to do more. It became our little ritual at the beginning of every day.

 Now, at Facebook, I have spent seven (7) months without physical engagement with my team. Sometimes, I’m curious about how they might look when I finally meet them in person (Shorter, taller, etc). Managers and leaders are seeking rituals and norms that can work virtually and it is tough. It is trickier to bond and fight loneliness virtually, which a Harvard study suggests is big among singles and childless parents.  I will definitely not miss this aspect of working from home; there is something about chatting with your team in person and figuring out the temperature of the room and if not in the right direction, being international and working on it.

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Photo by visuals on Unsplash

4. Multitasking and Time Management

A paper by a team from Stanford, UCL, staff of Microsoft and Amazon shows that in-meeting multitasking is closely linked to people’s productivity and wellbeing. I am predisposed and support positive remote multitasking. The question I have asked myself is, “Is this an effective habit to take along as we move back to the office?”

While multitasking during one’s work mostly impacts personal productivity, special consideration of multitasking during meetings can additionally impact other colleagues and their productivity.   In online settings, both meeting-related and personal multitasking are seen as ways people’s attention could divert from the actual conversation. Some suggest multitasking is due to boredom. Personally, I know for me I was trying to be more productive for the day. Enthralled by my desire  to address all the goals for the day. This has not always been effective. I tend to lose track or priority with various activities ongoing at the same time.  Ultimately some things slip off and I don’t end up finishing them. It has left me with severely burnt lunches, unfinished excel sheets, and multiple draft messages in my inbox. I am a culprit here and need to review; I suspect this is one of the poor habits I have picked up while working from home.

5. Social Connection

 Social connection or the experience of feeling close and connected to others is suggested by scientists to be a core psychological need, essential to feeling satisfied with your life. Our knack for social connection is reflected in some of the most basic ways humans communicate— the subtle uses of our voice, facial expressions, and sense of touch, all of which were difficult to harness using online tools.

 Working from home made interactions a challenge. For those of us that started a new job during the pandemic, this only made connecting with our new colleagues tougher. Studies show that eye contact improves connection—faster responses, more memorization of faces, and increased likeability and attractiveness, These tools that make interactions organically rewarding are compromised over video. Zoom fatigue is now a thing. This is one part of working from home I can’t wait to leave behind. I know that the office re-opening will be a hybrid for some and maybe for others, working from home might be preferred. Personally, I do prefer not to have all my meetings virtually, I yearn for a lot of social connections in person.

 So, you see, I have mixed feelings. A part of me longs for that collective energy of others around me working with a shared vision. While gains from working from home these past months, be it family wise, leaves me dreading going back to spend time transporting to work. I will miss some of the micro quality moments working from home afforded me. What new habit are you hoping to carry on into the office when we all get back in?