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Four Lessons from 100 Leaders after Six Months of Work From Home

This week marks six months since NYC was shut down and since most of the country went into lockdown mode. In the past six months, I have connected with over 100 leaders who have been working from home. Some of them I have coached throughout this time, some are advisors to me, some joined my Virtual Leadership webinars, and others participated in my virtual team coaching sessions. These interactions were eye-opening for me, and I am excited to share some of what I learned with you.

Oh, and by the way, as the weather starts to cool, I can't help think that "Winter is coming." So, if you notice a few Game of Thrones references below, indulge me, will you??

#1: The Many-Faced God that is Burnout

Burnout looks different on each person, and you might not know how burnout feels until it's too late. Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trend Report published in June found that burnout increase by 12% from 61% to 73% from Feb to May. That's a pretty staggering statistic! So, how do you spot burnout in yourself?

  • Maybe you are feeling frustrated or triggered more often than before

  • Maybe you make more careless errors,

  • Maybe you crack more inappropriate jokes,

  • Maybe you write more passive-aggressive emails.

I was surprised to learn that even when some of these leaders were obviously burned out, it came as a surprise to them (were they too burned out to realize that they are burned out?). Even if they knew they were burned out, they hadn't focused on managing it until they reached a breaking point that had created a toxic culture at work, affected their family, or reduced their productivity.

Are you burned out? How are you taking time for self-care?

#2 "It is beautiful beneath the sea, but if you stay too long, you'll drown." There IS such a thing as too much Zoom time

While video conferences like Zoom/MS Teams and Webex are true gifts during this time, they can also be draining. We aren't making eye contact, we aren't able to read body language, even though we try, and we can't stop checking ourselves out. So, take this time to assess your zoom exposure and maybe make some changes in your frequency of use or approach.

One of my most popular suggestions this year has been to pick two meetings a week that you can move to phone meetings instead of Zoom. Leaders consistently reported back that they felt more energy and listened better during these meetings.

Also, try implementing a meeting-free Monday or video call-free Wednesday. You will be amazed at your increased energy and productivity!

#3. COVID is polarizing, and now you have baggage

Most of the professionals I work with had some pretty strong reactions during the start of quarantine:

  • One leader resisted WFH a lot longer than he should have, making his team feel anxious and concerned,

  • another stayed silent, leaving a team without direction for far too long.

  • Another was thoughtful, structured, and clear but inflexible and out of touch with her team's personal challenges

Six months later, some of these leaders are working to repair relationships that turned passive-aggressive or charged during the pandemic.

It's time for your relationship management assessment:

  • Are there people you trust less now compared to pre-pandemic?

  • Are there relationships that went from warm to cold in the course of six months?

Blame COVID and start working through it.

#3: Informal check-ins have gone the way of the dinosaurs unless you prioritize them

Yes, it's nice to skip the commute. Yes, we can be just as effective virtually. But, without a 3D, in-person connection, team cultures and relationships are suffering. Why? Because we aren't bumping into each other in the hallway, we aren't "popping-in", and we are projecting our stress and insecurities on email interactions with colleagues and stakeholders.

In June, I spoke to a professional who told me that he has not connected with one of his favorite colleagues/stakeholders since pre-pandemic times. I was shocked! I knew that they used to speak multiple times a day. When I asked him why, he said, "I don't have any concrete reason to reach out." I used to pop over to his office to ask about his dog or the weekend, and that would lead to an informal work check-in, but it's not like I can schedule a zoom for that."

Solution: Ask to "pop-in." Here is what you can email to colleagues to reconnect:

"Can I pop-in on you? (i.e. catch up over a call/zoom). It's been weeks since we chatted, and it was nice when we had that opportunity in person. What do you think?"

In all honestly, in March and April, I was questioning if my business would survive. I wondered…as an executive coach, will I still be relevant? Would WFH drastically change or even eliminate the need to develop as a leader, to know how to powerfully interact with others, and have a seat at the table?

Well….Over 100 leaders and six months of COVID virtual coaching have shown me that now more than ever, we need to be visible, more self-aware, more empathetic, and more influential.

What lessons have you learned during this crazy time?


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