In the pandemic induced work from home era, it is about resilience. Post-pandemic, it will be agility.
A little more than a month ago, as offices began closing in response to COVID-19 and social distancing mandates, our COO at Pierpont asked me to share my insights on working at home for colleagues who were used to being in an office all week. I have been a “WFH-er” for the better part of two years, three if you count a year as a freelance consultant. My transition to working from home after more than two decades of office life was planned, yet it was still a big change and not without bumps and bruises along the way.
Working at home altered the way I managed my projects, the way I built relationships with clients and colleagues and occasionally it even impacted the way I viewed myself. Yet I had several months to prepare for the experience and years to hone the skills; for many during this pandemic, they had just hours to figure it out.
As I sat down to write, I focused my recommendations on four categories: client service, managing our business, adding value, and maintaining structure. The first three are markers of success in professional services; the fourth is a survival skill for anyone who wants to thrive while working at home.
Because the fourth is less obvious, I shared a lot of personal insights about the importance of routines while working at home. Even for a veteran WFH-er like me, working out before sitting down at the computer; walking the dog at 7 a.m., remembering to do basic things like have lunch, drink water, and get up and walk took on a new significance as the weeks passed. Remembering to use the phone and tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams more than e-mail helped me understand nuances of interpersonal relationships when you cannot read body language or walk down to someone’s office to clarify. (This even more important when clients and agency teams alike are under increased stress.)
More than one month into this new arrangement, some geographies are seeing an end in sight; Florida, Georgia and Texas are beginning to re-open businesses. In the hard-hit northeast where I live and work, it may be a long time yet. Given that, in reflecting on where we are at this moment, I am drawn to the closing paragraph in my tip sheet:
The best thing we can do right now is to pull together in the way that is so ingrained in our culture and deliver amazing work product for our clients regardless of industry or geography. When this time period is done, our clients will reward us with loyalty, and we’ll be a better, stronger team for having come together. Stay healthy!
When I wrote that tip sheet, it was done in the spirit of building resilience to carry us through a temporary change to the way we work. I have always thought of resilience as a great attribute for individuals, teams, and companies. However, I am rethinking the idea of resilience. Resilience implies there will be a return to normal and that there is a complete ability to deflect change and withstand impact. Yet, when we walk into our offices in a few weeks or months, things will be forever changed.
Sometimes the changes will be almost imperceptible, other times, writ large. My biggest takeaway from this global work-from-home experience is that upon return, agility will be as critical (if not more than) resilience. Working at home used to be about staying connected; this time, it was about building stronger and more flexible teams, finding ways to be truly in the experience with our clients, and being open to what is ahead.