The dramatic shift from working in an office to working remotely is taking its toll in many ways. We are talking to executives at many levels and each has expressed that, while they are doing their best to adjust to the changes and rally their teams, they are personally feeling depressed and low energy. Almost all have also told us that their focus is off – that they have difficulty sticking to task in the intense manner that they typically experience in an office environment.
Our educated guess on the reason for these behavioral and emotional challenges is that while the executives we’ve spoken with carry the same workloads that they did before “shelter in place” they now have more time on their hands. There are fewer meetings, no commuting time, no unplanned knocks on their office doors. We/they are used to intensely scheduled days with little to no white space. But working from home adds white space to our day and many busy people, faced with extra time, have no idea what to do with it. It makes them uncomfortable, which is in turn stressful and anxiety producing.
When we posed this educated guess on this possible source of depression, low energy and poor focus, we found that it resonated with just about everyone we spoke to. It also seemed to open a valve, of sorts, that, in the spirit of a good therapy session, provoked conversations about possible ways to manage the challenge we identified.
Some creative ideas that we’ve heard as ways to embrace the new white space with strategies that simultaneously mimic a more tightly scheduled day are:
- Look at the open times in your calendar and purposefully schedule activities for each of them – e.g. for the true type A’s that function best under stress, it’s a good idea to manufacture your own unmanageable calendar! You can schedule certain projects that you’ve never had time to do or, even better, schedule in an online yoga class.
- Use the free time to begin thinking strategically about what “work from home” has meant to your business – the pros and cons. Set up a task force and have regular meetings to talk through how the learnings might cause you to rethink the way that you manage and deploy your workforce. Ask “guests” to join your task force call – representatives of different departments – to tell you what the experience is on the other side of the table so that you can factor every employee’s experiences and ideas into your thinking and planning for the future.
- White space is ideal for innovation and creativity. Try asking your leadership team to each spend two hours per week thinking about potential innovation for your business. Gather as a group at the end of the week and ask each person to present their ideas (e.g. a meeting that is just about blue-sky thinking.) Ask each leader to cascade this white space/blue sky strategy down to each level in their organization and include the best thinking of their teams in their weekly or bi-monthly presentation.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be productive. Be kind.