I am so frustrated with what I am calling the “in-person addiction” in my new company.
I started here two months before COVID sent everyone home. It was very much a traditional “everyone comes to the office” place before that. I am surrounded by people who are still struggling with the virtual aspect of our work. Everyone is complaining about working from home and all the web conferencing. Many are juggling home-schooling their children along with their work commitments.
My boss is convinced that everyone is less productive working from home—and that may be so with other groups. There is a bit of an attitude that we are going to wait this thing out but, frankly, I have doubts that anything is going to change soon. If we could just shift the mindset we could really get some very cool things done.
I came from an organization that was much more geographically spread out. In fact, my entire team was virtual and in different time zones. It worked great! I just don’t get it. I am far more productive when I don’t have to deal with a commute and the time it takes to get dressed and do hair/makeup. I do have kids at home, but they have always known Mommy has a job. We have created a daily routine that works well for all of us. I am not saying it is perfect—and I will be grateful when they go back to school—but geez. I think people let their children get away with bratty behavior.
My problem: how do I get my colleagues out of their constant moaning about our new way of working? I mean, it’s been six months now, with no end in sight. How do I prove that my new team is crushing it (because they are) despite the WFH thing? Most importantly, how do I develop the relationships I need to influence the way I need to move forward on my very ambitious goals? Many of my colleagues act like they aren’t going to trust me until we can spend time in person together. How do I get everyone to get on board with reality?
Dear Way Ahead,
I understand your frustration. I led a completely virtual team in our very “headquarters-and-in-person-centric” company for years! We all worked from home for two decades before virtual was the norm, and it was a constant battle to remind people we were out in the field making things happen. Now at least the playing field has been flattened for virtual teams—but it sounds like for you, things have just gone flat.
Here are your concerns, in order. You want to:
- Get your colleagues to stop complaining.
- Prove that your new team is highly productive virtually, and that others can be, too.
- Influence your new colleagues in this virtual environment.
Let’s unpack all of this and look at what you can control, what you might be able to control with some help, and what is probably out of your hands.
You can’t make your colleagues change but you can change your own attitude. I wonder if your colleagues feel your judgment and if that might be getting in the way of building strong working relationships. I am not doubting your superiority at working virtually, but nobody likes to feel inferior. If senior leadership seems willing to suffer the consequences of waiting it out, you may be asking a lot to expect the extra effort required to shift the collective mindset. I suggest you focus less on how to fix your colleagues and more on how you can add value and—without blame or judgment—be a role model for how to operate in this new environment.
Regarding the kid thing: If you are betraying your opinion that your colleague’s children are bratty, that is not going to win you any friends. You can think whatever you want, but I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself. Nothing causes people to get defensive faster than someone criticizing their kids. You got a serious head start creating a culture of “Mommy works” in your own home—and it may be a little unfair to expect your colleagues with kids who are suddenly at home to crack the whip and get everyone to behave. One thought on that topic is for you to create something you could share with colleagues about how you managed it—something like “Tips for Getting Your Kids to Respect Your Work Time.” I Googled around and, I have to say, there isn’t much out there. You must have some good ideas based on your experience! My memory is dim—my children are grown—but I am pretty sure I resorted to threats of bodily harm, which is probably not recommended.
The first stop is a conversation with your boss re: your concerns about the disdain for the virtual WFH office. There are two issues here: the fact that your boss seems resigned and unenthusiastic about how to help people people be successful virtually, and the fact that you are not able to get acknowledgement for how well your team is doing. I think the approach for both is curiosity. You might ask questions like:
- Is it your experience that people are not being productive working from home? What are you seeing that leads you to that view?
- May I show you how my team and I are handling things? Might that be helpful?
- Do you worry that our lack of productivity could hurt us long term? What are your thoughts about how might we counteract that?
With any luck, you can shift your boss’s perspective with open-hearted inquiry. Your confidence could be catching if people don’t feel belittled by it.
Now let’s talk about your need to make friends and influence people. The #1 key is to get curious and interested in each and every person—and show it. Make the time and put some real effort into it. You might check out Keith Ferrazzi’s new book, Leading Without Authority.
- Set up individual time with each person and do a “Getting to Know You” questionnaire. Provide the questionnaire in advance and be ready with your own answers. You can be creative and ask whatever you want, but make sure the person knows they can choose not to answer what they don’t want to answer! Favorite book or movie, pets and their personalities, favorite job you’ve ever had, fantasy travel spot, what would you do if you won the lottery? Favorite holiday and why? What is something I would never know about you if you didn’t tell me? What is your superpower? Hobby? What is your least favorite work task? Are we all sick of Zoom calls? Yes, but this would be a fun one!
- Suggest social distancing picnic lunches or coffee or happy hour (BYOTreats) at a nearby outdoor spot.
- Create an opportunity for your team to do a group Pecha Kucha over Zoom (20 slides, 20 seconds each) and everyone gets the same assignment—again, you can make it up. A Day in The Life is a fun one, or My Life Story. The idea is to use images and photos to create a super efficient story. Stories are powerful and people remember them.
- Our company has some amazing on-demand free webinars for increasing productivity when working from home and leading virtually. You could share these with select folks who are open.
- If you think you might have already done some damage, do ask for feedback and clear the air. If people do give you feedback, do not defend your position, simply say “thank you.”
You can’t change people, but you can be a role model for the behavior you think is appropriate in the situation. And you can extend an invitation: anyone who is interested in how you are sailing through what seems like a big challenge can ask for your help.
Compassion, humility, patience, and generosity will go a long way for you right now.
About the Author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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