April 21, 2020 by David Gambrill
Before COVID-19, there was a lively debate within the Canadian P&C industry about the virtues and pitfalls of working from home, featuring the industry’s skeptics (a.k.a. the “Boomers”) and proponents (the “Millennials”).
Well, guess what? The pandemic has made us all Millennials now. And who knows for how long we’ll continue to be working remotely from home. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said repeatedly since last week that Canadians can expect “many weeks” more of social distancing.
And so now we see the “dark side” of working remotely from home, says Dan Schawbel, a podcast host, future of work expert, and author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.
“Everyone has always talked about the light side of working remotely, and the promise of the freedom and flexibility of being able to work when and how you want — but no one really talked about the dark side of loneliness and isolation,” Schawbel observed recently on Harvard Business Review’s FOMO Sapiens podcast, Working from Home and Company Culture.
“But it was revealed in a study that if you work remote, you’re much less likely to want a long-term career at your company because of the loneliness and the isolation,” added Schawbel. “Having friends, connections and relationships in an organization is an anchor into the company. There is less reason for you to leave because you have those stronger bonds. It’s like leaving a family.”
The best corporate culture is the one that feels like a family, Schawbel asserts. “And so how do you make sure your family members, who are all working in their own places remotely, don’t feel disconnected from one another?”
Schawbel noted that for many managers, this is the first time they have had to manage remote workers for extended periods of time. “Managing people who you don’t see is a skill set, and you don’t learn that in college.”
Some have coped by figuring out strategies to make it work. “Like everyone has to use videoconferencing — and turn the camera on,” said Schawbel. The idea is to prevent people from secretly being able to leave or mentally check out of remote meetings, which isolates colleagues from one another.
For employees, Schawbel has three pieces of advice about working remotely from home for a long time.
Create a daily routine. “Plan the next day the night before,” he advised. “Know what you are going to be doing the next day. Otherwise, you wake up [the next morning] and you’re scrambling — you don’t know what to do, and you waste a lot of time. By the end of the day, you don’t feel that you’ve accomplished anything.
“Overcommunicate, because people are not seeing you or hearing from you for a long period of time,” said Schawbel. “You want to make sure that [your work colleagues] feel you are doing the work. That they feel they can get in touch with you, because then they trust you more. And they can depend on you, because that’s really important for strong working relationships.”
You want to be able to break your day up, so that you have enough breaks and you have a structure.
“For me, I get all of my writing done in the morning,” Schawbel said. “And then after lunch, I start doing more of the research and other aspects. I find that works best for me. Test things out. Work in a way that you are not used to, or try to switch things up. And then over time iterate your habits, iterate your calendar and how you operate during the day. I think that will make a big impact on you.”