Director of IBM Global Digital Sales. Helping companies transform their sales organizations. Passionate about advancing women & millennials.
Remote work has become increasingly popular over the past decade with the rise of virtual collaboration tools and technology. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, remote work grew by 173% between 2005 and 2018. It has also become an important recruitment tactic, as research shows that flexibility in work arrangements often ends up being a deciding factor for individuals when they’re evaluating job opportunities. International Workplace Group’s recent workplace survey found that 80% of individuals faced with two similar job offers would turn down the role that didn’t offer flexible work.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift to remote work, as people all over the world are being asked to work from home. In April 2020, 62% of Americans surveyed reported to Gallup that they had worked from home during the pandemic — a number that doubled in under a month. In a rapidly changing world, organizations must find ways to maximize workforce agility, employee engagement, productivity and innovation. And most importantly, they must find ways to support their employees’ well-being.
We’ve all seen our everyday lives and routines upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused new levels of stress and chaos. The pandemic has also exacerbated gender inequalities by disproportionately affecting women and working mothers who often bear family and childcare responsibilities. Now more than ever, it’s critical that companies establish and respect new boundaries as a way to help employees maintain their health and wellness.
IBM helped its global workforce embrace the shift to remote work by creating the “IBM Work From Home COVID-19 Pledge” (paywall). IBM CEO Arvind Krishna shared in a LinkedIn post, “Created by IBMers, this grassroots initiative took shape by listening to colleagues and wanting to help with their challenges, this has evolved into a company-wide pledge with the simple goal of making work (and life) a little easier while we’re working at home.” What started as a helpful tips-and-tricks document turned into a pledge led by IBM Services Global Managing Partner Paul Papas and members of his team.
Over the past few months, thousands of IBMers all over the world, including me, have taken the pledge. With around 95% of IBM’s workforce working from home, this has been a helpful way to support employees as they continue to adjust to what some are calling “the new normal.” Although IBMers are physically apart, the pledge has brought colleagues together in a time of stress and uncertainty.
When they take the pledge, employees commit to eight principles. Some examples include being family-sensitive, supporting flexibility for personal needs, supporting “not-camera-ready” times, setting boundaries and preventing video fatigue. The full pledge offers tips on how to turn each of these commitments into action. For example, as a way to prevent video fatigue, the pledge asks employees to shift to 20- and 45-minute calls to replace what would typically be 30- and 60-minute meetings where possible.
Papas and team created a pledge instead of a set of guidelines as a way to get people to commit to action. Inviting employees to take a pledge is the easy part. The secret sauce is ensuring that they adopt the principles in their everyday interactions with colleagues. That part requires strong leadership. In order to weave these principles into the fabric of an organization’s culture, it’s critical that leaders exemplify them each and every day.
In the current environment, that isn’t always easy to do. Although remote working offers some perks, a recent study by NordVPN (via Ladders) found that people are working more hours as a result of the pandemic than they were before. According to the study, Americans’ average workday has increased from eight hours to 11 hours. With increased hours, it can be challenging for leaders to focus on their team’s well-being or even their own self-care. But in order to instill the principles outlined in the IBM pledge into a company’s culture, managers must put them into practice.
As a leader of a global sales organization with hundreds of team members currently working remotely, I’ve personally had to find ways to ensure that I’m exemplifying what I agreed to when I took the pledge. This has required being proactive, authentic and open to criticism. Here are a few tips on how leaders can demonstrate their commitment:
Take the time to check in on your team and show your appreciation during these trying times.
Last month, I sent hand-written cards to each of my direct reports “just because.” Each was personalized based on what was going on in their personal lives, whether that was celebrating birthdays or mourning losses. A quick note is a good way to remind your team that you care about their health, safety and happiness.
Don’t be afraid to be authentic and show that “life happens.”
I recently visited my one- and 4-year-old niece and nephew and got a taste of pandemic life for working parents. There were times when I was trying to lead video calls while being surrounded by rambunctious kids having a dance party. Instead of pretending to be in a quiet, professional environment, I learned how to embrace the chaos and often invited my niece to sit on my lap during video calls or to color next to me. And when a friendly colleague heard her singing Moana songs in the background, we bonded over the fact that her kids loved that movie too. It opened up a new channel for us to talk about our families and home lives, which humanized our experiences.
Find an accountability partner.
With any leadership goal, it helps to have an accountability partner who will encourage you to stay true to your commitments and call you out when you’re veering off track. I’ve paired up with a peer, and we meet regularly to bounce ideas off of each other and to get a sanity check on how we’re supporting our teams.
The pledge itself offers helpful actions on how to foster an inclusive culture in a remote work environment. But it’s up to each of us as individuals to embrace the principles and to model the right behavior.
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