During a recent webinar, my colleagues and I affirmed the notion that the use of video is a significant plus for the many conference calls newly-virtual teams are involved in. We were asked: “How you do convince a team member to use video when he wants to reap the work-from-home benefit of wearing pajamas?” I responded, perhaps too quickly, that the pajamas themselves were the problem and that this individual needs to get himself dressed for work.
As a result, I was counseled by two colleagues who disagreed. One made the case that she, always highly productive and highly engaged, frequently rises to join calls well before dawn due to time zone differences, and continues with back-to-back calls until 2pm at which time she changes from her pajamas to street clothes so that she can take a walk outdoors. She makes the point that it’s not about the pajamas. It’s about how the person in the pajamas feels about themselves in that moment. I agree.
Before the day of the webinar, I had never considered that I have a pajama bias. But I do, and it’s rooted in the fact that I was a very early adopter of work-from-home, before it was commonly acceptable. When I started my business in the early 90’s, I did not tell people I worked from home unless asked directly. I worked hard to maintain a professional presence and overcome the stereotype prevalent at the time that people who worked from home were in their pajamas enjoying popcorn or bon-bons, working in-between trips to the washing machine and the refrigerator. While work-from-home has certainly gained credence in the last three decades, this COVID 19 crisis has forced us to deal with the advantages and disadvantages. And, make no mistake, the successes we are having will cause a quantum leap in its acceptance, creating real-estate savings for employers, time savings for employees, and positive environmental impact for society. Yet not all team leaders and team members are having an easy time of it. What can we learn and apply once we are free to return to the workplace?
Employee Engagement and Trust
We are hearing from leaders who are concerned that team members are not working full, productive days at this time. Most probably are not, and our advice, right now, is to have some empathy. Many are parents suddenly faced with childcare and home schooling. Many have limited technology and space options with two or more adults and children sharing devices and online resources. A recent study by Ginger shows that 62% of workers reported losing at least one hour a day in productivity due to COVID-19 related stress, with 32% losing more than two hours per day. These people are not viewing this time as a mini-vacation, a way of taking from their employers. They are doing the best they can do.
We also are seeing leaders extending the benefit of the doubt, building more trust and creating higher levels of engagement than were present before this crisis. Douglas McGregor’s 1950’s theory of work motivation explains the dichotomy we are seeing. McGregor described “Theory X” managers as believing employees have little ambition, avoid responsibility, and are individual-goal oriented. They advocate heightened supervision, external rewards, and penalties. By contrast, “Theory Y” managers believe that self-actualization is the highest level of reward for employees, and adopt a management style which focuses on the drive for individual self-fulfillment. McGregor’s perspective places the responsibility for performance on managers as well as subordinates.
While the COVID crisis most definitely has created an unusual work circumstance, it is pointing out the stark contrast in leaders’ beliefs and behaviors with regard to human motivation. In some cases, it highlights the slow progress we have made since the time of McGregor’s work.
Boundaries and Self Care
Inviting work colleagues into one’s home, albeit virtually, has implications about the boundaries we set up. Sometimes clients will tell me: “I have a work persona and a personal persona. The two do not mix.” Not always, but usually, this indicates an opportunity. Either there is some hidden gem the individual has not chosen to share at work, or they have a set of “work” behaviors born of outdated expectations or poor leadership role models that have become habits – habits that no longer serve a positive, team-focused outcome. We know that vulnerability is a precursor to team trust, and one way to build this is to get to know another as a person, vs. a role. This time we are in offers an interesting paradox – while we are isolated from one another physically, we have an opportunity to share a glimpse into our personal lives – our families, our fears and our sources of joy.
So back to pajamas, and how the person in pajamas feels about him or herself. Is my colleague who jumps out of bed at 4:25 am to join a 4:30 am call giving too much? Has she let work demands encroach on her personal boundaries? In this time when self-care is common topic of conversation, one could surmise that by not allowing herself time for simple morning rituals such as dressing, eating, or exercising, she is not practicing self-care. I wonder what she would say.
Indeed, it is not about the pajamas. This awful time we are in affords us opportunity for examination. As leaders, we can examine (and challenge) our beliefs and biases about management practices and leadership approaches. As individuals, we can examine our sources of motivation, the degree to which we are willing to be vulnerable, the value we place on our time, and our view of our very self-worth.