We're in the middle of a global pandemic, and my world has been turned upside down.
Day by day, I feel a varying mix of emotions. Gratitude that I have the flexibility to care for my 4 year-old and 7 year-old. Immense privilege that most of my work is straightforward to do from home. Guilt that I'm not doing more to help as directly as healthcare and other essential workers. Unmotivated when it feels like nothing other than flattening the curve really matters. Fear around future uncertainty. Appreciation for this special time with my children. Exhaustion from caring for them for many days in a row. Anger, horror, and sadness when I read the news. Hope when I read that local high school students have put together a volunteer group to provide childcare for essential workers.
It gives me hope that overwhelmingly, I see a strong desire to help and to serve.
When I thought about what I could do to help, I thought about what it is that all of you want from your managers and companies during these uncertain times. On Twitter and Facebook, people share proudly what their companies are doing to support people. And that's fantastic — but often in closed communities, people have expressed fear and frustration around feeling unsupported. Uncertainty in the face of unclear expectations around productivity and availability.
So I asked on twitter (and a few other places): What do you wish your manager or company would do to support you right now (DMs welcome)? Or what have they done that you’ve really appreciated?
Here are some of the themes that emerged:
So much is uncertain right now, and people are looking for clarity in places where there may be a lot of implicit assumptions. Most of the ways people wanted to be supported were in wanting more explicitness: what's expected of them? What are the highest priorities? What can be dropped? What can they expense?
Here are some concrete examples of what people appreciated or wanted from their companies:
- Clear guidelines on what you can expense to improve your WFH setup (or a set budget)
- Explicitness around increased PTO - encouragement to take a day off this week, or a new policy for X extra days of paid leave.
People are feeling heightened anxiety, and fears about the future tend to crop up. They've appreciated when their companies have been transparent with them about how the company is navigating the global pandemic. People may be concerned about a recession and layoffs.
Some examples of things that people want to hear from company leadership:
- Best-case and worst-case scenarios of how the company will be affected
- Information about company finances for small startups
- Job security (to the best of your knowledge)
Expectations around performance
This was a big topic in private messages, especially among parents who are struggling to juggle childcare (and keeping their kids on track with school) and their jobs. Many fear the gap between initial excitement from coworkers to “bring your kids on Zoom calls — we want to see them!” and the reality that it's extremely difficult to get work done while caring for children. Now with distance learning being rolled out, many parents are juggling the roles of parent, teacher, partner, employee, cook, and household manager. They're feeling the very real gap between the messaging to take care of your family first, but the reality that deadlines remain unchanged. What does that mean for the exciting career-making project they just started? How will they be evaluated compared to people who suddenly have more time to work?
Some concrete examples on how this has been addressed:
- Clear communication on how their performance will or will not be evaluated
- Explicit expectations (for example, Wikimedia shared an explicit 50% work expectation)
- Pushed back deadlines based on people's availability on the team
Flexibility and availability
This was also a common one for parents — and the one that had the most tactical variation. Some people wished that work had a hard stop at 5pm, while others wanted more flexibility so that they could split the day with their spouse and each take an earlier or later work shift. Others appreciated understanding that if they had to skip a Zoom meeting to attend to children, that was absolutely ok. This is going to look really different depending on what their home setup is, so have a conversation with them, and then work together to shift important meetings around.
You can learn what works for someone on your team by starting with:
- What would feel most supportive to you in terms of scheduling or expectations?
- I imagine it's hard to work with your kids at home. What sort of availability works for you?
Also consider rethinking 9-to-5 and putting more structure around flexible availability with “windowed work,” as suggested by Jen Dennard of Range. Or check out their webinar on how to best support your teams during this time.
Acknowledgement and space to talk
In these uncertain times, it can feel tempting to jump right into work and lean on productivity, but making some space to talk can go a really long way. Acknowledge that it's an emotional and tumultuous time. Many people simply appreciated that their manager or coworkers checked in with them on how they were doing.
Here are some things people appreciated or wished their teams would do.
- Manager simply asking, “How are you doing?” or “What's something that's frustrating you lately?”
- Company leadership sharing about the difficult changes in their own lives
- Scheduled social time such as virtual happy hours, bring your pet/kid times, etc.
This is not a normal time. In catching up with friends, I've been struck by how differently people are handling everything. Some are finding that without a commute or a physical toxic workplace, they are able to access newfound creativity. Some describe their state of anxiety and stress as catatonic. Others who have abruptly moved in with their significant others are navigating how to live together when emotions are heightened. Parents are figuring out how to keep their children alive and their sanity somewhat intact. People are experiencing heightened anxiety about the state of the world, the health of their friends and loved ones, and uncertainty about their future.
Usually, in our lives, we have a certain amount of stability and some instability. But our personal and work lives have both substantially changed — some people's more than others — so if you're personally able to, the more stability you can create within your team, the better. And of course, not only are your coworkers experiencing immense change, but so are you! Ask for the support you need, and create the space for others to ask as well.
Remember to be kind to yourself, and to treat others with compassion. Your colleagues will remember even the smallest actions from this time that display kindness and care for them as humans.