News & Blog

The “Normal Normal” – lessons managing teams remotely during a crisis

News & Blog

If you’re anything like me, you’ve become pretty weary of people saying “the new normal”. I catch myself saying it from time to time and let’s face it, these days it’s hard not to consider what’s new every single day.

Which coincidentally got me thinking about all the meetings, conversations, and revelations I’ve had the opportunity to experience since our collective “new normal” began. More accurately, the evolution of thinking that has occurred and even the pendulum swing of returning opinions as talk of returning to the “old normal” is getting progressively louder.

I call it the “old normal” because let’s face it if you haven’t learned lessons about how to better manage, deliver, communicate, and optimize, I’m suspecting you only saw this as a setback instead of an opportunity to learn how to accelerate. I’m not exactly young, which is even more evident when I’m sitting in meetings or committees talking about how the “insert generation here” will change the way we have to work or manage our employees.

What is abundantly clear is that there is no one size fits all… but wasn’t that always the point?

Adapting to the ‘normal normal’

This entire situation that we find ourselves in has been challenging to me and not because I felt like I spend too much time in one place every day, or because I spend an inordinate amount of time on video conferences, or even on instant messaging platforms – because really for me those things weren’t new. What has been immensely challenging has been integrating those that found this situation or these conditions not just to be a setback, but in many ways intolerable.

This isn’t intended to bash one or more generations of people. Telling you that the younger generations of employees embrace this way of working more readily, is redundant and at the same time, it is reductive to young and seasoned alike as if your generation is somehow a measurement of your expected worth.

What I’m discovering is that there is a mindset and in some cases a myopic over-simplification of how to measure productivity, how effective collaboration is defined, and in many cases a prioritization of the method over the outcome. So instead of being another voice telling you how you are right or wrong (we sure have enough of those these days), I want to outline my experiences and how I’ve managed.

Lesson #1

History shows us that the definition of peak productivity and what drives it is often more art than science. Open floor plans versus individual offices, remote work versus office work, heck… email versus instant messaging! The long and the short of it is that there is no clear cut answer and opinions shift.

It reminds me of a quote from Heraclitus

“Change is the only constant in life”.

Productivity seems like it’s such a simple thing to measure – divide the amount of work produced by the effort required to produce it, but what seems simple is mired in a lot of nuances and personal preference.

So the lesson I’ve learned is this – If productivity can be so individualized and driven both by environmental factors and inconsistent measurements, then instead of some singular measurement we should create individualized goals so that we optimize around what makes each person produce the best.

Which is a good segue to the next lesson I’m learning from this experience.

Lesson #2

Collaboration isn’t simply getting along to achieve a goal, it’s a team sport! It becomes easy to think that if you just put a bunch of people together in the same space that collaboration will happen, but proximity isn’t a silver bullet for collaboration. In fact, there are people that are less likely to collaborate in a noisy setting or a competitive environment, or without being able to spend time structuring their thoughts.

So, what I’m really learning is that identifying differences and embracing the roles that they play has been a far more successful strategy than trying to force collaboration based on how I think it best works for me. In fact, I’ve found that some people have really blossomed while remote working in ways that I never saw while in the office. I know that remote work can feel very limiting to some of us and that not seeing people can be hard, but I plan to make sure that we have a method for keeping this new spirit of collaboration alive for all.

Lesson #3

Which brings me to my last item. In so many ways I’ve found that we often get so tied up in judging the method that we lose sight of the outcome. This can be especially true when we are forced from something comfortable into situations where we feel out of control or that don’t quite align with our expectations.

If social distancing has proven anything it’s that there is more than one way to do things. Our company has been very successful not in spite of the situation but in many ways because of our ability to recognize the unique needs and methods of individuals. By setting up the goals and helping people to see their own unique ability to achieve them, we’ve been the best team we have ever been.

Closing thought

So, instead of the focus on the “New Normal” or the “Old Normal”, I hope you are taking the opportunity to think about how you can adapt the lessons you can learn from a situation you may not have chosen and use them to craft your new “Normal Normal”.


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