The debate on the future of work rages on (you can read about my vision for it here). This fall, many companies announced they would start bringing people back in the office. With a fourth wave of the pandemic underway, many of those same companies have deferred their plans indefinitely, making remote work here to stay.
For those of us toiling away in our bedrooms and basements, we’ve had plenty of time to contemplate what’s missing in remote work.
The prevailing wisdom is what’s missing from remote work is the four C’s: collIaboration, connection, communication and culture. While all of these things have suffered a decline to varying degress, they are not missing from remote work. We’ve still managed to collaborate, communicate and stay connected with work colleagues.
No, the key ingredient missing in remote work is energy.
There is an undeniable energy in being around and working with people. When you meet or bump into people at the office or work together in person, you feel the energy level in the room rise. Ideas are born, connections are made. Energy fuels creativity, learning, innovation and propels action. We are driven to take action and succeed, which drives a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
It has been said for introverts, this pandemic has been a blessing. It has allowed them to work quietly on their own, focus on their passions and be happy. But for extroverts who rely on the energy of others to give them strength, and help them be the best version of themselves, the pandemic has been crippling.
The problem is introverts and extroverts alike need to be re-energized from time to time, and most remote workers are running on dangerously low batteries.
This week’s #HappyAct is to assess your energy level and needs. How are you doing? Share an idea on how to fill the void so we can all recharge.
Last week, I listened to an interesting webinar about our emotional connection to work, facilitated by Dr. Laura Hamill from Limeade.
For many of us, our relationship with work has been put to the test this past year. Some workers have grown closer to their employer, building a stronger relationship based on trust, some have struggled with feelings of separation, while others are considering breaking up with their employer.
While intuitively, we’ve always known we have an emotional connection to work, the pandemic has been a coming of age for our relationship with work. It has caused many people to reflect on what they want from their job, where they want to work, and how work contributes to their overall wellbeing.
Dr. Hamill talked about the factors that affect our wellbeing. There are some factors we have little control over: our genetics, underlying health conditions, personality, and socioeconomic status. The factors we have more control over include our mindset, habits and behaviours, social supports and relationships, and the organizational supports companies put in place for their employees.
While many companies stepped up during COVID to provide supports for employees coping with the stressors of the pandemic, Dr. Hamill maintains tools and programs are not enough. In order for us to be happy at work and have a positive sense of wellbeing, we need to feel like we belong, valued, productive and contribute to the organization’s success.
For this reason, culture, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion and employee wellbeing are inextricably linked.
As we reimagine the future of work, it will be imperative to put employee wellbeing at the forefront. If we don’t, we could be in for a nasty break up.
June is Pride month. A few weeks ago, I finally changed my autosignature to include my pronouns she/her at the end. I’ve been meaning to change it for almost a year now, but finally got a round tuit at the hardware store when I was on vacation last week.
I’ve always considered myself an ally of the LGBTQ community and am looking forward to seeing a rainbow-filled feed on my social media channels on Tuesday.
But I confess I sometimes do find it hard to navigate this world of diversity and inclusion. It will be only a matter of time before I make a mistake and will have to ask for forgiveness.
For instance, I was writing an email to my team last week. I have a small team and we all know each other pretty well, so our work emails are pretty informal.
I started out writing my normal, “Hey guys, I’ll need to move our regular team meeting…” But then I remembered reading an article that said “guys” is inappropriate since it implies men and excludes others. I say this to my family all the time so hopefully I’m not insulting Grace and Clare the next time I say, “Hey guys, what do you want for dinner tonight?”
I thought about “Hey gang” but was afraid it might be discriminatory against people in actual gangs or imply they were a bunch of miscreants or hooligans.
I tried “Hey folks”, but then wondered if that had southern connotations, even though we don’t live in the United States, or a rural connotation that might be offensive.
I’ve sometimes used “Hey peeps” which seems pretty harmless, but could be racist towards chickens.
In the end, I just went with “Hey team”. Whew, problem solved.
You see my dilemma.
I know I’m being cheeky and there is a good chance someone who is reading this has already taking offence to me making light of an important subject.
I believe people have a right to be called whatever they want, whether it’s he, she, per, ze/ziethey, or they. Addressing people the way they prefer to be called is simply a matter of respect and is no different than when women started challenging the use of Miss and Mrs. as part of the feminist movement.
Personally, I don’t care what I’m called as long as you don’t call me late for dinner.
I know I have a lot to learn. I will make mistakes. I just hope you forgive me/she/her when I make them.
And to all my LGBTQ friends, I love you just as you are. You are authentic, funny and strong, and I am proud to celebrate by your side, a true ally, this month. Happy pride month, everyone!
Ed. Note: The dilemma of how to address people was encapsulated perfectly in the Saturday Night Live skit, “It’s Pat” in the early 90’s. Here’s an episode where the friends of androgynous Pat throw a birthday party for them. SNL was always on the cutting edge of societal issues. While the character of Pat was a caricature, the humour was in seeing how people with good intentions tried to unearth clues as to how to address Pat.
There is a raging debate going on about the future of work. Companies are considering whether to continue to let employees work remotely, return to the office or adopt some form of hybrid model when the worst of the pandemic is over.
As I said last week, we’ve learned much in the past year. But I fear that as a society, we will let a precious opportunity slip through our fingertips: the opportunity to finally redefine our relationship with work, to seek a greater work-life balance and truly imagine a brighter future, one where we don’t just spend our days making a living, but living our best lives.
Here is my vision for the future of work.
First, employees would be able to choose how many hours they want to work a week. Imagine if you could say to your employer, I want to work 24 hours a week, 30, or 32 hours a week so I can pursue my passion, whether it’s painting, writing, running a side business, or volunteering.
Employees would have more flexibility to choose when they work. 6 a.m. to noon? No problem. I was reading one study where 15% of workers said they’d prefer to work in the evenings or at night so they could do things outside during the day. Depending on the role, why not? It could also help with child care challenges for working families.
We need to discover how to bring joy and fun back into our work world. The reality for many office workers is their day consists of never-ending emails and meetings, distractions and interruptions that is making us unhappy at work. When you feel like your day consists of putting out fires and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, it’s disheartening. Even before the pandemic, people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes.
There are many, innovative solutions to making work fulfilling again.
Let’s start by hiring more people. I believe too many companies are running too lean. There are simply not enough people to do the work. If some people opt for shorter work weeks, there could be the opportunity to hire people and distribute work a bit more equitably to help ease stress and workloads.
We also need to be smarter about how we spend our time during the workday. Companies could establish designated meeting times, and work times to help people concentrate and accomplish meaningful work, without disruption.
Several years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The company experienced a 65 percent increase in productivity but also reported employees experienced an increase in work satisfaction. They discovered the most important factor in daily joy and motivation was a sense of progress.
We’ve also learned working from home this past year the importance of human connection. We miss our colleagues dearly.
The future of work needs to include being together again, but not dictated by arbitrary policies. Being able to collaborate, have fun together, celebrate successes are all great examples of when it will make sense to bring employees together in person. Training is another thing we’ve learned is a much more richer experience in person than remote learning.
Good workplaces will develop a do good culture. Providing opportunities for employees to get involved in their communities, and volunteer for worthy causes will add a new layer of purpose to work. Some companies already offer up to five days a year for employees to volunteer for local charities.
The future of work also includes more vacation. There will be a pent-up demand for travel when borders open up. North Americans could learn from other countries like the UK where residents get 28 days of vacation a year, France 25, and Germany and Australia, with 20 days.
Finally, companies need to adopt the ner way of business. Ner is the business philosophy where the most important aspect is people and leaders only need to create an environment where people can excel. Companies have no hierarchy, just self-managing teams. Ner companies donate 3% of their profits and 2% of employee time to contribute to social projects and top salaries can’t be more than 2.5X higher the lowest salary. The ner philosophy creates more human, meaningful and entrepreneurial workplaces. And it works. Watch this video to learn more about ner.
Yes, we have a unique opportunity before us: to reimagine the future of work. Companies that are short-sighted will focus on one aspect: place.
Companies that are progressive and visionary will focus on outcomes and a new, more human philosophy towards work.
There’s an enemy we are all facing right now, and it’s the enemy within.
Too many people are working more hours working from home than when they were in the office.
Why are we doing this to ourselves?
Have we programmed ourselves to delete our off buttons, so we don’t know when to shut down at the end of the day? Is it because we can’t separate work life from home life working out of our bedrooms and basements? Is it because there is nothing else to do in lockdown, and things will return to normal when the world rights itself? Or is there simply too much work and never enough hours in the day to get it done so we just keep working?
I think it is all of these things and it’s extolling a price.
Each month, Morneau Shepell publishes their 2021 Mental Health Index Report. It’s no secret mental health across all age groups has taken a dive since COVID began last March, but the most recent report shows two segments: women and managers are particularly at risk of burnout as they struggle to deal with the demands of work, home life and worries about finances and health of family members.
The report indicated employees are finding it more difficult to feel motivated to work and to concentrate. A startling one-quarter of Canadians are considering a career change despite their employers handling the pandemic well.
We’ve learned much in the past year. I’ve had several friends retire or make the brave and bold decision to simply leave their jobs. We’ve realized humans were not meant to spend entire days in dark rooms on devices. It’s not natural. We’ve also learned there is more to life than work.
As we slowly emerge from the darkest days of this pandemic, we will all be faced with choices. Be brave in your choices, and whatever you do, stop being your own worst enemy.
Special guest post by Agent00$0ul”, marking the anniversary of COVID-19.It’s estimated more than 200,000 Canadian businesses could shut their doors permanently due to the pandemic. Let’s show them our #locallove.
He peered up at me from behind the register. A barrier of plexiglass separated our two masked faces. The part of his face I could see transformed to a quizzical look, one eyebrow raised.
“It’s been a year, my friend,” I said. I didn’t expect him to remember my order by heart like he did pre-COVID.
I pulled a $10 bill from my coat pocket and slid it across the counter. “I want you to have this.”
He was surprised, but appreciative. He knew why I was doing it and I knew a few of his customers were doing the same. He put the bank note in his pocket. “Thank you.”
I placed my order. The restaurant was nearly empty–three or four diners seated at tables separated by stacked chairs on tables wrapped in caution tape. The complimentary copies of The Sun newspaper, usually neatly stacked in a pile in a corner on the condiments table, were nowhere to be seen. Same too for the condiments themselves. It was high noon on a Wednesday. The scene was surreal…. the place should’ve been packed.
The absence of customers gave me some time to catch up on things with Ivan while my comfort food was being prepared. I explained that the pandemic caused my employer to make the difficult decision to permanently close the office. I would be working from home until retirement. That decision removed the need for me to visit Ivan’s place of work at least once, maybe twice a week on a regular basis.
Ivan always punched in my order before I made it to the cash, holding off on the drink selection because I was never consistent on that one, fluctuating between Diet Coke (stressed out and guilty I wasn’t watching my weight) and Cherry Coke (stressed out and guilty I wasn’t managing my office work). Either choice was fast food methadone, supplied by Ivan the enabler.
I have the impression that Ivan got to be where he is today because of some unfortunate past events. He’s a smart guy. An ‘it-getter”. Pleasant. Respectful. Sharing. Still, he plays the economic hand he’s been dealt every day without regret or remorse. His reality is a twenty-minute bus ride to reduced hours of work.
He told me the pandemic has been hard on him financially. Hours have ticked up slightly since the restaurant reopened with limited seating. Prior to that all sales were curbside pickup, drive through, or Uber Eats. He hoped he would be given the vaccine soon since he was over 50 with pre-existing conditions. He was skeptical because he didn’t fall under the definition of “front line worker”. The irony wasn’t lost on me as he shared this information from behind the barrier of plexiglass between us.
As I returned to my car, lunch bag and Cherry Coke in hand, it felt good to have given Ivan a hand up, rather than a hand out. The circumstances were different than most “new normal” days that caused me to see Ivan on a work day.I probably won’t see him again anytime soon… possibly never. I should have given him $20.
This week’s #HappyAct is to think of the folks in the service sector who have been impacted by this pandemic. Help them out if you can. I handed out $5 Tim Horton’s prepaid cards to the six stylists at my barber shop. $30 equates to 1 1/2 haircuts, I missed two cuts during the lockdown so I’m actually up $10. Consider helping out the service sector workers you have in your circle if you are able. Be the creator of your own happy act.
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. This year the theme is #ChooseToChallenge. The rallying cry is not just to celebrate women’s achievements, but to call out gender bias and inequality so “collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”
As someone who has witnessed gender bias and inequality and tried to advocate all my life for gender equity, I will hold my hand high to show my support with women across the globe but with one important caveat: I #ChooseToChallenge respectfully.
We are living in very strange times indeed, times when even when you are trying to do the right thing and speak up, you can be vilified for your words.
Last month, actress Olivia Wilde praised her boyfriend, Harry Styles publicly on her Instagram feed for taking a supporting role in a film she directed featuring a strong female cast. She said “Little known fact, most male actors don’t want to play supporting roles in female-led films. The industry has raised them to believe it lessens their power (i.e financial value) to accept these roles, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get financing for movies focusing on female stories.”
The backlash was fast, furious and full of vitriol, accusing Wilde of praising Styles for doing his job or as one person said on Twitter, “the bare minimum level shit”.
What’s the lesson here? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
C’mon everybody. Speak up. Choose to challenge, but be damned sure you say the right thing.
I’m honestly getting really tired. Tired of people trying to do the right thing and being raked over the coals, tired of the haters, tired of the nastiness overshadowing the real, important conversations and hampering real change.
So yes, we must #ChooseToChallenge, but please, help make this world a happier and more productive place and #ChooseToChallenge respectfully.
I’ve often said it’s as important to know what makes you unhappy, as what makes you happy. For the past year, chronic pain has made me unhappy.
It all started a year ago when Covid hit and I began working from home. Those first few weeks were a blur. I worked long days on my sunroom couch in a bad ergonomic set up, putting in 55 hours a week issuing communications for my company.
In early April, I started to feel a pain developing beneath my shoulder blade. I quickly changed my workspace and set up a proper desk, but the damage was done.
As the pain intensified, to make matters worse, I stupidly kept working. I remember calling into some meetings lying on my bed sideways, because that was the only position where my shoulder didn’t throb. I couldn’t sit down for more than 10 minutes without searing shards of pain emanating up my back. At times the pain was blinding and I could barely concentrate.
I called my doctor, and he prescribed anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. They helped, a bit, but it wasn’t until I was able to get in to see my physiotherapist that I started having success manage the pain. I was only one of three patients he was seeing during lockdown.
I also started heeding the advice of my health care professionals. I reduced my hours at the computer, took microbreaks, got a sit stand desk so I could work standing up half the day, and did eventually take 3-4 weeks off completely to let it heal.
It’s been a year and while my injury has still not completely healed, it doesn’t occupy my every waking thought now.
I wanted to share my story as a cautionary tale and to help others prevent injuring themselves while working from home. Here are some key things I learned:
People told me the pain should go away if you just change your ergonomic set up. This was not true in my case. I got a proper desk, set up a second monitor, got an ergonomic chair and sit-stand tabletop desk, anti-fatigue mat for when I was standing, and changed my set up several times. The pain did not go away.
With ergonomic injuries, if you start feeling pain, you’ve already been working too long. My physio and doctor both said you shouldn’t work more than 20-30 minutes sitting in one position and to take microbreaks throughout the day.
You need to give the injury time to heal. I didn’t. I stupidly kept working. I look back at it now and know I was crazy. I had lame excuses—now is not a good time, other team members were off on vacation or moving, it’s so busy. I thought of everyone before my own health. If there was one key thing (other than not injuring myself in the first place) I would have done differently, it’s I would have taken time off work immediately to allow my injury to heal.
The best advice I received was to keep moving. When I told my doctor, the pain subsided most when I was kayaking, he said I should set up my laptop on the top of my kayak. Any movement—walking, gardening, swimming, kayaking was the best medicine.
Get a hot tub. Seriously, if you suffer from any kind of chronic pain, a hot tub is so therapeutic. From April to June last year, the 30 minutes a night I spent in my hot tub was my only pain free time during the waking hours of the day.
Exercises are a must. Before I could even get in to see my physio, a good friend of ours who is a chiropractor set me up with a customized exercise program. I still do about 20 minutes of stretching exercises every day.
Be open to different types of treatments. In addition to physio, I went regularly for massages and also went to an osteopath for the first time. I didn’t know much about osteopaths, but in some ways, I think a few osteo treatments were more effective than any other paramedical provider. I tried every cream in the book, even marijuana cream.
It’s been a rough journey and I’m very relieved to say I’m much improved. One of the things I found most difficult was not knowing whether by continuing to work, I was continuing to injure myself, or just aggravating the already existing injury.
I have developed a newfound respect for anyone who lives with chronic pain. My heart goes out to you.
Finally, I want to recognize and thank all the people this past year who lent a sympathetic ear and who helped me more than you will ever know—friends who listened and sent me exercises to do, my family for their patience and concern, Latif Khoja at Sydenham Rehab Well clinic, Christina Marshall, my amazing massage therapist, Tony Barton from Barton Chiropractic and my wonderful doctor, Steve Ingo.
While November is often thought of as a drab and dreary month, there is one redeeming grace. As a blanket of leaves forms on the ground, light floods into spaces that were previously dark or shadowed from canopies.
Let there be light. We need more light right now.
The psychological benefits of light are well-known. Increased hours of sunlight heighten the brain’s production of serotonin, which improves mood, alertness, productivity, sleep and mental wellbeing.
Recently, we redecorated our sunroom. We love how the light fills the room. It is a very happy room in our house. But you don’t need to redecorate your house to find more light. Here are some simple things you can do to take advantage of the limited light in the darker winter months:
Go for a walk each day at lunch or rearrange your schedule to do at least some form of physical activity outside each day in daylight
Change your window coverings or clean your windows to let in more light. Using mirrors or rearranging your furniture can also result in more indoor light.
COVID is a perfect excuse to keep extending patio season. Visit a local brewery and have a pint outdoors or have your morning coffee bundled up on the front porch. On Saturday, we watched the sun go down sitting on a hay bale in front of a fire at Slake brewery, a new microbrewery in Prince Edward County. It was spectacular.
If you can, move your workspace to a place by the window or with better light. If no one is home, I often will dial into meetings from my sunroom.
Take Vitamin D during the winter months if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or try a light therapy lamp.
This week’s #HappyAct is to let the sun shine in and keep smiling.
Years ago, when I was applying to universities, Western University sent me a letter indicating I was on their waiting list to get into their teaching program. I had already received acceptances from the other universities I applied for, so I didn’t check the box to indicate I’d like to be kept on their waiting list and send the letter back.
What would have cost me five seconds of my time and a postage stamp was probably the biggest mistake in my life. And yes, if you read my blog from last week, this is one of my biggest regrets.
I would have loved to be a teacher. I once had a psychic tell me they saw me teaching small groups of people and to this day, when I get to run training sessions at work, I absolutely love it. Before I started my career, I seriously thought of going to China or Japan to teach English. Regret #2.
Instead, I wound up in insurance.
On career days at school, when they ask little Jimmy or Susie what they want to be when they grow up, nobody ever says “I want to work in insurance”. All of my friends in our industry say the same thing, we never planned to work for an insurance company.
But life has its own plans, and sometimes following fate’s footsteps isn’t such a bad thing.
This has hit home for me several times over the years and especially this year during COVID.
I went to school for journalism, and even before COVID, most of my friends who went into mainstream media were forced to make career shifts as the industry became decimated and reporters and journalists were being laid off.
This year, I have been able to continue to work, and safely from my own home, while others in industries and professions that would have been thought imaginable are struggling.
Did I sell out? Maybe. Do I wish I had checked that box? Most definitely.
But I’ve been grateful to have a rewarding career and work with amazing, talented people who care about each other and the work.
Who knows, I may still teach some day. I believe it’s never too late to take on new challenges.
One thing I promise you, next time I’ll check all the boxes.