“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”– Ernest Hemingway
Working from home has brought up many challenges – the main one being a pandemic within the pandemic namely ‘performance anxiety’. It’s this need to be constantly on for dread of appearing like you aren’t doing what you need to. Never mind absenteeism, we have gone to the other extreme to overdo presenteeism.
Even though you’re exhausted, you are doing it because it creates a false sense of security that you are performing or perhaps if you dig a little deeper, your real fear is that people may perceive you not to be.
It’s time for a new strategy, you need to approach your work like a lawyer would and build a case on why the ‘always on’ method isn’t sustainable based on facts and concrete evidence. If you take a different view, you will not only work more productively but develop a deeper trust with your team. Here are some thoughts on how to do this:
Presence does not equal productivity
“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” – Mae West
We know this. It’s not a new concept. You know that you can spend 3 hours of focused attention and achieve amazing results versus sitting for an entire day responding to email and be no further ahead in your tasks. Time in front of a laptop does not equal performance – it is partial evidence. It provides an alibi so you can report ‘look I’m here, I’m moving my mouse and responding to everyone else’s urgencies’. The question I pose to you is why do we still do it?
If you have to deliver a presentation, document or strategy, the work cannot happen in front of a screen. Often, it requires some white space in your calendar so you can sit somewhere quiet to get into deep work and flow. Deep work requires no distractions from the outside world including alerts and notifications. Sounds amazing right?
To make true progress on your work, sit down with your team and have a conversation at the beginning of each week to set expectations. Work through details such as:
- What does the outcome of the task look like? Is it a document or something tangible that the team needs to make progress on their tasks?
- What is the real deadline?
- When are you going to deliver a first draft or the completed task?
- What information do you require to start on this task?
By demonstrating ownership and accountability for your work, you create trust with the team. And more importantly, it releases you from having this need to constantly prove yourself.
Teamwork is not a performance, it is a partnership.
Beware motion vs action
“There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” – Indira Gandhi
When you begin a new task, there is often a level of planning involved. For example, if you are in sales you will prepare a spreadsheet of the clients you want to contact. In Atomic Habits, James Clear describes this planning as ‘motion’. Now motion is necessary to get your thoughts together and set a trajectory for the project or task in question. But…
There is a huge but that you need to be aware of. Motion is helpful up to a point but it is understanding that motion alone will not yield results. James points out that ‘motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure. Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something’.
For example, you may have drafted a fantastic list of leads to call but without the action, it will not amount to anything but an ambitious spreadsheet. You need to physically make the phone calls or create the first slide of the presentation to create progress.
Ask yourself honestly, are you stuck in motion most of the time without delivering on the action part? This could be the reason you are over doing the presenteeism show. You may genuinely feel like you are making progress but cannot understand why your anxiety is through the roof. Motion offers a false sense of accomplishment and needs to be translated to action – one phone call or one slide at a time.
A spreadsheet is not enough evidence for your case; you need to deliver with results, not what you are planning to do. This is how you build trust with your team. When you can consistently deliver on both – the plan and the execution, no one will question where your time goes when you are not online.
If you find yourself stuck in the motion phase and procrastinating on the task at hand, ask yourself some key questions:
- Am I communicating effectively with my team about any delay or speed bumps I am facing in making progress?
- Do you have all the information you need or are you waiting on some task critical feedback?
- Do you need to delegate any part of the process or are you too scared to let go of control?
- Is fear of failure or not being perfect holding you back from taking action?
When you begin to bridge the gap between motion and action, you will build momentum, create real progress and boost your confidence to all new levels.
Show up as your authentic self, not your perfect self
“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” ― Michael J. Fox
There is often a fear of revealing our true selves at work, we think we need to have one persona for home and one for the office. In order to really connect and show up for the team during this time of working from home, you need to drop your guard.
Vulnerability does not mean you need to share a traumatic childhood story or something deeply personal. It means being real with your team and colleagues about where you’re at. It can be as simple as ‘guys, I am battling to make progress on this presentation, can we schedule a 15 minute call to throw around some ideas?’ Or sharing where you made an error on something and what you’ve learnt. If you think about the collective knowledge in your team and company there is nothing that someone hasn’t experienced before.
What about opening up about a difficult client and asking for some feedback on how they suggest you deal with it. Don’t let the fear of appearing weak or incompetent paralyze you to inaction. Asking for feedback and advice is proof and hard evidence that you will reach out when you need to and this is how you build a relationship of confidence with the team so you can let go of the need to try and handle everything in isolation.
Manage silence effectively
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw
You know that being ‘always on’ is not going to enable you to do your best work but you need to manage silence effectively so your team knows that you got this. For example, if you need to do a school lift, then communicate to your team in advance that you are not available for the following times or if you need to do a meeting from the car, don’t hide it. Be as transparent as you can to build their confidence in your ability to deliver on your own hours.
It is when you think you need to hide it for fear of retribution that things start to get shaky. Having said that, there is a fine line between communicating effectively and taking advantage and going into complete silence for the day and falling off the radar.
Think about when you were a teenager and you could finally drive and go out at night. Your parents expected a message that you’ve arrived and one when you’re leaving. But in between, they had no choice but to let go and trust that they have given you the tools and values to conduct yourself in a responsible way and know that you would call if you had a problem.
Empathy comes into play massively here – you didn’t message them because you felt safer. You messaged them because you knew it would give them peace of mind and a more enjoyable evening. I’m not saying we need to be treated like kids but it’s a challenging and stressful time for all involved. The more you can alleviate some of the stress and show deep respect and accountability for how you spend your time, the easier this process will become. Perhaps you do have a manager who is still holding the control reigns too tightly, but with consistent communication and hard evidence that you are delivering your agreed outputs, it will naturally begin to fade.
“You don’t build a business. You build people and then people build the business” – unknown
At the end of the day, you are responsible for delivering your best work. Don’t let fear sabotage your thinking and go against your better judgement of what real productivity looks like.
Share these ideas with the team, have an open conversation about how to work better. Build your case with solid evidence to back it up. If you have broken trust in the past, you can always behave your way back into trust. Don’t think your way deeper into guilt and procrastination.
There is no visibility about when we will return to the office so make sure you are creating a work environment for yourself that breeds happiness and a joy for your work. Don’t pursue a path of false evidence and empty alibis.
You may need to appeal to the judge and jury for a better of operating but based on solid proof, you will win your case.
Here’s to you showing up your way,
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