Bring Me Your Pets, Your Kids and Your Roommates

Why being human first and team or project leader second matters, particularly now

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I rarely let Twitter get me fired up. But this week, Jeff Jarvis, a professor at the Craig Newark Journalism school and well-known media blogger, took a New York Times writer to task for an article about video conference etiquette. “Who does The NYT think they are to tell us that people should not be human (often in tiny apartments) and allow their family members, children, and pets enter the screen on a conference call? Now is the time for all of us to be more human. Damnit.” tweeted Jarvis. I totally agreed and made that rather obvious.

While the writer did make a few good points about etiquette on other topics, his advice that we try to hide, during an unprecedented global pandemic, that we are homeschooling every child, that we have pets who bark, meow and want to be near us, and that many of us are jammed with roommates or spouses sharing limited space is completely misguided, bordering on clueless. When I told a business colleague about the article, her first reaction was, “he is clearly single and lives alone.” As one BBC commentator noted, “We are all Robert Kelly, the BBC dad, now.” They even invited the infamous interviewee/Internet sensation, whose kids broke in during a live interview in 2017, back this week to discuss work-life in the age of Covid-19. His conclusion? “It’s just really, really tough.”

We’ve just conducted the most rapid, large-scale test of global remote work ever. We then threw in the additional curve ball of every parent needing to homeschool on top of it. Of course it’s really, really tough. No one was prepared for this and we are muddling through as best as we can. As a leader or a team member, maintaining perspective and keeping a sense of humor is critical. [If you want a good laugh, check out the 12 most annoying co-workers you face on Zoom to figure out which one might be you]. 

One long term benefit that could come out of this otherwise mind-boggling test is normalizing flex work and, closely connected to that, work/life blend. I wrote about this topic just three weeks ago when discussing the business benefits of living out loud. Being able to bring your whole self to work is one of the factors that drives psychological safety, or the belief that you won’t be rejected for being different. Psychological safety has been found in an extensive study by Google to be the key to high-performing teams.

So no, do not go to the bathroom while you are on Zoom or the phone. Just don’t. But we don’t need to apologize if the dog barks or the cat chooses that moment to cuddle on the keyboard. We need to have empathy that our kids, particularly the youngest ones, may just need to sit on our laps. They are going through a traumatic time where their whole world just changed too. If sitting with you while you lead a meeting helps, let them. Take the opportunity to meet your team member’s roommate or significant other and have a chat about how they are doing. The fact you were human first and team or project leader second matters, particularly now.

So bring me your pets, your kids and your roommates. Let me introduce you to mine.  When we emerge from this crisis, we will do better business together as a result.

Quote of the Week:  I think part of being human is learning to roll with the punches, to deal with any kind of personal or professional disaster that might crop up. You have to learn to deal with that stuff or not survive. – Amy Gerstler

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