Sharing our most treasured people, pets, wall art and “just got out of bed hair” with our colleagues on video call after video call is fairly cringy at times but did you know that sharing a little more of who we are, warts and all is good for business?
Remember that YouTube video with the kids royally interrupting an ever-so serious BBC interview? Oh it’s a goodie. How we laughed at the poor man’s squirming embarrassment.
Never did we imagine that it would become a daily occurrence in our own homes.
Lockdown has introduced a healthy stream of kids running in to the weekly management video call wearing, generally, nothing at all. Or perhaps, as I’ve had in my own house, solely a batman cape and a toy shopping basket atop his brazen little head. True story.
We’ve heard of girlfriends crawling ever so stealthily out of view in only beige pants and a head towel. Not out of view. Shame.
Then there’s “poor Jennifer” caught on the loo, viewed a mere 7.4 MILLION times before it was taken down from Facebook.
It’s hilarious. The comedic silver lining of WFH and the draining schedule of video calls.
I know people who have taken to throwing blankets over their heads just so they can ‘block out’ the unrulier members of their household.
So what do you make of it all?
Is it deeply unprofessional?
Or is it deeply human?
At Welfy, we believe that lockdown has forced us all into being more authentic. More relatable. I mean, how can you be intimidated by your Managing Partner once you’ve met her lovely other half and her over friendly cat? She’s just a person. And once the airs and graces are out of the way, we can all get on with, well, getting on.
The barriers are down. Ideas can flow more easily in the business. And lord knows we all need to be more creative to navigate a way through these strange times.
Yes, video calls are awkward and annoying at times.
Yes, it definitely does drain your energy more than regular face to face meetings as your brain struggles to process the body language of multiple people on a small screen at once.
But there is an upside to be had.
The authenticity it promotes pushes us to open the door to vulnerability. And we all know from the goddess that is Brené Brown (it’s almost unhealthy how much I love her), that vulnerability is the way into real human connection. Which is what we all crave and need to feel content, to be well and to be productive.
Chris Baréz-Brown, Author of Shine and Founder of Upping Your Elvis, tells us that being too serious and “corporate” at work isn’t good for business: “Clever” serious people get stuck in their conscious-processing jail (which neuroscience tells us could be as little as 4 per cent of our potential genius). If only they could relax and have some fun they would tap much more of their potential.
And researchers have begun to explore the implications for authenticity in the workplace. One study found that the greater employees’ feelings of authenticity are, the greater their job satisfaction, engagement and performance.
Most of us engage in self-presentation in the workplace at least occasionally. We actively manage our behaviour, emotions, or the way we are perceived by others and bosses. We do it for a variety of reasons: some people feel they cannot freely express emotion at work, others believe they cannot share their sense of humour, and still others feel they must “have it all together” or risk hurting their reputation or credibility.
But we must be able to strike a balance?
As we slowly return to people working in the office, or not, can we continue to treat fellow employees as humans? Enjoy the connections we have? Relax and drop the corporate guard a little?
Here are some Welfy tips to embracing a more human and innovative world of work:
1. Treat people as people
It sounds obvious but it’s all too easy to become transactional, especially as we are all under more pressure as colleagues are furloughed, or teams are stretched due to redundancies.
Our language becomes blunter. Our requests of people more unreasonable. The “small talk” gets side-lined.
But at what cost?
People are not simply a means of achieving an objective. They are people. Just like you. And we all know the difference between real and fake “how are yous?”.
Take a second or two to actually care about the person you’re interacting with. Share something of yourself if it feels right. We all know you’ll get to what you need faster and potentially unlock useful stuff you hadn’t even imagined.
2. Know who your drains and radiators are
At Welfy, we have an exercise where we ask people to draw a horizontal line on a page, labelling one end “drains” and the other, “radiators”. And to quickly plot ten people in their lives along the line who feature fairly heavily – home and work. Are they people who suck the life out of you and steal from your energy – drains? Or do they warm you, pep you up and restore it – radiators?
There are relationships you can and can’t change but we can all be more mindful about who we give our energy to and who we spend our time with.
And there is a reason why Gallup asks, “Do you have a best friend at work?” Seems silly? Those who strongly agree are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with those who say otherwise (29%).
Are there some radiators in or outside of your team that you could tap into more? If they tickle your funny bone, chances are they could be a good sparring partner when it comes to idea generation or problem solving.
3. Share your ideas upstream
Scare yourself by sharing your ideas with someone you’ve been too intimidated to before. The hierarchical barriers have been somewhat brutally torn down by the leveller that is Covid-19, so now is the time to be brave and worry less about what they might think, whether you should go through the official channels, blah blah. What have you got to lose?
4. Ask yourself who you’re trying to be
Who did you crave love from most as a child, and who did you have to be to get it?
Ask yourself this question: During your childhood, who (which parent or guardian or other authority figure) did you crave love, acceptance and validation most from, and who did you have to be to get it?
When I first answered that question for myself, I was totally stunned. I suddenly realised that the person I felt I had to be as a child in order to feel fully loved and accepted was the very person I was still trying to be in adulthood, 30+ years later. And it still wasn’t working, because it wasn’t me.
Trying to be someone you’re not simply cannot work over the long arch of your life, because it’s an act that becomes too laborious and painful to keep up.
Who are you still trying to be, to win love and validation? Can you let it go?
5. Tell stories
Yuval Noah Harari’s fabulous book, Sapiens, tells us that it’s stories that helped us to evolve and conquer the world. And today, stories, or “shared belief” is what makes the best companies – Nike, Apple – stand out from a sea of competitors. Stories bond a group more tightly together.
Take a little bit of time on team calls to share the good, the bad and the ugly. Pose insightful questions that allow people to tell their own personal stories and to feel seen, heard and valued e.g. How do you take breaks to boost your productivity? What new habits have you adopted during this time? How do you keep a positive perspective?
At best the ideas and experiences shared could become best practice for the entire company, and at worst they’ll give everyone a laugh and much needed boost to their wellbeing.
So move over shame. It’s time to celebrate our imperfect selves and be real. Embrace the trouser-less other half who’s bombing your video call. We all need a good laugh after all.
“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they’re reminders that we’re all in this together.” Brené Brown.