Misery loves company. I do think it’s comforting that everyone is struggling right now. If you take the time to reach out to someone and ask how they are really doing, you are going to have a meaningful conversation about how hard things are and get a few new coping tips from someone you trust.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Walker.
Lisa Walker is VP of Brand and Corporate Marketing, and Workforce Futurist at Fuze, overseeing brand strategy, public relations, customer advocacy, content, and creative.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I discovered brand marketing in my twenties, when I joined a children’s book publisher called Barefoot Books as a general marketing associate. The founder and CEO, Nancy Traversy, took me under her wing and taught me everything about building a brand. It’s been incredible to apply all of the lessons I learned under her in the B2C world, to B2B tech marketing. The most important lesson she taught me was that brand building is about passion and storytelling. Every brand I have worked for since I have been both passionate about and believed there was a bigger story to tell. Joining Fuze, I saw the opportunity to be part of the larger flexible work movement which we’ve seen accelerate by about five years in the last six months. That story is bigger than ever now.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
I think one of the most interesting experiences I have had in my tenure at Fuze is in security communications. Early on in my time at Fuze, one of our customers in the security space discovered a security vulnerability in our software and decided to do a public disclosure. They disclosed the problem to us, gave us time to remediate that problem, and then went to the media with the story. We did not participate in the press and, as a result, the coverage was pretty brutal. A few months later, that same customer came to us with another security vulnerability, which they also planned to publicly disclose, and strongly encouraged us to be an active participant in the story. This time around, we stood tall beside our customer, thanked them publicly for their discovery, gave interviews to the security press, and were quoted alongside the customer in coverage that was much more balanced. I learned a very valuable lesson about how to work with the security industry through those two experiences. No one expects us to have perfect software but we owe it to our customers and the broader community to embrace feedback, own our flaws, and learn from our mistakes going forward.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I think my favorite project I am working on right now is the Fuze Future@Work task force which is a cross functional group exploring how we will work together post-pandemic, and the changing role of physical work space in our company and culture. A survey of our employees showed that Fuze employees overwhelmingly favor a hybrid work model where, post-pandemic, they plan to only spend between 0–2 days a week in an office so they can collaborate and network in person with key colleagues. With that data in hand, we are now looking at our overall office footprint and how we redesign the spaces we choose to keep to serve as regional collaboration hubs. In parallel, we are working to improve the digital employee experience, with the 100% remote employee as the design point. We believe building an amazing remote-first culture will benefit everyone globally and eliminate the traditional disparities in engagement opportunities we see between those tied to offices versus those who are remote. Our office hubs throughout the world will then give all employees the ability to meet in person when it makes sense.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have an amazing mentor, Dennis van Lingen, who was my manager at Forrester Research when I went back to work after my second child was born. Dennis pushed me hard but also had an amazing amount of respect for me as a mother and a person. He taught me that you can proudly bring your whole self to work and that it will make your work stronger. My all-time favorite moment with Dennis was when we were in Amsterdam together having dinner, and he saw his soccer hero, Johan Cruyff, in the restaurant dining with a famous sports reporter. My very serious boss blushed and was giddy and could not believe he was there. I was so excited by his excitement that I marched over to Johan at the bar, which was horrifying to all of the Dutch patrons, and asked if he would sign my menu for Dennis. He was a lovely guy and we had a great chat. Dennis was floored when I returned to our table with his autograph. Had Dennis not brought his whole person to work, and talked to me about his love of soccer and his own history as a player growing up in the Netherlands, I never would have understood how much Johan meant to him. Johan died of cancer a few years later and Dennis still has that menu.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
We relocated our family from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Manchester, Vermont in March so we’ve added a significant amount of change on top of an already difficult time. My 13-year-old is able to go to school 100% in-person here, so his experience has been really positive, but my 10-year-old is having a really hard time with the move and changing schools, and is only going to school in-person twice a week. He was in a Spanish immersion program back home in Cambridge and he is very worried about losing his Spanish. Being white, he was also a minority in his old school, and he is really upset about the lack of diversity he sees in Vermont. He is asking some really difficult and important questions.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Honestly, we cry together a lot. I just try to explain to him that we are trying to keep our family safe and that post-pandemic we will all reassess what comes next. We are in a beautiful, safe place and we talk every day about finding something positive together in our day.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
If I could just get a normal work day in, like the old days, I feel like I would be a new woman. I’ve had this conversation with so many working moms. We are trying to keep the family together, the school work happening, the meals on the table, oh, and somehow continue to crush it in our careers. It’s too much. Every day I feel like I am failing at one of those things.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I just recently found someone here in Vermont to help me on homeschool days with my 10-year-old. She graduated high school this spring, is taking a gap year before college, is living at home, and she has been a ray of light in our lives. After day one with my son she said to me, “you know, it’s also really nice for me to have someone else to talk to,” and I realized that I have been so focused on my ten-year-old’s pain that I hadn’t even considered what it must have been like for the older kids, who did their senior spring in a pandemic, delayed college, and are stuck at home instead of away at college for their freshman year.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
We’ve all created work spaces, bought gear and tried to create a good work from home set up, and now it’s time to take a step back and assess what’s working and what’s not. For me, being sequestered off in some far corner of the house just doesn’t work, so I’m now in the living room so I can be interrupted when I need to be. I can still be productive with a great headset and my background noise cancelling app Krisp, and also be available when the kids are looking for me. My other piece of advice is to block recesses and lunch time with the kids. I block it on my calendar and when people inevitably schedule over those blocks, I ask them to move the meeting if at all possible. Those breaks as a family recharge all of us and have served as great daily check-ins.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
For those of us working parents in the North East I keep hearing a familiar refrain, “winter is coming!” We have all been barely holding it together in nice weather but are now in a total panic about winter. Now is the time to get unstuck and make a plan for surviving the winter. Do research to find what is available in your area, even if it is something you’ve never done before. We are focused on a few key areas:
What can we do as a family outdoors in the winter and what gear do we need to invest in now to do those things before everything is out of stock? Remember the run on kettlebells last spring? We are going to be skiing (if the mountains are open) and making sure we have the right gear to snowshoe and sled if they are not.
We are also looking at what indoor activities we could do and evaluating that risk. We actually have found a local pool that you can rent out as a five person family for 20 dollars/hour and are committing to that as another option when we need to get out of the house.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1) Misery loves company. I do think it’s comforting that everyone is struggling right now. If you take the time to reach out to someone and ask how they are really doing, you are going to have a meaningful conversation about how hard things are and get a few new coping tips from someone you trust.
2) Work has become more human. Those of us working remotely have virtually been inside each other’s homes on a regular basis and get continuous glimpses of our colleagues “real lives.” My “COVID puppy” peed on the rug behind me on a video meeting the other day and everyone had a good chuckle when I cursed and jumped up. I hope we keep that empathy and humanity as we move forward.
3) Flexible and remote work is here to stay. Those of us in the future of work movement have seen it accelerate by about five years overnight with the COVID-19 crisis. The persistent barriers to large-scale remote and flexible work policies have been crushed by our collective experience of having to figure out how to be productive. Our data shows that 70% of our employees will be going back to the office at most two days a week. Our employees will be doing less commuting, and have better work life balance now that they have proven to everyone that they can do their jobs remotely when they need or want to.
4) Video interactions play an important role in all aspects of our lives. We have all learned the value of video meetings when we can’t be there in person. Our live video experiences during COVID-19 have opened up many of our worlds, and will maintain a valuable place in our lives going forward. Why had I never thought to facetime my mom at her memory care facility before the pandemic? We’ve also learned though that video simply cannot take the place of in-person interactions for some of life’s most important moments, and post-pandemic we will experience those in-person moments with more gratitude than ever before.
5) Boredom breeds innovation. Those of us who have been stuck at home with spouses and kids know that there is a certain point in time where the screens simply have to go away, and in those moments we’ve had to find new (and sometimes old timey) ways to entertain ourselves. In my family, we’re cooking together more than before. We’ve played Twister, Charades, and Celebrity. We’ve made ridiculous movie trailers and we’ve laughed together a lot. Having been caught up in the busyness of before with constant scheduled activities and sports did not leave us time together as a family to be bored enough to have to figure it out, together. I hope we don’t lose that when life gets busy again someday.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The truth is that we are all struggling right now and I think the most important thing we can do is listen and offer support. Someone once said to me that when you ask someone how they are doing and they say fine, a simple follow up question or two will unlock a deeper conversation where you can offer real support. A few questions I like are:
How are you taking care of yourself right now?
Is there anyone in your life who you are particularly worried about?
How do you think this experience has changed you?
What times of the day or week are hardest?
Is there anything I can do to help you right now?
Taking the time to ask follow up questions and have a real conversation is one of the best ways to support each other right now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am obsessed with a quote that I heard at the NASDAQ Women’s Conference last year from General Loretta “Lori” Reynolds, Lt. General U.S. Marine Corps, who was only the third woman corps to earn that rank. After being asked to run cyber security for the U.S. Marines she faced self-doubt, because she knew nothing about the subject. She shared with us that she looked in the mirror and said to herself. “If not me. Then who?” And then she took the assignment. I was at my own crossroads in my career at that time and had not pursued the harder position because I didn’t think I was 100% ready yet. That quote was a huge wake up call for me and I have been trying to channel General Lori ever since!