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Pacing Yourself At Work In The Age Of Coronavirus

Communicate, establish new norms, and don't ignore the realities facing your workforce.

coronavirus map
Source: The New York Times

At MatchPace, we define pace as: the established rhythms and expectations of the workplace that enable organizations and their employees to work at a healthy, sustainable rate and accomplish their mission over the long term without burning out.

That might sound like a mouthful, but the reality is: pace at work matters. If you and your team aren’t running at a sustainable pace, you will burn out. Instead, your team needs to “match” your pace to your priorities, and the team needs to be operating at the same pace with each other.

But what happens in the middle of a crisis? Does a sustainable pace at work go right out the window when a pandemic hits?

The reality is–it might, for a time.

This coronavirus pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone, so be patient, be kind, and use this first week of social distancing to give people exactly that: space to process and adapt. Many people still have to go shopping for necessities or figure out childcare.

But if working at a different pace, whether because your team is adapting to working remotely for the first time (or at least entirely remotely) or because your organization is instituting measures to reduce interpersonal contact to stop the spread of the virus, becomes our new normal for even a few weeks, your organization must adapt and align to a pace that empowers you to continue your important work and take care of your people.

We need organizations doing their best work more than ever: because we’re facing an upheaval that requires the best minds helping us all figure out how to work well and live well in a post-COVID-19 world; and so that people have structure and purpose to their day, a goal to achieve.

So how, exactly, can you set an effective, sustainable and realistic work pace in a pandemic?

Lean into your unchanging valuesYour values will guide you right now. They will show your team where to focus, how to prioritize, how to respond. Keep coming back to them.

Your values are your guiding force in the midst of our new reality. One of our family values is “we’re on the same team,” and we’ve leaned on that in these last few days. When Andy and I have had different opinions, we’ve reminded ourselves we’re on the same team. When the kids have gotten frustrated at the new situation, we’ve asked them how they can work together as one team. It doesn’t mean we can’t have disagreements, but it means we take a united approach. And reminding ourselves of that is really helpful.

Explicitly adapt your norms — the day-to-day; spoken-and-unspoken; written-and-unwritten ways that you go about your work. The “how” of your work.

Hopefully, your organization has norms and values in place and clearly communicated. Even so, those norms will need to change while we’re trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few things you must not forget to address with your team:

  • The way you communicate: if you team is going totally remote, outline exactly what type of communication requires email vs. phone calls vs. Zoom meetings vs. text messages. Limit the ambiguity about how you communicate with each other and collaborate to get work done.
  • How you keep a record of your work: does your team need to track hours? Do they need to be working during set hours each day, or is there flexibility? This is a great time to test out “outcome focused” work: instead of keeping people who do knowledge work on a set number of hours required each day, make sure everyone is clear on the outcomes for the week, day, or project and give them the freedom to accomplish that outcome on their own time.
  • How you want to be available for collaboration and synergy: this is unchartered territory. You may want to set hours you want your team to be available to collaborate; but remember you are likely to bump up against competing priorities while your team works from home (a spouse who also works, while everyone is trying to figure out what to do with kids). Be flexible, be compassionate, and be realistic.

Nobody likes to micromanage, but it’s more important than ever to be clear with your team about what is expected of them.

  • How many times a day should they check their email–do you need them to be on email all day, or could checking in a few times be enough?
  • How do you prefer people to manage children at home, if possible (knowing this is a less-than-ideal situation for everybody)?
  • At MatchPace one of our everyday norms is that we don’t try to take care of kids and work at the same time — you aren’t really doing either well. We ask people to not join team calls if they have to also be tending to children. Well, guess what? That’s not realistic right now. We’ve explicitly changed our norm that it’s alright to have kids in the background. We’ll change it back when social distancing is over and everyone can return to school and work, but for now — we’re adapting. And being really clear about it.
  • Are there times you don’t want your team working–times they can unplug each day? And if there are different norms for different roles and positions, be clear about who needs to do what so there is as little miscommunication as possible.

Finally, a few more things to keep in mind as you adjust your norms over the next few weeks (and hopefully no longer):

  • Send a note to your clients–while there are lots of people mocking the stream of “our approach to Covid-19” emails from any place you ever gave your email address to, your clients do need to know what you’re doing (and of course, you’re taking them into account when you are setting your new pace). If you feel silly sending a mass email, have each client lead email the client directly.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate–as a leader, you are a “center of gravity” in your organization. Don’t just say “let me know if you need anything” — reach out first, and ask the other leaders in your organization to do the same. Be available, even if it seems like there’s not much to talk about.
  • Pilot anything. Explain that this first week will just be a time of figuring things out: connectivity, people figuring out what’s happening at their own homes, etc. While you’d love to be able to set a definitive pace we are all gathering information and need to adjust as we go. The pace we test out this week may not be perfect, and you may tweak it next week or again next month if this goes on longer than we’re expecting.
  • Don’t ignore the realities facing your workforce. Fear, uncertainty, having children home all day… acting like it’s “business as usual” will not make those things go away.
  • Once again, be patient and be gracious. Give your team this week to get a handle on orienting themselves, keeping an eye toward adjusting your pace as long as we’re living in this new reality.

This is all new. And we’re here with you if you need help. We’ll be back at the end of the week with tips on managing remote work. We’ll also write about being a good neighbor, and we’ll even look ahead to transitioning back to “normal” after the danger of transmission has reduced/subsided.

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