Pre–COVID-19 research on working from home highlights the challenge of how loneliness and isolation take an emotional toll, which in turn, impacts productivity.
Most pre-pandemic working from home situations were short term and often viewed as a bit of freedom; get the job done and if you wanted to walk the dog, you walked the dog.
Today’s world is much different. By the time you read this, many of you will have been working from home for four weeks or more, without a clear “light” at the end of the tunnel. Many of you are even doing so with children, which has created a unique set of challenges.
One might assume that after a month of working from home productive routines would have developed. However, unpredictable environmental factors continue to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into our productive routines.
Here’s a handful of the examples that have come to my attention:
- 3-year-old eating NyQuil pills thinking they were candy while Mom is talking to a client;
- 6-year-old in his underwear running back and forth behind Dad, who was trying to lead a Zoom team meeting;
- 4-year-old frantically attempting to FaceTime his Dad, using Dad’s iPad, who was conducting a Zoom meeting on his laptop with 50 members of his team—causing the entire Zoom meeting connection to be lost;
- Redundant client contact (multiple team members calling without coordinating);
- Email responses not always shared;
- Kids fighting—kids get hurt;
- Kids arguing inside your home office; and
- Scheduled conference calls not always top of mind.
I could go on, but you get the idea. These distractions go beyond the typical working from home routine and, in many instances, appear to have become routine. Yet, we’re still expected to carry on as if nothing could interfere.
I realize that many veteran financial advisors are like me, empty nesters, hence the working from home routine is likely free from many of the above distractions, but what about their team members? My last two conversations with an Oechsli Institute associate sounded like I was talking to someone in a day care center—kids crying, spouse audibly trying to instill calm and my associate haggard to the max. If you can’t relate, I’d wager that you’ve got a team member or two who can.
So what’s the solution?
I don’t think there’s a “one size fits all” answer to this challenge. That said, there are a few things that can be done to bring a bit of esprit de corps to your team during these unprecedented times.
Team leaders (senior financial advisors) should look in the mirror and have an honest assessment of their working from home situation—most will admit to a variety of distractions. The idea is to identify what, if anything, is interfering with the desired level of performance. Be specific, this has a dual purpose:
- Help deal with the distractions;
- Provide a leadership tool
Create a list of your distractions and complete your action plan for dealing with each item listed. Make this an agenda item for your next virtual team meeting. Start by addressing the issue (feel free to use this article to set the stage). Once you’ve set the stage, get personal—share the list you’ve written, complete with action plans. This lets everyone know “we’re all in this together”—you understand their challenges and none of this will be a “black mark” on anyone’s performance review. You want to project empathy.
Rather than have everyone discuss their environmental factors during the team meeting, which could get chaotic and humorous, but not overly productive—give everyone a homework assignment: identify and list their distractions, complete with an action plan. Let everyone know that personal follow-up calls will be scheduled over the next 24 hours.
Focus on strengthening your emotional connection with each personal call. You want “heartfelt” honesty. There’s a tendency for people to tell their boss what they think he wants to hear. Remind them that none of this discussion will impact their performance reviews. You don’t want anyone sugarcoating their working from home distractions.
The objective behind this reboot is to improve productivity, demonstrate you care about your team and project a leadership mindset while combatting the loneliness, isolation and distractions everyone is facing in today’s world of working from home.
Matt Oechsli is author of How to Build a 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing, and Retaining Affluent Clients. www.oechsli.com