Working Remotely…or not remotely working!

As Covid-19, despite the amusing conspiracy theorists’ wishes, proved to actually be a “thing”, it almost immediately shifted the work landscape for millions of people. That is, for those who didn’t get laid off or furloughed, and my heart goes out to them. Or US because it eventually included me as well! But one of the things I found interesting is that a skills set became mandatory seemingly overnight–the ability to work effectively from home. I recall, years ago, ads promising that you could make great money at home, “in your underwear.” Well, if you already had a white collar job, Covid seems to have made that a reality.

For many of us, this was the first time we’d worked outside an office, at least in the professional arena. (Paper routes and lemonade stands don’t count.) For many of us, it has been incredibly challenging. For one thing, logging onto our computer was the nearest thing to “showing up” at the office. Then producing measurable work became the measuring stick applied to our productivity. For some of us, this was nothing new and we adapted fine. For example, in my “day job” of Cybersecurity, I’ve either worked from a home office or from a customer’s site (usually a combination, though the ratio would shift according to the project) for the past fifteen years. Being “locked down” in a home office for work only meant for me not having to fly to some remote location once a week. If that sounds in the slightest bit glamorous, trust me: you’d lose that attitude really quickly after the second week of it. But with the pandemic spreading across America, employers everywhere recognized the liability involved in hosting daily “superspreader” events in their offices, and as a nation, we began shifting toward turning everyday employees into “remote workers”.

There are hundreds of logistical concerns in supporting such a thing, but this article is about the people, the “remote workers”, ourselves. There are a multitude of concerns we had to face and as the employee, it’s truly on us to either find the resources within ourselves or locate them elsewhere. I met quite a few people who did neither and have struggled in this “new normal” environment.

Before we delve into that, I want to mention an experience I had a couple years ago which I feel is very relevant. I was working at a company that had discovered the cost savings of smaller offices, remote employees. A few I noticed at that point had already made the shift as it simply saved them money. For employees who were psychologically prepared for it, this was a good thing. As a cybersecurity architect, someone who designs security solutions with combinations of products my employer sells, and tailors it to the customer’s specific needs, I supported several Sales teams. Most did very well in this remote arrangement, where most of the time we were in a home office, then once every week or two, we’d fly out to a customer site and deliver a presentation and help them solve a problem.

The de-facto standard for Customer Relationship Management in the industry is Salesforce.com, and that’s what this company used. I mined it daily for new opportunities, to track our progress on existing opportunities, and to determine whether anyone’s services had been neglected. Simply put, most security breaches occur for less-than-sexy reasons. They’re not due, most of the time, to some brilliant hacker in Russia executing his hack between chess moves. No, most of the time, it’s a simple software or hardware vulnerability that hasn’t been patched. The sad part is that most of the time, the patch exists, but has not yet been applied.

I was studying the activity pipeline for one salesperson and reached out to her, wanting to set up a time for a strategy call. Her calendar wasn’t available, which I thought was odd. She answered, but was “busy”. I became excited, thinking she might have found an opportunity in her activity book, but she said, “No, I’m making dinner.” This was at 2PM in both our time zone.

“Fine,” I said, “what’s a good time tomorrow morning to review strategy?” (Notice my presupposition of “tomorrow morning”–if you leave it too open-ended, you have no idea when or if the other person will make time.)

“Um, let me look at my calendar and I’ll get back to you.”

I waited a couple of days, as I had other teams to support, before I followed up. She was again busy. This time doing laundry. I’m very respectful of “family time”, so to be clear, each time I called was well within business hours. And after “pinging” her on our corporate instant messaging application, and getting no reply. When I got through, I asked her what was going on, as I’d tried to reach her many times during business hours to talk business. Though she always seemed to be busy with something unrelated to that business.

Rather than give her a hard time, I just asked her to give me 30 minutes of “strategic-planning time”–not even right then. I wanted her clear-headed. She agreed and we had the call the following afternoon. “What is it about this job that you love?” I said.

She apparently wasn’t expecting that. “Well, um, I like the challenge. Making the customers happy. And of course, the money.” But something interesting happened when she said that. On “money”, her voice lit up, almost like it was dull and monotone until that one word…and then her voice sparkled. There was something about “money” that was special for her. The trick here is to remember that abstract concepts almost never are the actual reward. You ask a kid whether he’s happy to get a gold star in his first grade class and he may be ecstatic, jumping out of his chair, as he shouts, “YES!” But is it the foil star itself that got him so excited? Of course not. The same as it wasn’t pieces of paper with ink drawings of notable deceased dignitaries that excited her. Or you and me.

Instead, it’s about meaning. What does that gold star, or the money, mean to us? We get a great feeling when we receive it, sure. But that’s due to what receiving it means to us. We as humans do far better in achieving our goals once we understand the “why” of that goal, what it means to us, and focusing on that.

I asked her about this and as is often the case with a question we don’t often consider, she didn’t know. “Okay,” I said, “let’s just say you close a big deal this quarter–next week, in fact. What are your plans for that commission? What will the money do for you?” (Naturally, to get an answer in a situation like this, you must first develop solid rapport with the person. Keep digging around this site if that’a a new concept to you. It’s a big one.) She became very excited and started rattling off the plans she and her husband had, the things they wanted to buy. “We want a boat to take out on the lake! And we’ll need a trailer for that, probably a bigger truck, and—” She was quite animated with their plans for the money.

The next step was simple, connecting those plans with her upcoming activity (or lack thereof). “You’ve got me really excited about this boat, I’ve got to say,” I told her. “Any chance that once you get it, you might take a group of friends and/or coworkers out on the lake with you…?”

I did some visualization with her, then ran a technique called the New Behavior Generator with her. From that point on, she was so hungry, so motivated, that she was interfering in my work with other teams! She became quite demanding. “I’ve got a Fortune 100 client today, they want 1PM CST, and your calendar is open. Can I have that slot? This is going to be a very big deal!” Her enthusiasm was almost jarring.

It was a “real” change, too, not merely a fluke. She was kicking butt every day and a week or so later, her manager called me, asking what I said to her.

“Why?” I asked, genuinely surprised.

“Because she was bombing. You probably didn’t know, but she was on a PIP.” A Personal Improvement Plan, as innocuous as that sounds, is generally a precursor to firing a low performer. The pretense of trying to help is, from what I’ve seen, merely to make HR feel better about letting someone go. “Surely you notice her minimal activity?”

“I did, and we had a talk about it, a week ago.”

“Well, that’s why I’m calling. She went from being ‘no measurable activity’ to ‘hardcore hustler’ in a day or two. She’s blowing our metrics up and advanced her sales pipeline massively. I even checked with a few of her customers because I didn’t believe it. But they’re also feeling her newfound enthusiasm and hustle. So I asked her about it. She just went, ‘Meh, Chris and I had a talk and wow, there’s something to the way he helps you think about your results. Hey, gotta go, I have a hundred calls to make!’ Gingolph, what the hell did you say and how can I get you to say it to all my people?!”

That felt wonderful, of course. Not like a gold star, but instead for being recognized for having a positive impact. But the better part was the activity that came out of her team from that point on. And of course it also translated into money, which is nice. She and her husband did get that boat. And the trailer. And the truck. And–there was no end.

My point to all this is that without some kind of intervention, someone like that would have failed horribly in the remote worker arrangement, a la Covid. And she’s not alone. I’m hearing statistics from companies every day, suggesting that they see this problem all the time. Add to that the additional stress employees find themselves facing because this is one, prolonged, natural disaster. The environmental stress we’re under would have been unimaginable a year ago. I’m working on a book, based on research and a survey started several years ago, in which I explore the impact of this stress on a relationship as couples strive to remain focused during this time. Remaining effective in our work, when working from home, is hard enough under those conditions, when we do possess ambition and self-discipline.

Without it…? This time could become a nightmare scenario for some, and this would be the time to retool, take an inventory of our skills and to be brutally honest: What else do we need to develop in order to be successful? Then we need to find the resources, locate the trainer, coach, the book, maybe a class or even a series of YouTube videos to help us develop those resources.

Remember that everything is possible with the right strategy. It’s time to figure out what strategies you’ve lacked and commit to developing them. I’m happy to help as are many dedicated consultants and therapists of every variety.

Though begin by not just asking what skills you must develop to survive…consider instead…

What would it take in order for you to prosper, flourish, succeed as you never would have imagined?

Copyright © 2020 Chris Gingolph

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