I remember as a kid, my parents went to the grand openings of neighborhood businesses that advertised a “give-away.” They grew up in the depression and the idea of a free two-slice toaster, iron, clock, cake cutter, jar opener, or little league replica baseball bat was a big deal. We would excitedly pack the car and head off to a bank for their grand opening celebration in anticipation of “another” freebie. Once we arrived, we had to stay through the entire event. This typically included a welcome, introductions, speeches, ribbon cutting, and a tour of the facility because to get the prize, “you must be present to win!” If you were not present when they pulled your number out of the hat, they pulled another number. No toaster for you! We did not know anyone at the bank, we did not even have an account, but the lure of the free gift was overwhelming. Year after year we would repeat this activity, and the phrase “you must be present to win” was indelibly etched in my brain.

Fast forward, many years, and many freebies later, I continued to replay that phrase in my head. I grew up believing this phrase referred to “presents” and quickly realized it referred to “presence and showing up.” In business, it meant you must be “there” to add value and ensure your boss and peers knew you were committed to and made a difference in the job and organization. I did not win a radio or a two-slice toaster! Now, the outcomes were much more significant: learning, growing, moving up the ranks, and gaining the benefits that went along with this. For most people, the work experience offered no alternative to the “you must be present to win” concept. Depending on the industry, work-from-home was not an option. Technology was not as robust, and leaders and managers had a difficult time understanding how an employee could be productive and achieve results if not present and closely managed. Cutting edge companies filled with Generations Y and Z have had success, but the traditional workforce may have said, “That is for those young people!”

THAT IS, UNTIL NOW!!

The businesses and leaders who were saying “that will never happen in my company”, and we are not going to “go there”, have been forced to change. We have been thrust into the future of work, and we have had no choice! The good news is that many organizations have adapted, and it has been business as normal for their customers. Yes, the kids, dogs, and lawn guys may be present, but people have been productive, achieved results, and the business has continued. People are learning how to maneuver their job from home. Many comment that they are happy with no commute, less expense for gas and tolls, their brand of coffee, and the ability to be more causal and relational with others. I have participated in Zoom calls and toured homes and offices, seen pictures of family, met kids, and learned to love Zorba the cat as he walks across the computer keyboard.

We have now experienced a complete flip/flop of the phrase “you must be present to win”. Over the last few months, we have been cloistered and we have had to “not be present to win.” Our prize is our health and the safety and well-being of those we love and care for.

Leaders are now having to reassess their previous methods for guiding a team. Authenticity, vulnerability, and trust are not a statement for a mission, plaque, or training program. These qualities are vital in today’s reality. We have been invited into people’s homes and have met their family and furry friends, and our relationships have become more casual and real. There is no “going back.” We may physically return to the office, but our relationships have evolved. This is the “new normal.”

I recently spoke with a person asking for career advice. Her company moved all employees to work-from-home and established stringent rules to manage this change. She must be visible, in front of her computer, for 56 minutes per hour. The employees are being monitored and reprimanded if they walk away at any time, they must “be present to win”. I asked if the employees were monitored while physically in the office? She said, “No, they think we will not work while at home. I run to the bathroom for fear of being reprimanded. Are they monitoring my work, or is it a gotcha? I used to love working at the company, but now it is apparent they do not trust us. I am thankful to have a job, but I will leave as soon as I find something else.”

If people are present, are you setting them up to win? Leaders and businesses must evolve, or the result may be low morale, and negative impact on service, revenue, and profit.

What is a leader to do? Here are some tips.
– Believe the employees you hired have the integrity to do the job they were hired to do. If you do not believe that the employee will do the work at home, you need to clarify and reassess the performance of the employee.
– Touch base with employees daily or weekly depending on the position. Ask how they are doing? Encourage open dialogue. Answer questions, and set expectations regarding outcomes. The job may have changed due to these unusual circumstances. If you do not discuss these shifts in process, product, etc., the employee will work the way they always have. It is up to the leader to communicate the changes.
– Leaders have typically thought they had to have the answers to all questions and be knowledgeable to manage and control the team and ensure the outcome. Currently, no one is in control, and no one has all the answers. Be vulnerable and honest. The leader can respond by saying, “This is what I know right now.” Day-to-day information and insight may cause the response to change tomorrow.
– Coach employees and/or identify solutions to teach them how to work-from-home.
When I first started in quarantine, I had a difficult time focusing on one task and making any progress. I would walk the dogs, plant flowers, get coffee, and work on anything that captured my attention. Now, I identify a task and set a timer for 20 minutes to work nonstop on that one task with no excuses or distractions. My productivity and results have increased significantly.
– Some employees are used to open concept environments and miss the camaraderie of others. Arrange a virtual meeting room for employees to visit. The employee can turn off the volume on their computer to avoid distraction, do their work, and “see others” to not feel as alone or remote.
– Recognize accomplishments and replicate team meetings with virtual celebration, lunch, or happy hour.

This is a new and different experience for everyone, we are all in this together.

“This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.”
Winston S. Churchill

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