Our guest, Tennille Gruman, shares their experience of lockdown, furlough, and people management, and considers the risks to knowledge management.
Oh quarantine… what can I say about you? You’ve made me spend so much time with my dogs, they’ve started to talk back. I’ve watched absolutely everything on Netflix – and I mean everything – I’m now speaking with an English-Spanish-French-German accent. I also overwatered and killed a houseplant, which I’m told is extremely hard to do, but my attention had to go somewhere, right?
What I haven’t done yet is work. I was at Hilton for three months when I was furloughed in March. Then at the end of June I was laid off, along with thousands of my friends and colleagues. During this time off, I’ve been eager to return to work but also constantly wondered what it will be like returning to an 8 to 5 schedule from the comfort of my own home. How do people stay engaged, busy, and alert when they’re at home 24/7?
In my previous roles, one of the biggest positives at all the companies I worked for, was an amazing company culture. I think of company culture as an established combination of environment, values, and vision. A few things I value as an employee are:
- frequent and honest leadership communication
- collaborative workspace and technology
- a wide variety of wellbeing and learning opportunities, and
- a rewarding environment where recognition is meaningful and constant.
So now that many jobs are virtual and company leaders know colleagues can be productive virtually, how does this impact company culture? What changes and what stays the same? How do you keep people engaged and excited about working for your company? And how do you continue to promote your culture virtually? I think a few things should be considered (this is by no means an exhaustive list).
In March 2017, Professor Robert Kelly was being interviewed by the BBC from his home when his children interrupted the video call and, well, the rest is history. This is now reality for all of us. How interesting that three years ago some nervously laughed at Mr. Kelly’s embarrassment, but how quickly we’ve accepted it all now. In this virtual world, people will have to become more personal and informal at work. Dogs, kids, or partners will interrupt meetings. Colleagues now see what your home looks like. This new world has forced us to be comfortable sharing a bit of our home lives to colleagues that we ordinarily might not have. Organisations which have said ‘bring your whole self to work’ are now truly living it.
As a manager, I’ve always been interested in the people working for me. I want them to tell me what’s happening in their lives, just as I will tell them about mine. It creates a trusted relationship where I can constructively engage and challenge them. Last week, a friend told me one of the leaders in her organisation has started to hold ‘virtual office hours’ for her team. Team members join the video call for
a few minutes to not just talk work but also talk life. Her leader was surprised to know two, long-term, direct reports have families just like hers. How are we just now learning about these things? In this new world, I suggest this is a great way of building strong teams – find out who works for you, where they come from, and what interests they have – and you can find new ways to engage your virtual workforce. What practices or activities have you seen your company, your team, or your peers adopt?
In reading Martin Whites’ article on experts leaving the company and taking their knowledge with them, I started to think not only how knowledge management meets information management, but wondering where culture management fits in. For companies planning to restructure or reduce their workforce owing to COVID-19, now is the time to rapidly collect knowledge in order to avoid a negative impact on culture.
When experts leave with their knowledge, employee engagement and productivity can suffer for those left behind. At Target we had several file repositories of course, but we also had an internal wiki which had oodles of information which anyone could update, as well as a well-used social platform. Our user base was well trained on how to hashtag and @mention, through our change champions and ongoing learning opportunities. In 2015, when over three-thousand were laid-off (including yours truly), those left behind had various systems to search through for answers. What are you doing to ensure you’re collecting knowledge? How are you helping employees deal with any survivors’ guilt, and additional workload?
We’ve been abruptly forced to drastically change how we live and work. We didn’t go through the change curve over time – we were forced to accept the upheaval within a matter of days. However, acceptance doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity or engagement. As individual contributors, people managers, and C-level executives, we must embrace this ever-changing environment at work. How do we contribute effectively? How do we share knowledge to deliver results? How do we help others stay engaged? How do we lead change? Such concerns must inform our plans and approach to people and processes.
One silver lining through all of this is that everyone is being forced to change; we’re all keenly aware that so many things are unknown and in need of addressing. The key is to embrace change rather than fight against it. Let’s use this power, collectively, to continue to push ourselves to deliver great results. Never has it been more important to embrace a growth mindset – to try new things, learn new skills, face challenges head-on – all with the help of your colleagues, friends, and family. We’ve already come this far, why not go further? Let’s put this forced momentum for change to good use and actively create the culture we want to embody in this new world.
Exceptional leader with 14+ years of diverse experience in retail, legal, agricultural, and hospitality industries. Passion for people and culture; technology adoption; and change management.
Connect with Tennille on LinkedIn.