emotional flexibility

Pandemic Opens up Talk about Asynchronous Communication, 4-day Work Week, ‘Emotional Flexibility’

Micromanagers and coronavirus don’t go well together, not when remote work and flexible office policies are the buzzwords these days. Even in San Jose, CA, where reporting for work was the norm before the pandemic, global mobility managers are offering remote positions. People wonder what could happen in this quiet, sparse city when the rest of the world is packed to brimming?

Well, cities are discovering it’s not about how sporadic human contact is when COVID-19 is still surging ahead, whether cities are dense or not. 

Thus, companies are now forced to do what has become the most elaborate remote work experiment. This early, though, companies like Twitter are no longer waiting it out. It has now offered employees to work remotely until further notice, maybe even permanently for a long period of time.

Offices have hopefully created systems of communication and collaboration that allows them to work without stepping foot in their cubicle and enjoying the perks of free coffee, snacks, and meals. This flexible office policy now begs the question if employees are going to be working productively or not. 

Still, those who’ve seen more productive work with their assignees — because there are fewer meetings to hold, non-existent commuting — are thinking if a four-day workweek is not such a bad idea, after all. Companies should be able to find out in a matter of time. This would be a win-win solution for both employers and employees, given that office maintenance would cost less, if rent is not factored in and commuting is out.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After months of isolation and/or self-imposed quarantine, there has been a noticeable number of people coming out in droves and going to public spaces. It’s a normal reaction, even if wrong. Cooped-up at home, people long for human contact.

Also, companies won’t probably give up office spaces, even if they’re too expensive for their own good, as doing remote work may be possible to do in a week, but impossible to sustain forever, especially if the vaccine comes out late this year. Still, it’s good for companies to have a remote infrastructure in place for good measure.

Companies and global mobility managers are finding out that their assignees have resorted to their own work schedules. Some work at night, others are comfortable doing work at 5 a.m. This is common among expats who follow their country of origin’s time zone. Would employers be as flexible with regard to work time? 

Asynchronous work style

Buffer PR head Hailley Griffis called it asynchronous communication, acknowledging the fact that work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone. “For example, you might write updates for a teammate so that they have all of the information they need to respond to you or do their work, but you don’t necessarily expect them to reply immediately.”

Asynchronous communication can be adopted especially for companies with people that work across multiple time zones. 

For perspective, in a pre-pandemic world, the opposite was the norm. Regular in-person or video meetings expected quick responses.  But even a remote worker noticed how meetings have become flexible, “Those long meetings at the office, they’ve gotten shorter.’ 

She even finds it even funny how Zoom’s imposed free conference-call limit of 40 minutes for 40 people has made meetings more focused on the tasks at hand, with less of the chit-chat that happens at the office, just so the company doesn’t pay to use Zoom. And yes, dirty office politics has been curbed somewhat. 

For those open to asynchronous communication, Griffs recommends using Twist and Threads. Twist offers a full switch to asynchronous communication and replaces both Slack and internal email as a full communications tool. Threads integrates with Slack to allow for quick, urgent, synchronous conversations on Slack and longer, more detailed, asynchronous conversations on Threads.

Working remotely also means that employers and assignees alike need to work with a results-based mentality. At Buffer, an individual will reportedly set projects and goals with their manager and have regular check-ins during their one-on-ones to share progress on those projects and goals. Their manager holds them accountable to their deadlines.

Of course, flexible office policies imply trust. A Harvard Business Review research posits, “The effect of trust on self-reported work performance was powerful. Respondents whose companies were in the top quartile indicated they had 106 percent more energy and were 76 percent more engaged at work than respondents whose firms were in the bottom quartile. They also reported being 50 percent more productive.” 

Before, the most important soft skill in recruiting was communication, but it’s now been usurped by flexibility. 

Still, assignees may find themselves challenged by home distractions, largely attributed to the ubiquitous presence of their social network, TV, couch or refrigerator.  It’s also hard for assignees who are not motivated to work at home — or why else would coffee shops be full of people working or studying before this virus kept us at home?! 

Staying focused can indeed be very challenging in these anxious times. To maintain some equilibrium and complement your new found asynchronous management style, Forbes suggests the following:

1. Offer cognitive flexibility that gives employees leeway to think for themselves

It’s important for managers not to assume a “parental” role. When an employee is faced with a particular task, it’s their responsibility to analyze the problem from different angles and propose a solution.  

To accomplish this, employees should be asking themselves questions such as:

• Can I assess the problem in a different way?

• Does this task have other ways of implementation?

• What needs to be done in order to achieve a better result?

• What change should be considered given the circumstances?

2. Offer behavioral flexibility to break monotony

Cultivate flexibility through a wage system based on one of four models:

• Fixed price plus participation in income

• Fixed price plus participation in profits

• One-time remuneration for achievements

• Remuneration commensurate with qualifications and education

This is to create an environment that breaks up the monotony and actualizes employee awareness, energy and focus.

3. Highlight emotional flexibility on career growth

The traditional (and more direct) strategy is to inform and educate staff by engaging them in corporate PR channels and highlighting the impact that emotional flexibility has on career growth. The indirect strategy is to delegate more freedom to employees, increasing their involvement in the decision-making process. 

Of course, developing flexibility does not necessarily guarantee immediate results. Time will tell.