Back in 1999, the Budweiser ‘Whassup?’ was a gamechanger for the beer brand. Have a look. Whether you’ve seen it before or not, there’s a lot to learn, and some of it is directly applicable to the situation we’re in now…
The ad was based on friends of its creators, who fully expected the roles would be played by actors in the filmed piece. Only, it didn’t work. Those actors lacked the shared history – and associated emotions – giving the catchphrase genuine emotion. So the agency turned to that group of friends to make the ad and their celebration of real friendship helped redefine a beer for a new audience.
That ad campaign came from a ritual conducted largely over the phone. There’s a lot to learn from it which applies to people working from home.
There is something very different about working from home rather than being based in a building with colleagues, where delineated spaces, times, and dress codes help underpin relationships and the ways work is done.
Being able to see the faces of colleagues on whatever communication apps you’re using while juggling domestic situations, and learning new project management tools as you go, is very helpful.
Realise you will be intruding into parts of a colleague’s life that you may be unaware of, and that impacts their ability to perform as they and you would prefer. The same goes the other way round, too…
Those moments where you’ve felt intruded on, when a communication has been at the wrong time for reasons you can’t share (even if doing so might be a good idea)… we’re all experiencing those. Relax. We’re in this together.
Beyond personal and interpersonal issues which are more or less familiar but now have a new aspect, many find the situations we’re experiencing are creating stresses of a kind and scale they’re not used to. That can be around personal finances, global politics, the environment, or sense of identity. For others, assuming things will be the same is in itself a strain. All of these factors tap into core aspects of who we are that typically don’t factor into how the business of business is done.
Those existential questions are ones many of us have not confronted in our lives before. Yet, there is still to be done. Approach now as a time to reconsider how that might look in ways which will be beneficial when normality of a new sort emerges. There is the potential to thrive.
Power exists to a large extent when people implicitly acknowledge it. That’s easier in a controlled setting such as a workplace. When we ask people to work at home at a time when they’re experiencing tensions and living through a crisis, the importance of being respectful becomes more apparent than is often the case.
The reason viral videos of toddlers interrupting news pieces by journalists working from home are popular is in recognition that the child’s legitimate need for attention shows no respect for social convention. Balancing such demands with the desire to meet business outcomes when supply chains and other networks are struggling calls for flexibility, tolerance, and humour.
The ways we have of working together can be thought of as rules, some formal and others informal. We’d all agree on what some of them are, and others are more or less unspoken. That doesn’t make them bad, it just means there are codes people follow without being asked to. Another way to think about them, which can be particularly useful at this point, as rituals.
A ritual is a way we organise the world for ourselves. Putting on particular clothes, going to a specific place, to meet people and work towards achieving agreed outcomes together – that’s the stuff of tribes of all sorts, business ones included.
Changing the location where much of the activity happens creates other changes, often unwelcome and with unintended consequences…ritual can help redress the balance.
Another species of meme that has caught on is the person working from home who dresses in business attire from the waist up as it can be seen on video calls, with more unorthodox (but nevertheless more comfortable) loungewear for the bit that’s off camera.
That prompts us to think about rituals: what can you do to honour your professional identity while at the same time respecting the reality of your current context? Preferably in a way that means we aren’t confusing ourselves and the roles we want to be able to play in the different contexts.
Think through the professional and personal demands of your day aware that you’ll be fielding both, as will those you’re in contact with. What are some reminders of the work environment that you can incorporate into your set-up at home?
- Items of clothing?
- Particular pens, notebooks?
- A work-related screensaver?
- A certificate for a course done with colleagues?
Create the habit of using, wearing, or having those reminders only when you’re working. When you’re not, put them to one side. Be scrupulous about that. And when you switch to your home self, include something from other parts of your life – family, loved ones, hobbies. In returning to work mode, remove it.
By respecting that we’re all operating under different conditions, with different pressures, the ability to keep working can be sustained or is possible. What’s required is flexibility and tolerance.
Many people are reporting they have less energy available. It makes sense. A lot of what we take for granted has been shaken, which has consequences. Respect that. Find out what helps you recharge, and do so when you need to. Make that need clear to colleagues: it matters.
- Is there a space you can access where you can have time to yourself when you need?
- Is there something enjoyable you can occupy yourself with that will get you on track? Listening to music? Playing a computer game? Phoning a non-work friend? Getting affection from a pet?
- What’s the quickest way you know to improve the way you feel? Through exercise? Running upstairs? Stretching arms, eyes, mouth as much as you can? Breathing through your nose slowly into your belly 10 times? A quick meditation?
Respect the way that you work in this slightly novel setting, and do the same for others. Yes, there’s much that’s changed. Acknowledge that. Be gentler with yourself and others. Taking that approach into the future will enable you to achieve more of what you want in changing circumstances, and accept that the plans you’ve had to date may need more regular updating than you’re used to. That’s a win: given a choice between calibrating to reality, and sticking with an outmoded vision, there is no choice.