Your new productive three-hour workday

I ran up the stairs with about five minutes to go before show-time.

Door opened, I stepped into my studio.  Curtains closed to shut out the unpredictable natural light, I switched on the two lamps set to frame either side of my face. I turned toward the camera and smiled. Not a memory from my CNN reporting days, this is a scene many of you are now familiar with.  It’s time for another working from home “live-shot.”

Over the past eight weeks or so, (I’ve lost count), my bedroom has transformed into a broadcast center. Yes, there’s still a bed, but it’s positioned out of web-camera range. What is in the “shot” behind me as I stand, not sit, in front of the screen facing “my audience,” is my wooden dresser. But now the jumble of assorted framed family photos once scattered on top of it, has been removed.  Instead, there’s a crystal vase full of flowers which I refresh every week. On the wall above the dresser, where the vase now rests, there used to hang a large round mirror. That’s been replaced by a large round, orange foamboard logo of my company, the Language of Leadership. You see, as much as I could manage during this ongoing time of working from home, I’ve gone professional. I’ve got staging. I’ve got branding.

But don’t let my sentimental harkening back to my days as an intrepid TV correspondent, fool you. I don’t have a producer helping me get organised. There’s no director in a gallery or control room counting down time in my earpiece.  There’s no live-shot tech-engineer ensuring the link to “the bird” (aka the satellite) is connected. While we’ve all become broadcasters now in the time of Zoom, Google Meet, WebX and Whathaveyou, we are largely doing this on our own. From our homes.

For all those reasons and more, I freely confess, I get distracted. When standing in my “studio,” for instance, I glance down and notice the carpet could use vacuuming.  Between my live-shots, I know I should do important follow-up work. Client reports and proposals should be written. Presentation decks should be created or revised.  Invoices should be reviewed. The list is always endless.  But instead of attending to the list, I impulsively decide to grab that vacuum or shove a load of laundry in the wash.  Or maybe I go check in on my preteen daughter who’s been ensconced in her own bedroom studio entirely too long making a seemingly endless stream of TikTok videos.

I end up putting off paperwork until late in the evening or setting the alarm and working extremely early in the morning. My workday seems meandering and disjointed. I need professional help!

Enter Niamh Brady, mother of one-year-old Emily, recovering workaholic and productivity coach.

“Covid 19 has given workaholics the perfect place to hide and people who aren’t motivated an excuse to not do anything,” Niamh tells me. “Productivity paralysis can set in. Either you’re overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time or you’re underwhelmed with not enough to do and plenty of options. I help people have better workdays,” Niamh tells me.

“Yes, please,” I implore. “So, what do we need to do?”

1) Understand your number one priority

“Really knowing what your job is, is what it comes down to,” Niamh says. “The first thing in time management is to know who you are and what you have to do. Whether you manage time broadly or in 15-minute increments, I create a weekly outcome matrix. Put three outcomes at the top and the three things you need to do to get that result. This helps focus.”

2) Understand how much time you really spend on work

“Research shows we only spend about three hours a day in ‘deep work.’ The rest is meetings and checking e-mail. You can accomplish a lot in three hours,” advises Niamh. “Don’t hide in your laptop until you burn yourself out. Do work for three hours. But set your timer for 25 minutes, then go make a cup of coffee. We’re not robots, give your brain time to relax and have fun. Check your Facebook. Then go back for another 25 minutes. If you know what your job is and you have your three hours, you can still get your job done and put in your wash.”

3) Arrive at and depart from your “office”

For those of us still working from home, Niamh recommends the power of ritual to better define your workday. “Come into your office in the morning,” Niamh says, meaning literally go outside and enter through your front door. “At the end of the day, do something similar. Leave your ‘office’ and come back into your ‘home.’ Put a pillowcase over your computer so you don’t see ‘work’. You have to or work can seep in.”

Separating home from work these days is a challenge. But necessary. Maybe I’ll move my bed from my “studio” to the garage.

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Advice for Graduates

Well, we’re nearly rounding month four of virtual world, my friends, and this past week my daughter marked one of life’s little milestones - virtually.  She and her other classmates celebrated their graduation from primary school on Thursday. On Zoom. Of course.

At this point, it’s become commonplace to conduct nearly everything in the virtual world.  Team meetings for colleagues, networking events for professionals, graduation ceremonies for students. Throughout these nearly four months, I’ve written extensively about the many adjustments business professionals and organisations are making to try to thrive in work, but I haven’t yet focused on the recent graduates.

Okay, not the sixth-graders out there. Kids, go put down your books (presuming you didn’t long ago), pick up your video game devices and enjoy summer. I’d simply urge you to go outside and play but if you’re like my daughter, that still involves video games. Curse you, portable Nintendo Switch.

Instead, I’m zeroing in today on the graduates from university. The ones, like my friend’s daughter in the US, who thought she had a job to look forward to, only to be told back in March at the start of Covid lockdowns, the offer was rescinded. Or the ones, like the UCC grad, who wrote to me on LinkedIn of how she is actively searching for jobs but receiving chilly receptions due to the cold realities of hiring freezes.

Even for the few jobs that are out there, the competition is fierce.  A friend of mine in the UK shared a screen shot with me this week of a Customer Service position being advertised.  At only £9 an hour, more than 800 people had applied for the role within moments of it being posted.

No matter what your age, if you’re feeling frozen out this summer, while I can’t offer you a job, I can offer you this advice.

1) Develop yourself

If you’re not actively working, perhaps you can actively expand your professional skills by taking an on-line course. At our home, for instance, we host a UCD economics master’s student visiting from India. Rather than return home during lockdown, Aishwarya (Aish) Patil chose to stay with us. Now that her course work has been completed – online, naturally – she has also chosen to enrol in University of  Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson’s five-hour, on-line lecture series, “Author Your Future,” designed to “help you understand your personality and what role you might want to have within your career.”

Earlier this month, I proudly launched my own online platform, “Language of Leadership,” which combines micro-videos with exercises that apply your knowledge to help you incrementally develop your abilities as an intentional communicator.

Each of these examples is affordable, which is an important consideration as you’re trying to expand yourself during this tightened economic time.

 

2) Network

There’s never been a better time to ask everyone, anyone, to connect. “We’re all in this together” as the lockdown saying goes, so leverage the inherent good will and reach out.  LinkedIn can be a gold mine, if you, like a miner, remain diligent and patient as you sift the sand for those glittering nuggets.

Target professionals in companies and areas of interest. Message them with thoughtful requests that demonstrate you’ve done your homework on them and their interests and make sure to also explain what makes you stand out.  Then, after someone connects with you, don’t go immediately in for the big request of an introduction or referral or, egads, some sort of job.  No. No.

If you want to ask someone for a virtual coffee for some “advice,” give it a go. But I suggest you tell them you’d only like 15 to 20 minutes and again, do your homework. Don’t just chat. Come prepared with a specific goal in mind and solid questions.

 

3) Be flexible

It may not be your dream job, but there are benefits to taking a part-time job that isn’t even close to your area of study.  Aish, who just agreed to tutor the three young children of a remote-working couple who live on our street, tells me plenty of her friends from her economics cohort are now working this way. “When you’re a student you’re protected by the system of college, but when you’re out in the job market you have to find a new way to be active,” Aish explains. “There are no more classes, no new homework submission. You need to get going and add structure to your day.”

She says some friends are at Amazon warehouses, sanitising and moving boxes.  Another friend is stocking at a Centra.  Remember, the fact that you landed any kind of job during this crazy time will not only give you a great story as you go on in your career, but it can also serve to demonstrate your flexibility and willingness to work to a future employer.

4) Pay attention to your mental and physical health

Along with the rest of us, the pressures associated with job search during a pandemic are intense. As much as possible, get regular exercise, keep a routine, eat healthy food and try to keep calm. Remain focused but also give yourself a break. This process will take time.

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Reentering our recreated workplaces

Late last month, after successfully launching astronauts into orbit, Elon Musk, company founder of SpaceX which manufactured the spacecraft propelling the two men upward to dock with the International Space Station, admitted a concern.

“The part I worry most about,” Musk told a reporter, “would be reentry.”

The astronauts are not set to return until the end of July at the earliest. Which makes me wonder on behalf of many of you, my dear readers, “When are you planning to return to your offices and are you worried?”

For months now, orbiting around new, unfamiliar work environments, we’ve been in similar situations, haven’t we? We’ve been at risk of floating aimlessly, so we needed to craft new ways of engaging, communicating, interviewing, motivating and, yes, parenting.  To keep us tethered. Grounded. Together.

Now that we are readying ourselves for reentry, what are we considering? How are we preparing? What are we feeling? From an employee perspective, our emotional coronacoaster likely careens from exhilaration at the thought of seeing colleagues again to anxiety around a virus that is still not contained. For a management point of view, it’s an interesting mixture of a desire to regain control combined with an understanding for flexibility.

1) Considering everything and everyone = more flexibility

“We have a once in a generational opportunity to design our new normal,” Amanda Zahringer told me as we recently Zoomed. As head of learning and development for one of Ireland’s largest law firms, ByrneWallace, she said she’s not surprised employees are responding to reentry in different ways.

“Some are really ready to move back into the office because they crave the social interaction or perhaps their workspace is more conducive for their work – like an animator who prefers a darkened studio with three screens,” Amanda explained. “Others are highly concerned, uncertain and not ready and that can be for any number of reasons: health, nerves, a parental responsibility or they may have discovered they thrive better from home.  We are reaching out to employees to find their preferences and align them with our legal requirements. We’ve expanded our mentoring and coaching programmes to a wider group of people because it moves them from being overwhelmed to overcoming. Communication is critical.”

In organisations with a combined workforce of essential employees and home workers, sensitivity to emotions is also important.  Liza O’Brien, HR Director of multi-national pharmaceutical company Ipsen, reminded me that their manufacturing facilities never closed. “We produce medicine in the supply chain and many of our employees got a great sense of pride from going to work every day knowing they were helping people.”

Managers will want to also help provide a sense of reassurance that the same level of safety precautions applied for manufacturing teams will be put in place in the office. Floor plans, desk configurations and other logistics need sorted.  “Because of social distancing, we won’t have the capacity to bring everyone else back in immediately,” Liza said. “Fortunately, flexibility is working and mental health remains a top priority.  We’re not monitoring hours. We’re seeing that working from home works. People are being trusted to do their workload. Now as we prepare to invite some team members back, we’re encouraging everyone to come forward and share. From every disaster there is opportunity.”

With a team of 150, Cubic Telecom’s Chief People Officer Gillian French echoed Liza and Amanda’s call for surveying every employee. “There’s a minute amount of details,” Gillian began, “We have a comprehensive plan with 75 steps to take before we get back into the office.  We are personally checking on everyone’s individual circumstances.”

 

2) People-first leadership approach = accelerated innovation and change

While companies juggle complexities of personal preferences, government policies and social safety protection, the result is a rapidly evolving post-pandemic workplace.

Avinash Nair, Learning Head for Lenovo’s Asia Pacific divisions who spoke to me from India last week, credits their leaders for setting cultures that encourage accelerated change. “It’s significantly different when you have managers who put people first, who are committed to making their lives better and keeping them engaged. Developing people to help them gain knowledge, build skills and modify behaviours is a part of Lenovo’s culture and that foundation accelerates change and improves margins. We did not lay anyone off during shutdowns, and in most regions, we are still paying bonuses.”

Next Tuesday, I will facilitate a virtual “Idea-fest” hosted by a large multi-national. Among the questions the six teams will be asked to tackle will be the return-to-work challenge. Each team will have two rounds of twenty-minutes each to suggest preliminary solutions.  We’re intentionally condensing the exploration times to put accelerated innovation to the test.

3) Embracing flexibility and people-led innovation = Galvanisation of new models

Adapting a more people-first approach is what many companies long talked about but now exponentially more of them are putting words into real action. As Amanda pointed out, “We can’t go back. We are different people now.  When in our lifetimes have we had such time to reflect in such a way? People and mental health have been on the agenda for 15-20 years, and now we can all put it at the top where they have belonged.”

One step into the office for man, one giant leap into a new way of working for mankind.

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Thank you for your patronage, and your patience

“Attention, Kmart shoppers,”

was ubiquitous from my childhood.  The loud-speaker announcement is familiar to any American grown-up of a certain vintage – simultaneously heralding another opportunity for customers and the impressive dominance of the chain which was the nation’s 2nd largest retailer during the 1980s.

 

From more than 2,500 stores across 50 states in its heyday, to just 34 stores operating today – which remained open despite pandemic shutdown as “essential businesses” due to pharmacies and grocery offerings inside – the once powerful department store is on its knees.  Covid19 didn’t cripple it.  Kmart has been struggling for years to adapt to shoppers’ changing expectations, industry developments and technological advancements.

 

And in just one week from now, here in Ireland, many retailers will be allowed to re-open their long-closed doors.  David Fitzsimons, the Group Chief Executive of industry group Retail Excellence, is looking forward to the impact with mixed emotions.

 

“It’s heartwarming that on the 8th of June, we’ll see the largest jolt in the economy as 18,000 small stores will re-open across the country. But obviously, the largest stories and the shopping centres will look on with envy,” David points out explaining that Ireland’s Phase 2 reopening only provides for: “small retail outlets to reopen with a small number of staff on the basis that the retailer can control the number of individuals that staff and customers interact with at any one time.”

 

This distinction is frustrating to Retail Excellence. “The phasing is contrary to public health service advice,” David maintains.  “If, for instance, Zara can open its smaller high street store in Dublin, but not its larger store in Cork and you see it open in Dublin, you might jump in your car and drive all the way from Cork to Dublin. The smaller stores will have massive queues. If they’re bigger, they can social distance easier. Let all the big stores open all their stores at the same time.”

 

Regardless of which shops open or when, as with the adaptations we are already experiencing with chemists and grocery stores, retailers must make a range of adjustments and find effective ways to communicate them.

 

1) Communicate gratitude

“We need to have clear messages welcoming people back,” David says as he outlines the number one message on behalf of retailers.  The Harvard Medical School publication, Heartbeat, reminds us that gratitude helps us to connect to something beyond ourselves, improves our health and strengthens relationships, so clearly expressing gratitude tops today’s list for any employer or employee, regardless of whether you’re in retail or not.

 

As a shopper, being grateful for the reopening of some shops to provide some in-person retail therapy also means being respectful and kind toward fellow-shoppers.  This past week, a startling video went viral of shoppers berating a woman in a New York store for not wearing a face mask. We can continue to wear masks, of course, and David also reminds us to browse quickly once inside the newly opened shops to reduce the time people spend waiting outside.

 

2) Educate and encourage your teams

Next up for retailers, according to David, is the need to make sure employees understand and contribute to the modified experiences. “We need to reassure colleagues the same way we reassure customers. From parking lots to canteens to the spaces behind the counter, there will be new ways of working,” David describes.

 

While we may already be reluctantly but understandably adjusted to social distancing and queuing, get ready for formerly tactile experiences like trying on jewellery, sunglasses, clothing and makeup to all be different in the new abnormal.

 

“If Gina comes out of a dressing room and doesn’t buy three of the four outfits she tried on, we’ll set them on a rail and steam clean them and put them back on the floor for tomorrow,” outlines David.  Jewellery and sunglasses can be placed on trays, sprayed and sterilized. Makeup demonstrations will be over for the moment. Thank you for your patronage.  And your patience.

 

3) Lean into your people and culture

Ronn Cort, President and COO of Sekisui Kydex, says, “For every crisis, there’s an opportunity.”  Before Covid, the performance plastics company made products like interlayer films for glass and double-face tape. Now they make parts for ventilators.

“We reached out to our own network, our people. They might disappoint you, but they also might surprise and delight you,” Ronn recommends.  “Sometimes people have a hard time changing quickly, but especially during times of crisis and reinvention, don’t go it alone. Explore how you can become more collaborative using technology.”

Great ideas can come from any place in an organisation. As Ronn reminds us, “Managers are not the only leaders. Leaders come from anywhere. What is knitting you together during this time?  Help your employees grow and become problem solvers and remember that good questions are often better than good answers.”

Undoubtedly, this a challenging time with fundamental changes in store. The challenge and lesson for stores and the rest of us is to learn from Sekisui’s success and Kmart’s cautionary tale - to embrace the new and find ways to put the fun in fundamental change.

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

 


How to Focus on Your Post-Pandemic Growth

One of the top movies this past week on Netflix is Becoming, the documentary following Michelle Obama’s book tour.  Her unabashed quote describing her roots and origin sets the scene for today’s column: “I’m from the South Side of Chicago, that tells you as much about me as you need to know.”

Where did you start?

Unlike the former US First Lady’s reference, I am not asking where you were born or from what side of the tracks you grew up.  Instead, I’m asking you to think back to that not so long time ago before Covid19 shutdown began.  Where were you then? What kind of work did you do? Who were you?

I ask because now that we are rounding the first week of Ireland’s Phase 1 of the Roadmap to Reopening, it’s a good time to reflect. Who you are…becoming?

Dr Mark Rowe, a medical doctor, author and vitality expert, has spoken across the globe on the importance of adopting a holistic approach to wellness. We met a few years ago when we both spoke at the same conference and last week it was wonderful to reconnect as we spoke together once again through Whatsapp.

  1. Take stock and take control

Mark says it is high time to take control of ourselves.

“Whenever we get a vaccine,” he explained to me, “whether it be one year or three years or whatever, we will have gone through a grand disruption and hopefully we will have grown. I call it ‘post-pandemic growth.’ It might mean you will have developed a new sense of meaning, a new sense of purpose or become more resilient.”

  1. Commit to turning your corner

While we might be able to go to a few more shops now and see three friends in-person in a socially-distanced, out-of-doors meet-up, we’re largely still confined with our families. So, what if you are someone who has had it up to your facemask with words like “resilience” and “compassion”?  I ask, because I freely confess that although I write this column and preach the gospel of positivity, there are moments I struggle with this feeling and I take comfort I’m not alone in this.

For instance, the same day last week when I spoke with Mark, I also held a remote coaching session with one of my executive clients. The multi-national tech company he works for had just announced it was “letting” employees continue to work from home for the rest of the year.  (The news report I had already read about the announcement made it sound like a privilege – and to still have secure job and paycheck through all this certainly is.) But for my client, who can’t go back to his office for months and whose wife is also a remote worker and who shares his home with their four-year-old son, it felt like an extension of a prison sentence. He was struggling too.

I shared this with the good doctor who sympathized. “Many of us are not working from home,” Mark pointed out. “We’re ‘parenting from work.’”

“This is difficult,” Mark said. “We are not hardwired for compassion and resilience. We are hardwired for fear and anxiety and survival and there’s no doubt that people have lost a huge amount. They are feeling isolated from co-workers, or have lost jobs, love ones, financial security and human connections.  The stress is having a detrimental impact on their thinking. The brain only takes two pc of the body’s size but 25pc of the body’s energy. So, when you’re living in stress, the brain is depleting your energy, draining your willpower and your impulse control.  Therefore, you have more desires to soothe. You might eat or drink more and even engage in risky behaviour or negative thoughts.”

But instead of wallowing in the ‘what have I lost or what am I losing’ place, Mark reminds us to continue walking into acceptance. To actively turn the corner and move forward.

“Emotion needs motion. The typical response to stress is to suppress it, resist it or deny it. But it needs to flow through you. Take positive little steps to change your mind and body,” Mark advises.

  1. Remember how ‘contagious’ emotion is

Amidst the barrage of concern about catching Covid19, Doctor Mark reminds us that positive (and negative) emotions are contagious too.

“From the time we are small children, we pick up on the messages we get from other human beings.  We don’t just see them and observe them, we act upon their behaviours or words and we pass that on to others who also act out. It’s quite contagious.”

She was the “Southside of Chicago” girl who studies at Harvard, practiced at a top law firm and married the 44th president of the United States.  Becoming teaches us we can develop ourselves from wherever we start. Reinforcing that, Doctor Mark offers this positive prescription as we continue navigating this unfolding disruption: “Accept what you can’t change, be grateful for the present moment and stay hopeful for the future.”

There’s nothing like a little wisdom that comes from life’s experiences.

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Team Building for Our Virtual World

If I had a dollar (or Euro) for each email I’ve received promoting an exciting new way to engage and inspire virtual teams during this whole CovidShutdownRemoteWorkingFromHomeExperience we’re enduring together, I would more than make up for the sales pipeline of in-person engagements I’ve
lost since this whole rigmarole began.

I must confess, of course, that I, too, have reached out to my own marketing lists in much the same vein. Even my updated website has been extoling for the past
several weeks that “Companies need to develop their remote teams.” But what works and why should businesses spend at this fragile time? For answers, I turned to David Bassett, Managing Director of Orangeworks, a
Dublin-based organisation specialising in team engagement. “We bring company culture alive by gamifying the content but not taking away the seriousness of the message,” David told me through Zoom on Wednesday.

Orangeworks began back in 2003 and today they’ve worked with nearly every major blue-chip company. “PwC, LinkedIn, Google and Deloitte,” David began and
then trailed off from reciting his list. “We work with companies that recognize they need to invest in their teams. It’s probably easier to name the companies
we’re not working with.”

From Hong Kong, to Slovenia, to London, last year, Orangeworks ran over 500 team-building events. In fact, back in 2017, when I had been in Ireland only for short time, David reminded me even we had worked alongside each other at a national business tourism conference at Dublin’s RDS. I served as Master of Ceremonies, and Orangeworks representative Ed Freitas stepped up to the stage to lead one heck of an icebreaker. Propelled by accompanying resounding drums, he got the audience off their seats and into a full performance of the “haka.” Yes, as in that ceremonial dance made famous by New Zealand’s rugby team, the All-
Blacks. It was an exhilarating and hilarious team-building exercise. And, like most team-building experiences in the pre-Covid world for Orangeworks, me and likely
for you too, they were conducted: in-person.

1) Get your team on their feet

But now that they’ve moved all their products online, I asked David to divulge a couple of Orangeworks’ more creative approaches to virtual team-building. “Everyone is doing quizzes these days, but we see great results in getting people up and moving,” David said. “Take ‘Curio Show’. During this game, you tell every virtual team member to get up and go around their house and bring back the most unusual thing they can find. You might get push-back from some more traditional people saying, ‘Wait, you didn’t give me advanced notification about this’ but it’s fun and energetic and you’ll change the conversation for the rest of whatever meeting you’re having.

“Gamification,” David went on to explain, “is the pressure release valve. You provide the right games and you’ll get improved work outcomes from your teams afterward. We’ve been doing this for 13 years. We have the data to support the results. Even a short burst of energy completely changes team conversations from how they were previously.”

2) Make your teams movie stars

“One of our funniest games,” David said, “is ‘Blockbusters’. We kick-off by dividing teams into teams and they go into virtual breakout rooms to make their story board of what working from home really looks like. The real versus the perceived. Everyone then goes off and takes a series of shots or videos and they send them to us. Orangeworks edits each team’s submissions and later teams come back for a live scoring and award ceremony. Again, you have fun, but there are serious messages that come out of this.”

Messages like how much more accepting we are becoming of each other. Of how our top executives can have little kids who scream and wreak havoc during a
video conference like the rest of us. Messages that employees are people too.

3) Structure an ‘unstructured’ meeting

Finally, David suggests companies try running more unstructured meetings. “The only structured thing is the time and you’re not allowed to talk about work,” he outlined. “There must also be a moderator, but these open meetings are where a lot of team-building nuggets can come from. People will really begin to communicate, and creative juices start to flow.”

The most successful teams are the ones that communicate the most freely and have the most fun.

4) Invest in your teams now

Since our budgets – unlike most of our waistlines – are shrinking, should we wait until company finances - get better? Not at all, David urges.“When we look back at the last crisis in Ireland, in 2008 during the recession, it wasn’t easy to sell team engagements. But we found that the people who did invest in their teams, came out stronger. They had developed more efficient teams who knew how to communicate and that translated into a better bottom line for their shareholders.”

It’s time to make sure your teams are aligned and motivated. Don’t reduce your spending during this turbulent time. “Everything works when your team works,” David told me. “We want teams working together to be better.”
Write to Gina in care of [email protected]

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure, and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker & former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


How to Help Small Businesses Raise Their Voice During Shut-down

On the morning of the 18th of March, less than one week after Irish children nationwide were sent home with all their school books, office doors were closed and words like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” were still far from commonplace, Joanne Griffin wrote a message to two contacts on LinkedIn. 

“I barely knew either of them,” she told me via a Whatsapp call this past Wednesday.  But the former LinkedIn executive turned founder and CEO of Adapt IQ, dedicated to helping organisations prepare teams for the future of work, was thinking of the uncertain future in which we all suddenly found ourselves. 

“I pinged Colin Harris, Managing Director of VIP Recruitment and Louise O’Conor, a partner at Beta Digital. I knew they were both creative, connected and believed in creating social impact.”

Joanne asked if they were interested in designing a way to pull people together from their new separated worlds. To create a community. Her idea ignited a fast-moving spark in the others.  “I wrote my message at 10:23 a.m. Eight minutes later they both got back to me and said, ‘We’re in.’ By 1:44 p.m., we were on a Zoom call,” she said.

“We are all running businesses on the side, but we are also committed to the strength of the collective brain to solve common challenges.”

By April 1 (no fooling), the trio had added Mindi Caselden as a fourth partner and launched IrelandTogether.ie, a brand-new non-profit committed to providing free online support for Irish businesses struggling with the effects of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. 

“We are a small enough nation to make this stuff work. It’s the solidarity of the Irish people. Our platform already has over 300 members made up of senior leaders of SME’s across Ireland and the diaspora,” Joanne told me. 

“We have a thriving community on Slack and our ethos is reciprocity. Advisors give their time for free. For instance, today we had a number of accountants come forward. They are providing financial support to companies who are trying to access the Covid-19 supports whether for their employees or for their cash flow. In return they need help for social marketing. It’s a ‘pay it forward’ community.” 

In addition to providing a supportive network of members and advisors, IrelandTogether has also been conducting sentiment surveys for participants. With three weeks’ of surveys returned so far, the results are somewhat surprising. 

1) Confidence is declining

Rather than people settling into a remote-working groove or positive pivot, many members are feeling like they are losing their footholds.  “We are seeing a decline in people saying that they have the right networks around them to support them,” Joanne revealed. “All the advisors who signed up, at first thought they were the right people to provide support. But now they’re saying, ‘oh no, we’re running out of sales pipeline and what should we say to attract more customers?’” 

In fact, only 11 pc of those surveyed described themselves as being “very confident” about the future. Over the past week alone, the survey has reported a significant increase in concerns over cashflow. “We’re also inundated with webinar ‘shoulds’ and ‘woulds’ and that just adds to anxiety.” 

“We’re now preparing to roll out an ‘Ireland Talks’ video series to examine the real-life stories of our members and networks who are making tough choices and learning from experience,” Joanne said. 

2) Willingness for collaboration is expanding

The feelings of isolation and precariousness are catapulting people’s desire to collaborate. It’s not better to go it alone, it’s better to join forces. Tackling problems together is also a goal for IrelandTogether. 

“We’ve established working groups within the membership to help tackle and offer solutions to identified problems,” explained Joanne. 

“Even though we’re physically distant, there’s a real willingness for competitors to help people get out of hustle mode and start to collaborate and pivot if that is what they need to do.”

I agree. You don’t have to know it all on your own. But you do need to not be afraid to reach out and ask others for help. 

3) Sense of urgency is increasing

For the first week of restrictions, Joanne said to me, she observed that people seemed very patient. “Now, people are feeling a big sense of urgency, anxiety and ‘me me me’. We are only three weeks old and already have hundreds of members and advisors. But we’re still not moving fast enough.” 

Along with the increasing need for speed is an increasing wave of enthusiasm from the community. 

“It’s overwhelming,” Joanne marvelled.  “The initial caliber of the people we expected were middle managers, but we have top companies, top leaders.  We are getting reach-outs from Groupon, Google, Virgin TV and RTE.”

At this moment the world’s population, according to the United Nations, consists of 7.8 billion people. Each person has a story. Of the distinct set of concerns, questions and events they’re experiencing during this time of remote working, self-isolation and continuing uncertainty. 

The more we can come together (virtually, of course) connect and collaborate, the more we will feel the power of community. Of being together. Apart. 


Preserving Business Communications Modes and Manner Post Covid19

“I ask them to bring their drink of choice to our meeting,” one of my coaching
clients told me this past week, describing how she conducts her virtual one to one
meetings in our new world of remote working. “This allows me to show up with
my own glass of wine,” she confided, chuckling.

The introduction of a more personal beverage selection into the business
meetings (conducted after five o’clock, I am assured), has seemed to prompt a
more intimate atmosphere in which her team members feel freer to divulge more
of their personal lives.

“One team member shared the home-schooling challenges he and his partner are
struggling with with their young children,” my client explained. “Another woman
has revealed the painful ordeal of the break-up she is enduring with her husband
while they are self-isolating under the same roof.”
“It’s going to be strange then, isn’t it,” she mused aloud to me, “when we
eventually go back to our offices and no longer communicate like this?”
“Wait a minute,” I cautioned. Let’s examine that notion for a moment. Your team
members are entrusting you with sensitive vulnerabilities. Receiving and
maintaining such a high level of trust demonstrates a higher level of leadership.
Do you really want to try to put this genie back into the bottle or would you
rather find some way to preserve this special atmosphere you are creating?
Which brings me to today’s point. After six weeks of remote working, I, and other
business forecasters, are projecting numerous things will not revert to the way
they were. Many remote workers will not return to their offices or desks, fewer
executives will travel internationally for meetings that can be more efficiently

conducted virtually and more of those humble audio-only sales calls will be
stepped up to video conferencing.
Yes, the modes of business interactions and communications are dramatically
changing. But, as illustrated by my client’s conversations with her team members,
we are also witnessing a dramatic change in the manner of our communications
as well. Quarantine is prompting a communications leader-shift. The more we can
acknowledge it, the more likely we will be able to codify it.

1) We’re collectively getting real

From CEO to frontline worker, the complications of our “self-isolationships” are
requiring us to move out from behind our personal protection comfort zones.
Toddlers or teens are hollering at us from beyond – and sometimes directly in
front of – our screens. Difficulties with partners or roommates have prompted
some of us to initiate social distancing guidelines inside our own homes. Unlike
pre-Covid restrictions, we feel comfortable talking about these difficulties with
pretty much everyone. The world is in this together and we’re all talking about it.
We’re getting real, really fast.

2) We’re collectively experiencing a wide-range of emotions

Now that we’re working, cooking, drinking, binge-watching, exercising, eating,
crying, praying, dancing, cursing and laughing with the same people every meal,
every day, the aggravations, anxieties and even warm feelings of contentment
from a reflective stroll under the brightened-from-less-pollution blue skies of
nature, are smacking into us wantonly. Waves in a storm-wracked sea.
The noise from our tumult of emotions is softened, however, by our awakened
awareness that others – our colleagues, our bosses - are experiencing them too.

3) We’re entrusting ourselves

For those reasons, then, we feel more comfortable in discussing our situations
with people before whom we might have once been more guarded.

Last week, for instance, during my very-first prospecting call (video-call, of course)
with the head of learning and development for a large financial institution, I
smiled as she unleashed a torrent of exasperation over her pre-teen who simply
refused to do any more homework and had retreated into video games instead.
“I can relate,” I commiserated.
We are in a global trust-fall. As leaders, we cannot catch someone today only to
pull away from them tomorrow.

4) We should create new protocols

As CEOs and management teams are preparing new rules around social
distancing, and intensive cleaning in preparation of re-entry, so too, should
protocols and guiding principles be established to ensure our heightened and
enlightened communications combined with the more encouraging and nurturing
leadership approaches that are being established continue to be honoured and
protected.
Some organisations have installed special frameworks to provide support for
remote workers during this time. “Rant-buddies” or “Thinking-partners” or
“Support-mentors” have been assigned to employees. These alliances can be on-
going. Employees have been mobilised to innovate team-building, sales and
services ideas. Any such special incentive programmes should continue.
What we are learning about ourselves and others during this time, will benefit
and enrich companies and their employees for years to come.
Committing to a continuation of transparent and trusting communications and to
enhancing the teams and infrastructure you are establishing now, will go a long
way toward ensuring the emotional and mental well-being of your workforce
continues as well.

Another proven way is to encourage your workforce to tote their favourite adult
beverage with them to your next business meeting. Or perhaps not.

Write to Gina in care of [email protected] With corporate clients
in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure
and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN
anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Leading with Purpose in the Time of Covid19

From Amazon to Alibaba, businesses around the world are providing Covid19 pandemic support.

For instance, Facebook is committing $20 million toward coronavirus relief.  Microsoft has donated millions upon millions in products, services and solutions to frontline workers and hospitals and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation independently announced it would commit another $100 million. Google and Apple teamed up to create a ‘contact tracing’ app to notify people when they interact with someone who’s infected. IBM’s Weather Company app is providing local updates on the progress of the virus.  Dyson and Rolls Royce are making ventilators in the UK. Over in the US, they’re being made by Ford and General Motors.

And, of course, nearly all the world’s top biotech and pharma companies are collaborating on the discovery of a coronavirus treatment or vaccine.

“The big question,” Fortune magazine President and CEO Alan Murray wrote in his online newsletter this past week, “is this just a temporary response to the crisis, or part of a fundamental rethinking of the company’s role in society? Is it a brief grab for feel-good PR, or a reflection of larger corporate purpose?”

I was so intrigued by Alan’s newsletter musing that I emailed him directly to ask if he would expand his thoughts for this column. He graciously agreed and the head of the global media company spoke via Zoom video conferencing from his home in Connecticut where he is self-isolating.

ME:  What is happening with big businesses today?

ALAN: “It’s a really interesting question. You’re seeing cross currents.

On the one hand, you’re seeing some examples, and we’re keeping track of them,  of companies who are expanding sick pay and doing furloughs instead of laying off employees and companies keeping their employees on, even if they have no work for them to do. Over in the health care area, you are seeing companies diving into treatments and cures that are not necessarily profitable for them. Companies working with competitors.  You are seeing companies really stepping up.  On the other hand, some companies are struggling. Marriott furloughed tens of thousands of employees and Macy’s closed all 500 of its stores and furloughed over a hundred thousand workers. They aren’t making money and can’t afford to keep them on. The cross currents are hard to interpret.”

ME:  So, to the question you posed in your newsletter, are businesses doing this now for PR or Purpose?

ALAN: “I believe there has been for a decade now - a dramatic change of taking care of employees and taking care of customers and paying more attention to communities and inclusivity.  I’ve seen this build since the last recession and there are some fundamental reasons that won’t go away – like the way businesses operate and the way they care about investing in their employees not to only serve their shareholders. There is an increased value of talent in a company and now, especially for an economy that runs on intellectual property, there is a needed shift to investing in human capital.

Colin Mayer does a good job outlining this with his book Prosperity – Better Business Makes the Greater Good.”

A professor at Oxford University’s Said Business School, Mayer’s premise in his 2019 book is that a company exists to create something and provide solutions through a defined purpose. That purpose, in turn, should guide all the decisions of the executives, owners and board members.  He then argues, citing a number of examples, that companies which are run this way tend to become more profitable and longer-lived than others – while simultaneously basking in the goodwill of customers, employees, executives and the world in general.

“People have become more important to business and they need to give them a purpose beyond practice,”

“People have become more important to business and they need to give them a purpose beyond practice,” Alan summarized. “This prompts a change into how leadership is getting across. It used to be that you would have a strategy developed and ordered from the top and cascaded to the rest of the company.  You can’t do that anymore. The person at the top must embody a style that attracts talent and provides inspiration. Companies need to motivate and excite their workforce. The focus on social issues is part of that.

ME: Is there another reason why businesses are performing with more purpose?

ALAN:  “The third piece is this is in response to a breakdown of our political systems.  I saw a real increase in this in 2016. Brexit happened over in the UK and even though we have Trump now, we also saw Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist taking momentum in an arena that had never happened before.

The general chaos of western governments prompted business leaders to realise that they have to step up for their own survival.  There’s a big change prompted by young people who don’t believe in capitalism.”

Me: Will these more purpose-guided business efforts impact the way governments are run?

ALAN: “No. Business leaders are by definition problem solvers because businesses need to produce results to survive.  Political leaders do not.  Businesses reaction is, ‘we have to.’”

As I say, “A crisis doesn’t forge you, a crisis reveals you.”

 

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Easter-inspired Reflections during Covid Restrictions

When I was a kid, my family never missed an Easter service.  Actually, since I was raised by a very pious mother, we never missed any Sunday really, but Easter was particularly important. I can still hear the hymns, smell the fragrance of white lilies which filled the church sanctuary. I remember the sermons with powerful messages of peace, victory and hope.

 

Today, on this Easter Sunday during our fourth full week of Covid19 restrictions, no matter whether you are as devout as my mom or not, this is a day in which we can certainly purposefully pause.

 

While medical, safety and other essential workers toil long hours and endanger their lives to save the lives of others, I’d like to share some thoughts about the aspects of self-isolation we can at least appreciate, if not quite celebrate.

 

1. An Appreciation of Reflection

As we are all shifting into a completely different way of working and living, I know I have mentioned this before in previous columns, but I sincerely want to emphasise how that especially during this time, journaling will provide clarity now and lasting impact later.  It’s a great way to organise what can be an overwhelming onslaught of wide-ranging emotions and the very act of writing will distance yourself from their impact as you catalogue them on paper or a device.

Later, once we get through this (and we will get through this), and your sharp memories fade into patina, your journal will allow you to review. Perhaps you can apply a lesson from a journal entry to a team you will be working with or leading.  Perhaps you will be asked to give a keynote address at a someday-again-please-Jesus corporate conference. The more vividly your journal entries are written, the more colourfully you can bring your stories back to life to best impact your audience.

In addition to writing - and reading now too - don’t forget to keep connecting to people.  Reflecting doesn’t have to be a singular event it can also involve sharing and listening to the reflections of others as well.

2. An Appreciation of Renewal

The Easter story of resurrection, of course, arrives at the same time of nature’s spring rebirth.  Even in self-isolation, we can appreciate the renewed blooming of daffodils, budding of magnolias and other flowering trees, melodic bird song and droning hum of bees.

Similarly, as American entrepreneur Mark Cuban described this past Wednesday, our careers or small business enterprises may be on the precipice of a renewal.  The owner of the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team and Shark Tank TV show judge was speaking live on a video chat sponsored by one of my clients, Salesforce.

“This is a reset of unprecedented magnitude,” Mark explained. “It’s a challenge and it’s also an opportunity. Ask your employees or colleagues what they’re thinking about right now. The next great business idea might be sitting on the other side of that Zoom screen. Think about brand enhancement during these times. You can also come together with your competitors and share information.  Imagine if all the PPE companies had come together before this crisis hit, we wouldn’t have the black market we do now.”

New innovations and even business cooperatives may come from this experience.

3. An Appreciation of Respect

From differing opinions on restrictions and policies to virtual chats about rumours and conspiracy theories, conversations can become heated more quickly during this time of continued confinement and concern. This applies to those of us seeking to reorder our business or personal finances.  For instance, tensions may start to flare when the newly un-employed or under-employed are struggling to understand a governmental application or reaching out to a bank.  When I called my own bank a couple of weeks ago, it took a full week for me to get a call back.  But respect can and should be maintained.

“Always put yourselves in the shoes of the people you’re dealing with,” Mark advised.  “Many bankers are confused too but over time the banks will understand this. At some point they will be there for you. Assigning blame accomplishes nothing.”

We all want to know that someone is nice. Nice will pay off in the long run. The customers or clients you may have lost now, will come back in due time. More so if you reach out and pay your respects.  The power of human connection is more important than ever.

4.  An Appreciation of Resilience

How are you using this time right now toward a spirit of growth, development, partnership and stamina? Are you using your business as a platform for change?

Strengthening your determination, positivity and focus will help you put your head down and get you back to working, virtually networking or strategizing.  Even when you feel like you are falling, know that you can get back up.

As J.K. Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

So, on this Easter Sunday, amidst the many difficult and quite heartbreaking moments all around us, there is still hope. Pause. What do you appreciate?

Write to Gina in care of [email protected]  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon