Transitioning to WFH – watch-outs for overwhelmed mid-managers!

New times bring forth new challenges and positives. The IT services sector – a global, tech-focussed, multi-industry sector – is used to change as a rule. The COVID-resultant transition to WFH en-masse was a biggie though.

Middle managers, in particular, seem to be struggling – they suddenly find that their time is not their own. They are used to working across time-zones and extended working hours – but WFH stretches the demand by a large margin. With mobility still restricted across most cities and WFH in place, boundaries are getting blurred – no one knows when the day starts or when it ends. Weekends aren’t spared either – work seems to fill in every waking hour. 

At a closer look, this seems to derive from two significant aspects:

  1. Colleagues/ managers block associates’ time for meetings indiscriminately. Some take refuge in the reasoning of commute hours and limited mobility, providing people with more home time. And when they are home, maybe it is ok to take a few more calls? Managers also suffer from Fear of missing out (FOMO) and do more calls. Busyness is mistaken for effective-ness resulting in long days of endless meets.
  2. The number of people on emails and the number of emails – both have gone up exponentially. Again, with people always having a phone or a laptop closeby, responses (and forwards!) are faster, leading to very significant email times and distracted lives! There’s almost a movement clamouring for attention – in a sense we are becoming cry babies!

When coupling this with the massive cognitive overload due to the situation on hand with the virus (which is working on everyone’s mind in the background) – people end up exhausted. 

These are early days, and given human capacity to adapt, am sure we’d evolve some optimal responses very soon. 

However, it is worth spending a moment on a couple of assumptions that underpin the above behaviours:

a. The first assumption is that our very identity depends on our work titles and the work that we do. It’s not the case – at least for most people – identification with your managerial persona and title would be but a decade old if you were in your thirties and a few decades old if you were in your fifties. Over half your life you lived life as a non-manager, perhaps it’s time to grab some of that “identity beyond work” back! 

Those who have other identities are doing way better. A colleague who is also a gifted singer has started zoom classes for kids during non-working hours. Another friend is teaching online meditation. People are rediscovering their love for books and music afresh. Folks are discovering the joys of household work – everyone has interests, and this seems to be the best time to exercise that. Spending some time with our colleagues to understand them beyond their work personas will open us to a limitless world of conversations. It’s important to realise that this does not mean the ones with other interests do any less quality work; they are just as good and often produce even more inspired work. They are less stressed as well and more fulfilled.

Here’s a masterpiece from Alain De Botton on how to bring back our curiosity – he looks at how children do this effortlessly. A brilliant, brilliant read.

b. Secondly, there’s an assumption that our time is free. It certainly is not – it is our most expensive resource. Here’s Seneca explaining this in his inimitable style in a lovely brainpickings.org post:

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.

If this realisation sinks in, time becomes an ally, not a nuisance. 

If you are one of those mid-management people who find things a little overwhelming – I trust the above would help alleviate this a bit. If you are one of those who already have mastered managing time and the transition to WFH, would love to hear more about your experiences.

Do leave a like/ share/ comment – makes a world of difference as always.

Narrow world-views?

Sensitivity to our surroundings is an amazing thing – at its best, its what I guess the buddha called awareness – an ability to look and more importantly appreciate things for what they are as opposed to what we think they are (or should be) based on our limited world-view.

I get this thought as I reflect upon an interesting little news item in the day’s paper of a woman thanking the ongoing T20 World Cup organisers for opening her eyes. It turns out that her husband had gone to watch a match and caught up in all the passion and celebration on the field broke out into a dance. She’d never seen him dance – or looking so happy – and she was expressing her gratitude to the organisers of this game for having enabled her to see her husband in all his natural playfulness – perhaps for the first time!

Here’s the thing – since “world-views” are thrust upon us all the time, the world-views become almost natural and it takes immense clarity for us to strip ourselves of this lens – looking at simplicity becomes very complex huh!

For starters, there are the “roles” we are expected to adhere to in everyday life. The roles come with their own set of attires, languages, acceptable social circles, acceptable behaviours and so on. If we don’t believe this, all it takes is a rewind to our school or college days (or first intern days) and contrast our behavior’s of today with those. Strip out the conditioned behaviour of both times (the suits of today and the excesses of youth!) – and what will remain is character – the person we were, the friends we kept, the passions in our lives. If you have managed to hold on to the unbridled joy from those years you are indeed an happy man or woman.

Which brings me to another quote from the day’s papers (some good coffee prompted me to stay with papers for a long, long time!). A music composer, whose quirky video on the pains of a “monday morning” have gone viral expresses how difficult it was for him to make that video. “We wanted to make the song funky and stylish and since people like us hardly know how terrible waking up to a monday feels like, we gathered the sentiments of our office-going friends, and then translated their expressed frustrations into music”. Really? You are a lucky man and that’s one cool video dude!

On which note, we can bring this blog to a closure with just one more crib on the “very necessary but evil” aspects of this “world-view” business. Some wise guy decided that since Feynman was a physicist, all his books belonged in the science section. To many of our fellow humans, science = plague, the only blemish in an otherwise fun childhood – and this worldview keeps the book out of their hands for ever. And if you haven’t read his books, they are gems – try this one – it expresses the joy of curiosity, of finding things out, a rare vision into a humorous character whose view is so much better than the “worlds”. And there cannot be a bigger tragedy than not enjoying such “sheer awesomeness” because someone with a more limited world view chose to pigeon-hole them elsewhere. You agree?