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.

(mis)Management through nostalgia!

It’s performance appraisal time and a bunch of middle management folks are sitting around talking while working on the normalisation – the tedious job of fitting individual performances to a bell curve.

“The chaps today just aren’t like we were at their age. We worked 15 hour days, we held ourselves fully accountable for everything, we turned up for all the meetings – man, these days folks need to be spoon-fed. And their attitude – lax is an understatement. I wonder how long it will take these guys to become managers like us” and so it goes. It’s a sad conversation over some insipid coffee. Hearing them talk almost gets you worried about the future.

And that’s when a colleague – an eternal optimist – pulls a chair across and beams at me. “These manager folks dragging down your spirits with their bell curve stories huh?’ She asks.

We decide we will take a fresh stock of the situ from a data standpoint (out of say 400 freshers a decade back, these 4 have graduated to become managers) – so what does this tell us – we see not one but four possible scenarios:

1. That the managers are right, they are super men/ women. The current batch needs to step up if they want to emulate their managers’ performance. But there may have been others who were just as smart and hardworking and yet didn’t make it – so there could be a survivor bias at work here that these guys should be cautious about!

2. The managers simply lucked out! Four out of four hundred (actually fewer considering people who would have quit etc) would have anyway made it to this role – it just happened to be these folks and they are now fitting a narrative to explain their success

3. Maybe they actually un-lucked out! The rest of their batch are probably doing things they believe in/ are relevant for the future (startup’s, social work, playing tech/ business/ client roles) and these four are a few of those left behind on old-age roles – it’s just that they don’t recognise it yet!

4. Effectiveness vs busyness – there’s a difference. In today’s world perhaps the new folks are tending to effectiveness as opposed to looking busy. Maybe the managers need some reverse mentoring – it’s they who need to adjust!

We both break into a smile. The more you think about it, it’s not the world that’s getting worse – it’s only our world-views that need updates. And once our frame of reference changes, the world appears in all its glory!

Would you agree?