Keep Your People Learning When You Go Virtual

by Annie Peshkam and Gianpiero Petriglieri

Over the past five years, we have been taking our work online deliberately and at a steady pace. At INSEAD, the business school where we work, we’ve been expanding virtual meetings, ramping up virtual classes and coaching, and introducing digital tools to enhance face-to-face work. Then, in the past few weeks, everything else moved online, too. As in many organizations, the transition happened almost overnight in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis that has disrupted everyone’s private as well as working lives.

In such conditions, organizations and leaders might be forgiven for going into survival mode and putting learning aside. Companies do that all the time: They pause major learning initiatives, such as training courses, and minor ones, such as process checks after team meetings. They slash learning budgets and cancel mentoring sessions in a downturn. In times of upheaval, anxiety runs high and the instinct to preserve the world as we know it takes over. Leaders put aside their intent to include and develop, and revert to command and control. “Forget learning!” the thinking goes. We can’t afford it when we need to secure operations and get the basics done.”

This is dangerous. Like all major crises, and perhaps more than most, the COVID-19 pandemic is bound to leave behind lasting changes in the way work and business take place. Learning will be the foundation of our survival, then, for both organizations and the individuals who make them up. As the world shifts to online work and businesses struggle to reinvent themselves, organizations need to learn what kinds of new products and services will appeal to their consumers and learn how to create them. Leaders must learn how to keep a distributed workforce focused, energized, and attuned to customers’ changing needs. Continue reading

How to Elevate Your Presence in a Virtual Meeting

by Joel Schwartzberg

Even before the COVID-19 crisis started, 5.3% of Americans — more than 8.2 million people — worked from home, according to a 2018 U.S. Census report. And with the outbreak turning more office workers into work-from-home employees, video conferences are becoming more routine for a wide range of business purposes, from staff meetings to brainstorming sessions to major announcements.

But communication tactics that work well among colleagues in a conference room may not translate seamlessly to Brady-Bunch-style quadrants on a computer screen. Organizational behavior professor Andy Molinsky recommends seeing virtual meetings as “an entirely different context, not simply an in-person meeting or a class on a screen.”

Elevating both your point and your presence in a Zoom, Skype, or similar virtual meeting, requires not only engaging in video conference-friendly tactics but also disabusing yourself of potentially detrimental misconceptions about the medium.

To help keep your impact actual when your presence is virtual, consider these six recommendations:

1. Focus on your camera, not your colleagues

Every presentation coach will tell you that direct eye contact is a vital way to reinforce your point. In a video conference, this means looking into the video camera, not at the smiling faces of Marcia, Greg, Cindy, Peter, Jan, and Bobby. Speaking into a cold black circle will not feel natural or comfortable — as humans, we’re trained to look at the people we’re talking to — but know that entertainers and politicians have been doing it for decades.

It’s challenging to focus on your camera for an entire meeting — especially while others are talking — but know that you increase the impact of your points when you look deep into the dot.

Practice looking into your camera during video conferences when you speak, even for brief moments. The more you use it, the more comfortable you’ll become with it.

2. Maintain a strong voice

I always counsel my students and clients to use a louder-than-usual voice because, in addition to being audible, strong voices convey authority, credibility, and confidence. This concept is just as true in virtual conferences as it is in actual ones. So even though you’re using an external or internal microphone and thus may be tempted to speak at a conversational volume, maintain a strong, clear voice as if you’re in a large conference room.

Using a loud voice will also keep you from mumbling and from speaking too quickly due to the amount of breath required.

3. Frame yourself wisely

Proximity plays a big part in how audiences perceive you as a communicator. The farther away or more obscured you appear, the less engaging you will be. In a video conference, your head and the top of your shoulders should dominate the screen.

If your head is cut off at the top or bottom, you’re too close. If your entire torso is in view, you’re too far away. If only half of your head is in sight, please adjust the camera.

Also be mindful of your background. Cluttered rooms make communicators seem disorganized. Distracting elements will pull attention away from you. Find an environment where the background is simple, reflecting your professionalism.

Preparation is critical, so take time before the meeting to pick your location and put your head fully in frame to ensure you’re putting your best face forward.

4. Be present and mindful

In a conventional meeting, participants are typically very mindful of their presence. But in a video conference where you’re muted (and maybe in your pajama pants), it’s easy to forget you’re still being watched. You may be tempted to check your email or attend to other work, but multi-tasking is perilous because you don’t want to be caught unprepared if asked a sudden question.

Even if you don’t need to be fully engaged in the meeting, your professional reputation can suffer if it even looks like you’re not paying attention. So close those other windows, turn your phone upside down, and remember that you’re always “on camera.”

Because you’re less aware of social cues in a virtual meeting, it’s also important to be mindful of how long and how often you speak, if you interrupt other people, and if you make a comment that might offend someone present but out of sight. My advice: Don’t consider yourself “at home.” Consider yourself “at work.” Your behavior may follow.

5. Don’t become your own distraction

In a live meeting, you never have to worry about talking while muted, annoying ambient noise, or the interference of pets and children. But these are all common pitfalls of virtual meetings, and they can quickly sabotage your point. Your job is to make sure you’re remembered for what you did right, not what went wrong, so be mindful of the power you have over both your virtual and physical environments.

Start by training yourself to stay on mute whenever you’re not speaking and unmuting yourself only when you do speak. Staying on mute shuts out sudden noises as well as routine noises you may not be aware of, like the ticking of a wall clock, the clickety-clack of your typing, or even your own breathing. Unmuting yourself obviously enables you to speak, but — perhaps more importantly — saves you from being on the receiving end of the embarrassing colleague chorus, “You’re on mute!”

Make sure to turn off your camera when you’re doing something visually distracting as well, such as moving to another room or eating. (Drinking is not very distracting, but chewing is another story).

Finally, if boisterous children (or pets) want to participate in your call, your colleagues will probably laugh or relate, so don’t be worried about or embarrassed by spontaneous distractions. However, if you’re tasked with giving a major presentation, try to have someone supervise them in another room, far from the temptation of your presence, or at least create an engrossing activity for them. Parenting and presenting cannot happen simultaneously, and truly important messages require not only your colleagues’ full attention, but yours as well.

6. Use the chat window as your partner

Consider the chat window as not just a discussion platform, but a presentational appendage. When you refer to an article or shared document, link to it in the chat. If you run the meeting, put a link to the agenda in the chat. When others are speaking, respond with support or questions in the chat. The chat window is a unique opportunity in virtual meetings to elevate your presence, add dimensions to your ideas, and demonstrate that you’re fully present.

Whether you’ve been participating in virtual meetings for years or just started this month, it’s important to realize that a video conference isn’t just a conference over video — it’s an entirely new interactive experience, which requires adapting your perspective, habits, and tactics to make it work effectively for you.

Source: HBR

How businesses could emerge better after COVID-19, according to B Lab

By Adele Peters

As the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing economic fallout grows, many companies shifted their policies—in some cases, giving low-wage hourly and gig workers temporary access to paid sick leave for the first time. But when the crisis is over, will the companies that survive make more lasting changes?

Andrew Kassoy, cofounder of B Lab, an organization that certifies companies that focus on social good as B Corporations (B Corps for short), argues that the pandemic might accelerate shifts that were already underway. “I think there is already a new consensus that has formed over the last couple of years that we were moving from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism,” he says, pointing to examples such as a 2019 letter signed by CEOs in the Business Roundtable that signaled a new commitment, at least in words, to more social responsibility.

“I think that message has already been heard loud and clear in the culture,” he says. “And I think this crisis creates an opportunity because it makes it clear that we haven’t built a resilient economic system. This is an opportunity for us to focus on both how business and government play a role in building a more resilient economic system for the next crisis, and there’ll be more of these.”

The current crisis makes it obvious, if it wasn’t already, how many people have been living financially fragile lives. “There’s this oft-quoted statistic that 40% of Americans aren’t prepared for a $500 emergency, and now, we’re all having that emergency together,” Kassoy says. “While shareholder primacy didn’t cause the COVID-19 crisis, it certainly laid bare the fact that we have a system where workers and communities aren’t prepared for a downturn like this. You can see it in how fast the unemployment numbers went up. You can see the desperation of lots of workers to find alternative sources of income and the need for a massive bailout. And so in a different system, where companies were actually paying our workers well enough that people had reserves, we might be in a different situation than we are today and needing a multi-trillion-dollar bailout. And this will only be the first of several, I’m sure.”

Kassoy argues that B Corps, which have to meet strict standards for social and environmental performance, are actually better prepared to weather crises; during the last financial crisis, B Corps were 63% more likely than other businesses of a similar size to make it through the downturn. “We think that’s because those companies were more resilient,” he says. “They had stronger relationships with their workers, or their customers, or through their supply chains, that allowed them to make it through. I hope that we’ll see something similar this time around.”

It’s possible that more companies will choose to make changes to benefit workers. While many businesses are obviously struggling now, when the economy improves, some may decide to pay living wages and offer better benefits rather than adding to oversized CEO pay or making other investments.

Investors should also push for broader improvements, Kassoy says. “It’s pretty tough to expect individual heroic CEOs to change the whole business system. So we need the investment community to play a role as well. They, more than individual companies, have an interest in the stability of the whole system.” Government also has an obvious role—both in terms of setting conditions on companies if they’re given bailouts during the crisis, and by passing laws to permanently improve policies such as sick leave and access to healthcare. “It’s really about changing the rules of the game so that all companies have to be like B Corps.”

“If we get to the other side of this and we end up with the same system that we started with,” Kassoy says, “then we won’t have learned much.”


Source: Fast Company

How Dual-Career Couples Can Work Through the Coronavirus Crisis

by Jennifer Petriglieri

A little more than two months after the start of China’s coronavirus lockdown, just as restrictions are easing, a startling new figure has emerged: The divorce rate in the city of Xi’an, the heart of the Shaanxi Province, has spiked. The numbers from Italy are not yet available, but the jokes abound. “You’ll either come out of this with a third child, or with a divorce,” quipped one of my Italian relatives as France, where my husband and I live, followed Italy into an open-ended lockdown. Four days into it, I can see why.

In my work researching dual-career couples I’ve seen how even with a lot on their plates, couples can thrive in both their careers and their relationships. But now millions of dual-career couples across the world are, like us, finding themselves in a situation that a month ago seemed inconceivable and are navigating it without a road map: both partners forced into working full time from home. Many of these couples also have to care for children full time with little or no support because of strict social-distance guidelines.

Work itself is much more stressful than usual — as our face-to-face work moves online, our organizations struggle to serve customers, and our job security itself becomes uncertain — and so there is plenty of frustration and anxiety to take home. And now it is home: Our homes have become the spaces where we deal with these challenges. With no clear division of labor between paid work and housework, dual-career couples are facing a host of new and unfamiliar challenges. How can both partners work productively under the same roof? Who gets to use the home office, and when? How can we avoid falling into the trap of overwork and burnout that is prevalent among home workers? How can we deal with each other’s mildly annoying habits that when lived with 24/7 suddenly become bones of contention? And, for those who are also working parents, how do we keep the kids occupied and home schooled, with no friends, grandparents or paid childcare givers to help?

Most of the advice I’m seeing in response to these questions suggests that couples need to focus on the practicalities: Schedule your days. Never work at the kitchen table. Close the door to your home office. Divide the chores. Talk to your boss. Alternate shifts between childcare and work. Take regular breaks. Don’t lose sleep. Leverage technology.

These practicalities are clearly important and all couples, indeed all workers, will need to make serious adjustments. But my six years of research has taught me that what determines which couples will go their separate ways when the crisis ends and which will have a second honeymoon period (and perhaps a third child to boot!) will not be how they deal with the practicalities. It’s not about who will brave the pandemic to go out and buy milk.

Instead, my research — for which I’ve interviewed more than 100 couples — shows that the couples who survive crises with their relationship and careers intact are those who discuss and agree on certain principles as the crisis begins. These should capture what matters most to them, what they need and want to achieve, what they need from each other, and what they must give in return. It’s these principles that, once set in an agreement, drive the practical solutions they adopt as the crisis unfolds. This “crisis deal” is based on the couples contract that I describe in my book Couples That Work as vital for all dual-career couples to thrive. But couples can’t just set a contract once and be done: they must adjust the deal when major changes arrive — especially when a crisis hits.

It doesn’t take long to figure out a crisis deal. You can do it tonight with your partner. First, take a few minutes individually to jot down your thoughts on each of the questions set out below. Consider a time horizon of three months (at this point we don’t know how long the situation will last, but this is my educated guess based on China’s experience). Once you’ve gathered and written down your own thoughts, share them with your partner point by point and work together to find common ground. Write down what you agree on. This will make your crisis deal a living deal that you can revisit every week to make sure you are on track. You can also look to the agreement as the basis for the practical problems that you will need to tackle next.

What matters most to you in this period? The easy answer for all of us is the health and safety of our loved ones. But beyond this, what are your top three goals for this time? Is there a particular work project you want to see through to completion? A relationship you want to foster? Do you want to use the time at home to map out your next career transition? Is the your kids’ education top of mind?

Understanding and sharing these goals is important because it is the best guide to how to divide up your time. It’s likely that most of us will be less productive on any given front during this period. But imagine yourself looking back three months from now: What are the yard sticks you will use to measure whether you spent your time wisely?

What is the relative priority of your careers over the coming months? If you’re both working from home and simultaneously managing other commitments like child and elder care, you will need to figure out whose work gets priority when. Do you have a stable deal in which one of your careers consistently takes priority over the other? Do you try to maintain a 50/50 split? Or are there certain weeks when one of you will need to have priority over working time?

My research has shown that any one of these arrangements can work — but it works best if you decide in advance which one you’re following. This can give you some logic to use as you split up each day’s working hours between you. If you understand why each other’s work needs to take priority at certain moments, it’s easier to accept the sacrifices you’ll both have to make in this period without building up resentments.

What are your parenting principles during this period? These are extraordinary times for working parents, and the principles we usually stick to will need to adapt. Do you need to loosen screen-time agreements? How involved in homeschooling do you want and need to be? What are the aspects of your children’s lives that are most important to you? Outdoor time, reading time, sports, study? How will you talk about the crisis and contain your children’s anxieties? If you and your partner are on the same page and can communicate these adjusted principles clearly to your children, it will make keeping the boundaries (and peace) at home that bit easier.

What do you need from each other to make this all work? We are all craving support, but what does that look like for you? Emotional or practical? Do you need to know that you’ll have 15 minutes of undivided attention every evening to check in and debrief the day? Do you need your partner to share some of the tasks that you usually take full responsibility for? What do you need from your partner to help you stick to your crisis deal? It’s likely that you and your partner will need different things from each other. Adapting to your partner’s needs demonstrate the goodwill and love we’ll all need to make it through these times.

What are the things concern you most? The crisis and the reality of working from home for an extended period provoke anxiety in most of us. Do you worry about your job security? Managing the boundaries between work and kids? Getting quality couple time? Cabin fever setting in? What will you do if one or both of you become seriously ill? In times of crisis many of us adopt a stiff-upper-lip stance and bottle up our concerns. This is not helpful within a couple. Understanding each other’s key concerns is critical, because it makes us more attentive and sensitive. And when we understand our partner’s concerns, we can take practical steps to soothe or mitigate them.

Faced with a crisis, our focus often narrows to the immediate tasks at hand. As one woman I spoke to remarked: “It’s easy for this situation to put you in task mode. I’m realizing, though, that we need to figure out a new deal to get through it.” My research concurs: Couples that work are those who put their deal first. Only then do they move onto the practicalities.

As long as the principles you agreed to in your deal serve as the logic for your practicalities, and as long as you keep that conversation alive, you’ll get through this period — and perhaps your relationship will be even stronger. Wedding bells may sound, a second honeymoon might get booked, or tiny clothes may get knitted — at which point you’ll need to negotiate another deal!

Source: HBR

Stay Positive

It is certainly a difficult and challenging time for all of us and we deal with the health and economic issues that are going on around us. I just read this article written by Tony Robinson  that I thought I would share with you.

“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be, it’s the way it is. The way you cope is what makes the difference.” – Virginia Satir

Now I know this may sound cliche, but the thing about cliches is that they’re typically true. Staying positive is only a small part in getting through the difficult times, but it’s an important part.

When you stay positive, you’re putting yourself in the best position possible to not only make it through those bad times, but become a better person in the process.

You can do one of two things when life takes a turn for the worst. You can remain positive and remind yourself that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel and that you’ll make it through, or you can curl up in the fetal position and relegate yourself to being nothing more than a victim of circumstance.

I’m not saying that you can never have a bad day, or get a little discouraged, or shed a tear. But I am saying you have to eventually pick up the pieces and start moving forward.