Rough draft of the next section
I asked Anna how the suggestion of introducing a system of “Deliberate Communication” had landed with her team.
Her suggestion had got a mixed reception. While Sandra and Michael had welcomed a system to know what team members were up to, Pete had frowned throughout most of the conversation and finally said, “What if I forget to say I’m at my computer one day and you all think I’m slacking?”
“Put it in your calendar!” said Michael, ever the fan of notifications.
Anna smiled. “It’s going to take a while to get this into our system, so I wouldn’t worry about that now. Maybe… what’s the first thing you do in your workday.”
“Check my emails.”
“Then maybe Michael has a point. Is there anything you can do to get your inbox to remind you?”
Pete looked up. “Could do…”
“Then lets see how it goes. We can give it a try for say, a month? What date is it today, 7th… Let’s make a note to revisit next month, on the 7th…”
Sandra picked up her pen and asked: “What time?”
“What do you mean?”
“At what time shall we meet on the 7th?”
“Ah, no, we don’t need to meet. If we set up a Slack channel called “visible teamwork experiment” we can have the conversation there. We don’t need to meet.”
“I thought that would land badly with Sandra,” Anna said but she actually said, “Great.” Looks like even the most sociable people are tired of meetings… Anyway, we’ve set up a few things. We’ve opened a channel in Slack, called Who’s Here; we agreed to check in with our availability once at the beginning of the day, and then after lunch. It seems like most of our home lives or energy change after lunch, in unpredictable ways, so we thought that would be useful. And we’re playing with emojis for our mood. We didn’t really agree on what each meant, that seemed to be overkill, and it’s turning out to be quite fun. And context, we decided we could add this with our availability, when we think it’s important.
“And how’s it going?”
Anna looked up. “Well… Actually, I think it’s ok. I haven’t talked to any of the others yet, but,” she bobbed her head up and down a few times. “Yes, it seems to be working well for me.”
I couldn’t get the image of Pete (or the version of Pete in my head), frowning during the meeting. “And Pete, how’s he doing?”
Anna chuckled. “He’s fine. I think it was during day 2 or 3 that he forgot to check in, so I just sent him a private message to remind him. After that, he’s always checked in. I haven’t asked him if he’s set up reminders or if he’s put it in his calendar, I don’t want him to feel like I’m watching him.”
I asked Anna, what she was getting out of the new process. She mentioned that she felt more connected to her team, as if knowing those times when team members were available made them feel “more present”.
“And what’s also interesting, is it’s helping me plan my day. In thinking when I can (or want to) be available to others, I’m structuring my work a bit more. Also, without going all introspective, sometimes I find myself thinking, “Oh, yes, I do feel a bit grumpy today. I wonder why that is…” But what I like too is that we just accept our moods and don’t really go all fluffy asking each other why, if someone wants to tell us what’s going on, they can tell us at a meeting, or in the social channel.”
It seemed like having a system of Deliberate Communication was working for Anna’s small team. Her team members were quite already quite close and there seemed to be a lot of trust between them. But sometimes, this might not be the case. And that’s why it’s important, dear Reader, to keep an eye out when these systems give rise to unhelpful behaviours.
I have a friend who used to work for a corporation, in an open-planned space. She’d come in early in the morning, go for a swim in the gym (they took wellbeing very seriously!) and start work before most of her colleagues. At lunch time, instead of taking the customary two-hour lunch break (did I mention that my friend worked in Spain?), she would take less than an hour, so that she could leave the office early, and enjoy the afternoon.
She was a good worker, a good team member, and rarely took breaks during the day. However, even after many years of working amongst the same people, she often felt a little bit uncomfortable leaving the office before everyone else. There were still those who gave her the odd look as she said, “See you tomorrow” on her way to the lift.
Presenteeism has been an issue for decades in many organisations, and it has reared it’s ugly head in off-the-cuff interactions that meant no harm like: Person A comes in the office, Person B looks at watch and raising their eyebrows and smiling says, “What time do you call this?”. I’ve even seen this happen in co-working spaces. Comments that were well-intentioned jokes, meant to show that “hey, we notice you around here and glad you’ve arrived”, but that also reflected a deeply-engrained, traditional way of looking at our workdays.
If our team has developed a culture of presenteeism, where people are only seen to be working if they’re seating at their computer, it will not disappear over night. In fact, it could well be amplified when you move most of your communication to the asynchronous online space. Your own behaviour will be key to whether this “disease” spreads (presenteeism is contagious and can harm your health) or whether it is conquered.
One of the ways in which you can identify whether you suffer from presenteeism yourself, (which sometimes can also be a sign of lack of trust that people are working) is to check-in with your own reactions throughout the day. If you’ve set up some system of Deliberate Communication, when you see someone “checking in”, and assuming that they don’t have a job like customer service, that needs to start at a certain time of the day, do you feel relieved that they’re at work, or do you just take in the information and use it as needed – for example to help you choose when to interact with them.
When team members check-in later than the traditional working day, do they attract jokes like, “Hey, about time!”?
It’s important not to use these systems to micromanage team members and revert back to the good ol’ days of “clocking in”. As long as collaboration or the work doesn’t suffer, of course. However, they can help you as manager to observe if people are starting to work unhealthy long hours, or the way in which they “turn up for work” changes dramatically. I’ve met many managers concerned about the wellbeing of their people, when they don’t interact with them every day. Aside from doing the regular individual check-ins all good managers should do, having systems of checking-in regularly like those suggested by Deliberate Communication, can help you observe when there is a sudden change. Look out for these, as they might hint at something going on.