Lots of people joined organizations virtually in the last few years and have never met their coworkers in person. Many people are working hybrid and may only see coworkers a few times a month, if at all. You may be wondering how you build relationships and your career when you don’t see the people you work with. Here is the short answer – talk to people. Pick up the phone. You don’t need to have video calls, if you don’t want to. You just need to talk to people.
People need human contact. We even need to connect with the people we don’t like – when we work with them. Text and email don’t replace talking to people.
We stopped talking to each other long before so many people began working from home. Email has been overused for years. We emailed the people we sat next to at work. We exchanged 20 emails on one topic rather than picking up the phone. We ask permission to call our friends to catch up. Texting a friend to ask, “Is it ok if I call you tomorrow morning?” is the norm. We exchange 50 texts to determine where and when to meet for lunch.
Maybe people think email and texting is easier, less intrusive, faster. Less intrusive, yes. Easier, sometimes. Faster, no.
Call the people you work with. Ask for the best time to call or schedule calls, depending on people’s preferences. Have the conversations you’d have if you ran into them in the hallway at work. Talk through the projects you’re working on. If you’re new to the organization, ask their role and how your role impacts theirs. Calls don’t have to be long. People just need contact. And while you’re on the phone, get questions answered in five minutes rather than with 25 emails.
The days I’ve struggled to be with my young son during this
stay-at-home period are the days his behavior is other than I expect. Jumping, running,
and racing around at bedtime when I expect it to be a calm, quiet time. Eating
ice cream sandwiches before breakfast when I had already said no. Continuing to
play during clean-up time when we had agreed to clean up toys together.
Working with our coworkers, managers, employees, and customers is not different. “I tell people if I’m going to be late or not attend a meeting. Why can’t other people do that?” “I touch base with my employees weekly to see what they need. Why can’t my boss do that?” “I tell vendors if I don’t want to do business with them. Why can’t potential customers just tell me if they don’t want to work with us?”
All of these frustrations stem from violated expectations. I
expected you to do x. You did y. That’s – irritating, infuriating,
To be less frustrated and enjoy working with others more, change
I know bedtime is going to be wild, so I need to budget more time to allow for running and jumping before we settle into our bedtime routine. Or better yet, I need to accept that running and jumping are part of our bedtime routine. If someone has a history of not responding to emails or phone calls, I give them more lead time knowing I won’t hear back for a week. I work with the person instead of against them.
It’s easy to think that changing expectations is the same as
lowering expectations. It really isn’t. It’s altering the way we work with
people to reduce struggle. It’s working with versus working against. Altering
expectations is challenging. It takes a lot of patience and preparation.
Below are four ways to change your expectations with people who don’t do things as you think they should:
Remind yourself how this person engages, based on your past experiences with the person. Not to be cynical, but your coworker will likely do something today the same way she did it last week. Remembering how people typically work will help you set your expectations accordingly and you’re likely to be less frustrated when she takes a week to reply to an email.
Set clear expectations when you begin working with people. “I need to get back to my client with this information by Wednesday. I know that’s a quick turn-around. If I don’t hear back from you tomorrow, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?”
I need to tell my son that if he eats sweets when he isn’t supposed to, I won’t buy any more. When it’s clean-up time, any toy my son doesn’t help put away goes into storage for a while.
Follow through on the expectations you’ve set. If you told your coworker you’re going to call and text when you haven’t heard back from them, you need to do that. If the agreement is to escalate when something isn’t done or that you do it yourself and that person isn’t able to provide input, you need to do that.
Following through on expectations is
tricky. No one wants to be the ‘’bad or mean” person who holds others to
account. And sometimes holding people to established expectations results in anger
I’ll never forget the first time I
taught at the graduate level at a local university. I set the expectation that I
would deduct 10% from assignments that were turned in late. When I followed through
on that expectation my students were irate and complained to the Dean, telling
her I was unfair.
It was hard to reduce students’ grades. But if I didn’t follow through when expectations were violated, there was no point in setting expectations. It only undermines me and makes me seem like a person who doesn’t mean what she says.
Lastly, be real with people, not harsh or stringent, but real. If you’re struggling to work with someone or struggling to follow through on expectations, tell people that.
“I really need to get this information by Friday,
and I don’t know what to do. I’m feeling stuck.”
“I want us to have a good working relationship,
but I see that we’re struggling. Can we talk about it?” “I’m realizing I need more
contact with you. How can we find 15-minutes a week to connect live?”
No communication techniques supersede being
authentic and courageous. When you don’t know what to do or say, just be real. “I’m
realizing this isn’t working but I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to go around
you. What do you think we should do?” Working with other people and being a
powerful communicator takes courage.
People aren’t us. They won’t do things our way. To be less frustrated, alter your expectations. Be ready for others to do things their way and plan for that. And when you can, set clear expectations with everyone involved in how projects and work will be managed. And it’s ok to get upset and express frustration. Be real, be yourself, and plan ahead.
You’ve been on video calls for the past two hours. Your kids are bored, you aren’t accustomed to working alone at home and miss working in an office with other people, you don’t have a quiet, interruption-free environment in which to work, or your parents have called eight times.
work with is dealing with different circumstances. Some are perfectly content
working a full day at home, others are finding the experience isolating and
lonely. Some have no distractions at home and others have many. But we won’t
know what others are dealing with and how those circumstances impact work
schedules and deliverables if we don’t ask.
Managers, employees, and coworkers need to talk to each other about the constraints they’re dealing with and what a realistic work schedule looks like right now, and those conversations may be personal. They’re likely more personal than the conversations you’ve had in the past and that may be uncomfortable.
Managers, before setting goals, assigning projects, or scheduling meetings, talk to employees about what a realistic workday looks like right now.
the conversation could go: “I know working from home all the time is different
from you’re used to. I want to get a sense of what a realistic schedule is for
you and what kind of challenges you’re dealing with. We can create deadlines
and deliverables from there.”
Managers share about your own situation and set expectations with your employees, coworkers and with your own boss. It could sound something like this: “I have two young kids at home and I’m bringing my parents food each day. I check and return emails before 7:00 am, while my kids are still asleep. I log back on and am available for calls from 9:00 am – 10:30 am. I’m out of commission until 3:00 pm. I work from 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm and then I’m available at night from 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm. I know it’s not ideal, but it is my reality. Let’s figure out how to ensure you get what you need from me given the schedule.”
These are the conversations we need to be having and no one wants to have them. Who wants to admit to their boss, employees, and coworkers that they’re not able to work and focus for much of the day? No one. But pretending like we can participate in six hours of video calls each day or that our availability and productivity isn’t impacted is stressful and unrealistic. We are humans working with other humans and we need to be real with one another.
Managers ask your employees what a realistic work schedule looks like and find out what they’re able to do on a given day. Employees, broach the conversation with managers and coworkers. Be honest and ask for flexibility. It’s better to set expectations upfront than to surprise and disappoint.
In all of my years of working in and with organizations, I have
never heard anyone say the words, “I’m scared” at work. I’ve heard: “I’m
concerned” and “I’m uncomfortable,” but never the words, “I’m scared.”
These are scary times. It’s scary to go to the grocery
store, to know who it’s ‘safe’ to stand next to, and to travel.
Make it safe for employees to talk about their fears.
One of the first things I teach when I talk about change management
is letting people express how they feel – their worries, hopes, and concerns.
The people you work with are likely scared. They may be wondering if their job
is secure, what happens if they get sick, and are they doing enough work from
home with their kids present.
It’s hard to talk about fear because we think doing so makes us appear weak. Leaders and managers need to normalize the conversation. Make it ok to talk about how people feel at work.
Here are four steps to make it easier to talk about fear
Leaders and managers – admit what you’re afraid
of. People will take your lead. Admitting how you feel demonstrates strength
Tell people it’s ok to be afraid and it’s ok to
talk about fear at work. Sanction the conversation.
Give more information about contingency planning,
budgets and work from home and time off policies than you think you need to. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then do it again.
Create a forum for people to talk about how they
feel about recent events and changes. Managers are not therapists or dumping grounds,
but you are coaches. You can help people work through their work-related fears
when you know what those fears are.
I’ve always believed that demonstrating our humanity at work
is a strength. Being authentic makes people want to work for and with you. Admitting
concerns makes you approachable and real.
Your employees and coworkers don’t need to know the details of
your whole life, but they do need to see your humanity and be able to relate to
you. Talk about how you feel and open the door for others to do the same.
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