Sep 8 2020

Work Lessons from the Pandemic

I’ve been thinking a lot about what changes in my work I’d like to keep, post-pandemic (can we even talk about a post-pandemic world? It still feels pretty far off). I’m trying to be deliberate and actionable about it. For me that means actually writing down what I’m trying to change and why. It also means trying to dig deeper than top level or cliche ideas (i.e., of course I’d like to travel less; but the deliberate and actionable version of that idea addresses the drivers of my travel – for example board meetings – and specific ways I’d like to change what’s pulling me out of town). In my world, the two biggest things I’ve changed are:

  • Have completely unscheduled days. My world gets easily overrun with meetings (I’m sure yours does as well). For the last few months I’ve been experimenting with having at least one day a week that is completely unscheduled. I block it off on my calendar, don’t allow anything to creep in, and am super stubborn about keeping it that way. I use this time for work that requires deeper thinking, for writing and for outbound calls. Sounds simple, but it’s been incredibly powerful. In my ideal world, I would have 3 days a week for scheduled meetings and 2 days that are blocked for work. I’m still building up to that. An interesting side note here is that adjusting my schedule in this way quickly fills the other 3 days of my week, which has forced me to be even more careful about what I let on my schedule.
  • Have a stated purpose for every meeting. It’s easy to let meetings slip onto the calendar and, like you, I struggle with the right balance of availability vs sanity in my calendar. One of the things I’ve done to try to alleviate meeting overload is to be sure that I have a clear, stated purpose for every meeting. That helps me better decide whether it’s a meeting that makes sense to schedule, or whether it’s actually something that can be handled in some other fashion. In my world, handling it in “some other fashion” means either over email, Voxer or with a call (but where that call happens unscheduled, on one of my unscheduled days). Like many people I’m often too quick to suggest setting up a scheduled meeting (now Zoom). In the immediate moment doing so saves time, but in the long run, of course, it’s not very efficient or helpful.

I recently asked a group of about 18 CEOs I work with regularly their thoughts on this. Below are a few things that they identified that they implemented during Covid for their companies that they’d like to continue that I thought were worth passing along.

  • All employee office hours. This is time set aside on a quarterly or monthly basis for employees where the CEO hangs out on an open Zoom call and anyone can pop in to talk one on one, ask questions, present ideas, voice concerns, etc. This has been particularly helpful in getting feedback from quieter employees who don’t always speak out in group meetings.
  • Deep dives on specific areas of the business. This one is pretty self explanatory but a number of CEOs I work with are using the extra time they’ve gained not commuting and not traveling to get more personally involved in specific areas of their business. Product was cited more often, but some were jumping into sales or marketing as well, and one even referenced finance as an area they were going deep in.
  • Getting expert at hiring and managing remote employees. Pretty obvious, given how businesses are operating in this time. But in my framework, the key here is to go deeper. Saying you want to be open to remote employees is fine, but for this exercise, the important part is to understand as a business what practices you’re going to change to enable that. This will vary from company to company but several I work with have set up cross-functional task forces to help come up with ideas for how to more efficiently operate/what practices to change to enable and promote remote work across the business.
  • Daily all-company stand ups. This was something implemented by both larger and smaller businesses (many small companies do this but eventually get away from it – I think Zoom culture has enabled it to come back, even in larger businesses). Be careful on this one as it can be a real time sink for your company, but as a quick 5 minute daily check-in, several CEOs I talked to found it a helpful way to keep employees engaged and on the same page.
  • A focus on mental fitness.  We’ve been recommending Meru Health (a Foundry portfolio company) to internal Foundry employees as well as our portfolio, and many have found their system really helpful. Generally speaking, CEOs have found that Covid has given them an opportunity to work more on their both mental and physical health giving them more headspace to deal with the daily crises that spring up. Several are finding creative ways to help encourage that across their employee base (team contests around steps, virtual company 5Ks, a focus on mental as well as physical fitness, etc).
  • More frequent employee reviews and organizational changes. Several CEOs referenced a realization that they realized through needing to reduce costs that they had over-invested in areas of their business and talked about the desire to more regularly do a more wholistic review of their organizations and where they were directing resources to be more agile about repositioning resources and people.  In some cases this would mean parting ways with employees whose job functions were no longer needed. In others it might mean repositioning employees to new roles. It’s a hard thing to talk about but making this an ongoing process rather than something that requires a forcing function (finances getting tight, global pandemic, etc.), building it into a business as a regular work-flow was a key take-away for several I talked to.

There were a number of other ideas that came out of this discussion but these are some of the key ones. If you have additional thoughts, please add them below in the comments.