Tips for Facilitating Self-Care in Remote Working Environments
If 2020, under Covid, has taught us anything about B2B marketing then surely it is the significant contribution of our people in planning and executing successful marketing activities that deliver measurable outcomes. Without good people you can’t really have good marketing. Not just people with the right marketing skills and experience, significant though this is, but also people with the right attitude and necessary ‘soft skills’. People who can work independently, and as part of a team; who can manage their time to prioritise the most important business outcomes; who can communicate; raise their hand when needed; lead the team; and go that extra mile.
There is nothing like a major disruption, like suddenly all working from home, to test how well our organisations recognise the support infrastructure required in the successful execution of a marketer’s role. In fact, anyone who needs to collaborate closely and in an agile way with internal and external team members needs to feel supported.
How valued have we felt when isolated from co-workers? How has your organisation promoted self-care or actively enabled its people to manage their mental health? How do old organisational tropes, such as ‘work hard, play hard’ stand up to the realities of our virtual team working environment?
Work from Anywhere
Many companies have stepped up to the practicalities of the home-working challenge driven by Covid and have quickly ensured staff can be productive by sending equipment, offering to pay out-of-pocket expenses to enable remote-working, and so on.
Not all companies have necessarily thought beyond these practicalities to consider the needs of individual workers – and by ‘companies’, I mean line managers and team leaders. Communication, collaboration, project management, self-care, work/life balance, are all more challenging when working remotely, particularly when our home environment may not be conducive to home working.
We have seen the funny side of this, with young family members and pets gate-crashing Zoom calls! But the negative impacts of working from one’s kitchen or creating work-life boundaries at home are perhaps less well recognised or supported.
Covid has brought these issues to the attention of the media in a big way, but the drivers behind feelings of isolation and team dysfunction – our increasingly distributed, matrixed, multi-cultural, global workplace have been around for a long time in many companies. So how well are we recognising and adapting to the challenges?
Social Isolation, Identity and Performance
We marketing people tend to be a gregarious lot! While this is a bit of a stereotype, the fact that our internal customer is Sales, our key focus is content and communication to engage customers and we are often found at events, suggests that we like to get out and meet people.
So it is not surprising that many of us have found the isolation of working from home hard. And, while many of us spend hours a day in Teams/Zoom/Google Meet even when in the office, it has felt harder when everyone else is also remote and at home.
The current edition of the Harvard Business Review (HBR, Nov/Dec, 2020) discusses some of the challenges of remote, distributed working in an article that predicts that ‘work from anywhere’ will become the norm – and is already well-established at companies like Tata Consultancy (TCS), Zapier and GitLab. They discovered that ‘without in-person check-ins, managers may miss signs of growing burnout or team dysfunction.’
One marketing executive on a remote working team is quoted as saying:
Remote work can be very isolating, especially for introverts. You almost have to create an intentional experience when you’re socialising with others. And then you have to be ‘on’ all the time, even when you’re trying to relax. That’s taxing.
We all experience the pressure to ‘live our best lives’ at work and the digital experience could turn work into an Instagram world of air-brushed reality if we are not physically connected to others. The pressure to put a ‘brave face’ on things has resulted, according to one source, to 1 in 6 people suffering in work with symptoms of a mental health condition.
As far back as October 2007, against a backdrop of longer hours being spent in work, HBR published an article that cited a case study at Wachovia Bank about renewing the energy needed for work (‘Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time’ – Schwartz and McCarthy – Oct, 2007) where they found:
Most large organizations invest in developing employees’ skills, knowledge and competence. Very few help build and sustain their capacity – their energy – which is typically taken for granted. In fact, greater capacity makes it possible to get more done in less time at a higher level of engagement and with more sustainability.
So how are we managing ours and our teams’ energy – the mental resilience that helps us feel ‘on it’ but at the same time, true to our nature: authentic?
Data, Systems, Reporting – Just Add People
Marketing in 2020 sometimes feels like a game of buzzword bingo: ABM, neuromarketing, attribution, data-driven, user-generated content, AI algorithms…. BINGO!
In addition to acquiring new, young talent to do the digital and operations stuff – with UX designers and behavioural scientists rubbing along with Google AdWords, Google Analytics and Marketo specialists who have been brought in to make sense of it all – there remain creative, content, product marketing and events people. And programme managers, field marketing, sales enablement and so on. A lot of people of different ages, skills profiles, experiences and expectations who need to work together to deliver an outcome.
Members of these teams will have different levels of capability in effective communication, time management, setting expectations, project management processes and tools, and giving and asking for support. All of these require more attention for teams to operate well in a distributed, virtual environment. How equipped are they for these additional demands? How supported do they feel? Are they expecting things to ‘get back to normal’ so they can forget about how hard things have been?
Marketing as a discipline has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, at a time that has seen the continued march of globalisation and is now confronted by the ‘work from anywhere’ corporate culture, which has significant upsides for both businesses and workers – but can be challenging.
Embracing these changes will require a greater acknowledgement of potential mental health and self-care needs for our team members, combined with a change in corporate culture in some organisations to enable a more sustainable expectation regarding work-life balance.
There are some useful resources to support companies and employees in self-care. The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) is the not-for-profit organisation that promotes the provision of employee assistance, featuring useful resources and providing access to registered EAP providers. The services of these providers may be offered via your employers.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) also champions wellness and has some useful resources aimed primarily at HR professionals, but with additional survey content.
However, while these resources should provide a backbone for a company’s employee assistance and welfare programmes, often the day-to-day support needed to avoid crisis and feelings of isolation need to come from managers and co-workers. Regular opportunities to raise concerns, offer support – and just be human – can go a long way.