Recreating Our Spaces and Experiences to Thrive at WFH 0

Recreating our spaces

Most of us have adapted to and accepted work-from-home as the new normal and trying our best to manage. However, in times like these managing is not enough; it is important to thrive as well. And how do we do that? By creating ‘our spaces’ – people, physical, and professional – from work right at home.

Harshita Chaudhary

I want my space. we have either used this statement or have heard it from people around us more than once. These spaces which we create for ourselves define who we are. They are an extension of us and become part of our life so seamlessly that we sometimes do not even realise the difference between them and us.

Most of us have adapted to and accepted the whole Work from Home (WFH) scenario as the new context or the new normal. While we all have got into the rhythm of managing work and home, I feel there is a significant difference between managing and thriving. So, the need of the hour is to embrace the new normal by redefining our own normal.

For instance, my ‘Normal’ meant recreating the spaces which define me, and it is no surprise that a big part oRecreating Our Spaces and Experiences to Thrive at WFH 2f our lives are the spaces we create at our workplace. So I obviously missed my rhythm of the day and the things I was habitual of.

The trick for me thus was to recreate these spaces consciously and fill my life with experiences that I identified with and that made me feel like I was at my workplace even when Working from Home. I consciously started recreating my physical, people and professional spaces at home.

The most important space for me, which may or may not sound as important to others in the context of work, is the ‘People Space’. People interactions are the biggest nourishment to our “social being”, and in times when we are practising “social distancing”, one can only imagine the kind of emotions it can generate. Going to office meant finding people to laugh, crib, share ideas, have lunch with, enjoy coffee breaks, have face-to-face interactions, and sometimes just indulge in trivia conversations. Imagine how much it meant to us, just being ourselves during these small events.

I am sure we all miss the ‘people space’ we created at work but what can we do? ‘Do these things virtually’!

Find five or ten minutes to reach out to your colleagues and team members; consciously put this on your schedule. Have a coffee together over a call or enjoy a snack. Connect with others to connect to your rhythm.

When I started doing things I realised how important it is to over connect in these times, and sometimes the person on the other side may be needing it more than you.

You should practice this exercise as managers as well. Just connect with your team members generally, without an agenda and ask them how they are doing. Encourage your team to do a “No Agenda Catch Up” and see if buddies can also do this with new joiners. It will go a long way in strengthening the connections.

This is a big opportunity for HR professionals as well; this is the time to think innovatively and consciously. You must come up with breakthrough ideas to recreate people experiences and establish the connection that people may miss. And if your employee base mostly comprises Generation Y and Z, the ones who thrive on interactions and working together in groups, you are in for a bigger challenge. Collaborating and working in groups is second nature to them.

It is a good idea to encourage and consciously create platforms for greater collaboration, and better engagement. It is important to address this need upfront as it can impact employee productivity, morale and motivation levels. Also, the best part is that once such engagements and forums are consciously created, more often than not, they self-sustain themselves.

People are so happy to just see each other on video calls and having their trivia conversations, that they volunteer to make these interactions more exciting and refreshing for themselves and the team. Playing simple games of Pictionary or Bingo together or watching a video and chit-chatting can do the trick. Virtual hobby clubs or learning clubs, dance performances or just exercising together can make everyone feel normal.

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The next Space – the ‘Physical Space’ – may sound like a simple one, but has the maximum impact. Imagine your desk – what all you do to make it yours – decorate it, or just keep it just spread out and bar people from coming near or moving things, or maybe you don’t do anything because that’s the way you like it. I had to find that space for myself at home. I needed a workspace that allowed me to keep my feet up as I did in office, and thus found a chair at home that allowed me to do so comfortably.

Post-its, water jugs, candies, pens use whatever it takes for you to recreate this physical space. Also never miss the breaks. Take a walk around the house, if you can or just take a break and look out a window. In fact, something as small as getting ready at the same time as you did for office and logging in at the same time, will make you feel as if nothing has changed. And even if it has, you know how to find your “Normal” in it.

The third space, which may seem herculean to recreate and is always surrounded by the question “will I be as effective and as productive?”, is the ‘Professional Space’. Some of us have our working styles tweaked to being in office. Quick face-to-face catch-ups to make decisions and resolve issues, hustling and huddling as a team, a quick catch up with the managers and discussing progress on the go to get things done quickly – all of this seemed much easier when in the office.

What I was missing initially was how technology can be an enabler here and how this scenario actually could bring in much more efficiency and focus in all these decisions. To have effective work-related interactions it is important to set clear and focused agendas, and only invite those who are really needed for the meetings. Having standard cadences with team members and stakeholders to stay connected on work helps. It is also important to ask as many questions and ensure that the messages are clearly understood as most of the times we will not be able to fully interpret or understand body language and face expressions on video calls. It becomes important to focus on and be attentive to verbal clues and tone of voice as they may reflect what the other person is thinking. Working on presentation and communication skills is a good idea as these can be the biggest strengths at this time as the leverage of presence and expressions will not be available.

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In organisations, managers play a very critical role in this space to ensure that the team is highly productive at work – conducting daily scrum meetings focus on what needs to be achieved and how, acting as facilitators to take away roadblocks, especially in such scenarios. They form an important part of the organisations, so let’s not forget about them. They are the ones who are either supposed to figure it out on their own or expected to know it all.

Let’s ensure that we are supporting our managers and leaders through learning sessions, simple tips to be effective remotely, understanding what they need for their teams, the kind of stress they may be experiencing, or just have check-in conversations and allowing them to share their vulnerabilities in dealing with the current situation. This will ensure that what they experience as the culture of the organisation is also seamlessly passed on to their teams. Especially at this time, managers are like the extension of the organisation’s leadership values on the ground. An employee may experience the organisation only through these interactions with their managers. Thus, a manager’s interaction and impressions on the team become the most important during these times.

One main concern for managers is to ensure that the employees are as productive as they were in office and are meeting the deadlines. Thus, organisations and systems should help metricise and facilitate the objective measurement of productivity. However, managers should steer clear of micromanagement in these times. “Trust” on a team member, the faith that everyone will try to deliver their best, should be more front and centre today as managers operate within and with their team members. Managers must trust people to take ownership and be accountable while focusing on assigning clear goals, encouraging collaboration, keeping feedback mechanisms going and supporting their teams in achieving the goals.

Another important thing is to ensure the continuity of the learning and development conversations, even if they may need some changes. In current times, there is an increased need to focus on communication, develop strong listening skills, ability to perceive emotions and connect the dots.

As we recreate these spaces, let’s keep reminding ourselves that we are dealing with a lot and it is alright to be overwhelmed, uncertainty outside, loads of things to manage at home and of course, the need to feel “normal”.

So let’s take a deep breath and focus on those “moments for self”, whether it is yoga, a call to a childhood friend, picking up a skill – anything which brings a smile to our faces. Let’s find something to nurture ourselves.

Take this opportunity to change the meaning of “Normal”, which may today mean:

  • Nurture (N) ourselves,
  • Observe (O) our emotions,
  • Recreate (R) our experiences,
  • Practise Mindfulness (M),
  • Strengthening our Alliances (A)
  • and “Live” (L) every moment.

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A TATA Institute of Social Sciences alumna, Harshita is the Senior Manager for Talent and Organisational Development at Freshworks Technologies. She is responsible for designing and executing the talent roadmap to support business and organisational growth. In her earlier role, she was the Head of Talent for Nestlé South Asia Region. She has also worked with organisations like Mondelez (erstwhile Cadbury), Colgate Palmolive India and Honeywell. A diversity and leadership development enthusiast, Harshita in all her roles and projects has been driven by her passion for unleashing the potential of each person and each situation.

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