Elisa Hebert

A Question of Perspective

Pandemically Candid

This is the fifth post in a multi-part series about Radical Candor and authenticity in the workplace. To start at the beginning, check out the first post in the series. This series was originally posted on Medium.

On the left tail of the COVID-19 bell curve (which maybe we are still in, which is horrifying), when many white collar workers were making moves to work from home for a period of time, I was pretty sure I knew what it would look like. I had, after all, worked from home and far away from my colleagues for 9 years at my last company. I had successfully led the business and operations side of an organization remotely, and I was confident this wouldn’t be so different. I even proclaimed as much in a video meeting with some colleagues — all of whom gave me side-eye as our children ran around in the background. A few adjustments, I thought, and we’d be good to go.

Flash back several months before that. A female leader at Kenzan and I were chatting, and she asked, “How do you do it all?” I was, at the time, in the final throes of getting my MBA, and I have two little girls (8 and 5 years old) plus a demanding job. My answer? I have a wife.

Now, it just so happens my wife is female, but I’m not talking about her gender. I’m talking about her gender role in our household. My wife is significantly more successful than I am at the balancing act. I’ve had the ability to opt out due to long days at work and long weekends of homework. She is a real estate agent with a flexible schedule. AND she does the full end-to-end gamut of life with a home and kids — the bills, the doctor appointments, the after-school activities, the after-school meltdowns, the permission slips, the scheduling, the laundry, knowing when it’s time to get the house repainted, making sure we have enough milk, storing the 5T clothes and buying the 6Ts (before the 5Ts become high-waters). ALL OF IT.

Working from home in the era of COVID-19 is a different game. This is not normal working from home. (What is normal, anyway? Different blog post for a different day.) Kids are always underfoot, and the news that school wouldn’t reopen this year hit hard even as we saw it coming. This was one of the great reckonings for me early on. I had to get Radically Candid with myself about how different this work-from-home situation is, even while I am as minimally impacted as a person can be (see above RE: my infinitely capable wife). My colleagues who looked at me like I was nuts when I said this would be fine? They were right.

It’s not fine. It’s not the same. Some days, for many people, it is or feels impossible. Now let’s be honest — the stress of socially isolating and working from home is not in the same ballpark as wondering how we’ll pay the mortgage or the bills. However, for many folx who are privileged enough to make their usual salary working from home, figuring out how to keep that job, stave off loneliness and/or stir-craziness, and (for many) educate (or even just keep busy) their kiddos can be an outrageously difficult hurdle.

AND (as so many people have written since this all started) it’s highlighting the ways that we can step up and take care of each other. Of all of the moments in time for any business, this one is when the people matter most. This is the one where people will remember how their company reacted. This is the one they’ll viscerally recall if they were truly supported as a whole human.

I’ve written about how Radical Candor has changed the way I look at my interactions with others, and how I’m trying to operate as a leader, manager, and colleague. It’s said (pretty much everywhere these days) that leaders are forged in crisis. Everyone is watching to see who will rise to the occasion and lead us through whatever comes next — and who can walk that balance between confident reassurance and honest vulnerability.

As leaders, we are trying to figure out just how to do that. At the same time, leaders are whole humans too. We are afraid for our families and friends. We are lonely, and sometimes bored, and (especially if we have kids) often overwhelmed these days. We are balancing all of the myriad needs that our teams have right now with a basic truth: one of the fundamental things we must do is to keep the lights on. Making sure the business stays healthy means our teams can keep food on the table and keep rent or mortgages paid. It removes one of the most base fears that we all increasingly have as unemployment rates skyrocket. Will I lose my job? Will I lose my home? How do I protect my family?

Radical Candor comes into play when we think about how we approach this conversation with ourselves and our teams. Because we have today, and will increasingly have, those among us for whom their job is not the only or most important consideration. We do and will have folx who are struggling with recovery and mental health in this time of isolation. We do and will have folx with friends or family members who are sick. We do and will have folx who are sick themselves.

Being Radically Candid means sitting with this discomfort, and owning it. We recognize to each other that this time is unprecedented in many of our (American) lifetimes, and we don’t always know the right thing to do, not right away. What we do know how to do is act like whole humans. The same goes in our home lives. Like ourselves, our kids are more stressed, and we share things with them in an age-appropriate way that is balanced with our own anxieties. We acknowledge that while some people want a 24/7 news cycle, others have turned it off because it’s just too much. We look for more creative ways to connect, and give a little more grace all around — to our families, our teams, our colleagues, and most importantly to ourselves.

This might look different for your organization, but here at Kenzan and Amdocs it means:

  • Open and honest all-hands meetings where we talk about what we’re doing in this uncertain time, and folx can feel safe to voice their questions or fears.
  • More 1 on 1s that start with a little more chatter and personal silliness than usual, and that we allow to run long to foster real connection.
  • Virtual trivia nights and game nights and happy hours, oh my!
  • Hangouts and show-and-tell times for the kiddos during work hours, to give parents a little minute to themselves.
  • Baby time. Because sometimes seeing a tiny adorable human (even if only over a video call) is just what you need for a pick me up.
  • Giving a little extra patience when someone’s louder than usual, and checking in when they’re quieter.

In a time of crisis, in this crisis, true colors shine through. And what I see when I look at Kenzan and Amdocs, while imperfect (as are we all), brings me significant personal comfort and reassurance. It doesn’t make knowing that school’s (basically) already out for summer any easier. But it does help knowing that I have solid ground beneath my — and my family’s — feet.

If you enjoyed this article, catch up the rest of the series:

Part 1, The Daily Practice of Crit(ique)
Part 2, Calling Yourself Out
Part 3, Management Style: Sunny With a Chance of Bananas
Part 4, Pink Hair, Piercings, and Professional Services
Part 6, Rocket Fuel for Your Teams

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