Lately, I’ve been curious about how people find themselves at work. It seems harder to let outside influences go as we jump into our days in a world that sometimes seems anything but normal. Many of us try to “be professional” as we sit at dining room tables that have become our home offices, attending Zoom calls while attempting to mute at the same moments our toddler screams and our dogs bark at the Amazon guy. The usual distractions used to be the smell of someone heating up last night’s fish in the community microwave or the coworker’s personal conversations over the cube wall, but now our distractions are intensely personal and not as easy to drown out.

As we work from home, making a clear distinction between our home and work lives is becoming harder. So the question becomes, “Do we try harder to force the separation or just let our coworkers and clients see a little more about who we are outside the office?” Although uncomfortable, my vote is for the latter. I also don’t think that we have to swing from one extreme to another, based on who we’re interacting with that day we can work within a spectrum of authenticity that is based on trust. 

Low Trust: Higher Walls

If we’re dealing with a client or coworker that we may be lower on the trust scale, we may choose to build some barriers between our home life and the life we project on our Zoom meetings. Some ways that we can create some “space” starts with how we’ve configured our digital meeting space. For example, if you’re working in your bedroom, you may want to consider using the Zoom background feature. This can give you a little more privacy while you’re doing video-conferencing. Also, you may want to invest in a noise-canceling headset.  A headset is a great way to filter external noises at your house, but it’s also a great way to prevent your little ones from overhearing heated business discussions.

Medium Trust: Test the Waters

Perhaps you’ve been working with your coworkers for a few years and you’re willing to test the waters maybe it might be time to let them in a little to your home life. The Covid pandemic has introduced a completely new element to our working lives and it’s natural to feel a little uncomfortable in this new environment. Although Dorie Clark’s article What to Do When You Don’t Feel Comfortable Being Yourself at Work was originally written for those that don’t feel comfortable in their current work environments, I think it can offer some great suggestions for those that are uncomfortable about working from home. Broadcasting our home lives can display some of our deepest vulnerabilities however, exposing these vulnerabilities can also open us up to deeper relationships. The key with those you’re starting to build relationships with is to start small and work from there.

High Trust: It’s Still Not a Face-to-Face Conversation

If you’re on a work call with a colleague or client you’ve been working with for years, still beware of the technology you’re using to communicate. If you are using a technology that is sponsored by your company, it could be automatically recorded. And if it is recorded, are you sure you want that conversation played back to you someday? Based on the relationship (colleague or client) you may choose to introduce your family members while on conference calls (especially if you’re interrupted), but you still want to make sure that each layer you reveal of your personal life is being matched by your colleague or client. 

Working from home presents an interesting social experiment. After years of working with people face-to-face, seeing how they live and interact with their families presents some challenges. Continuing to assess how we show up for work and the version of ourselves we display will continue to evolve. There are no easy answers but continuing to examine who we trust with which information will continue to be a factor in how we now reveal ourselves to those we live and work with.

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Collaborating for Success

In school, I always struggled with the team project. The idea of collaborating with others and creating a plan for creating the work always seemed to lend itself to a lot of vague discussions followed by one person doing the heavy lifting to get the project across the finish line. In my career, I’ve learned that essentially most of my work life is one big group project. I’m sure we’ve all worked on projects with colleagues that go well and then we’ve worked on some projects that just can never get going or get finished. What are the key features of a successful collaboration versus an unsuccessful one? 

Trust

At the core of a positive collaborative experience is trust. If your team trusts each other, it really does enhance the communication process. In Franklin Covey’s book The Speed of Trust, Covey describes in great detail the benefits of working in a high-trust environment. A few of these benefits include decisions being made faster and the outcomes of these collaborative efforts are more impactful. 

Clarity

What is the purpose of your project or collaborative effort? Is there a specific time when the purpose or objective needs to be completed? Collaborative endeavors that seem to drag on are usually lacking in a clear purpose and a deadline hasn’t been agreed upon. If these two items are taken care of right at the beginning of a project, the team has a better chance of success. Also, each team member should have a clear idea of their purpose for being on the project as well as what is expected 

A Conflict Management Strategy

When collaborating with others, differences of opinion are bound to happen, and having a strategy for managing conflict is helpful to continue to move forward. The first step in managing conflict is to accept it’s happening. If a team tries to ignore the fact there is an issue, this is only going to break any trust within the team that has already been established. Direct communication is generally best between those team members that might be experiencing conflicting views.

Summary

Collaboration is essential in the workplace. As long as teams focus on supporting a high-trust environment, having a clear focus and deadline, and a strategy for managing conflict, any collaborative endeavor can be successful.