Submitted by: Mike Colwell, executive director of entrepreneurial initiative at the Greater Des Moines Partnership

In our 24/7 news cycle, social-media-influenced world, everyone is judged in near real time. Recently Bill Gates announced his foundation would fund the construction of seven factories to produce COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The world judged him in a very positive light. However, there are other examples of people in power who have posted things that come off as tone-deaf or worse, and the world immediately judges these too. These impressions do not go away easily.  

What about you? What impressions are you leaving during the COVID-19 pandemic? How would others judge you? Those who interview people for jobs, promotions, board positions, etc. will be asking you how you judge your own actions. They will want to know what you learned, what was hardest and how you managed your personal well-being. How you answer these will likely influence decisions regarding your next role.  

So what should we all do? In addition to taking care of your mental and physical health, which is of the utmost importance, start with keeping a journal or log documenting your experiences throughout this pandemic. Make it personal and be honest with yourself — you are the only one who needs to see it. As you work on this journal, consider four areas to examine: technology, productivity, peer interactions and family. 

Technology
Some people we interact with are lamenting the technology learning curve that comes with working from home. Trello, Microsoft ToDo, WebEx, Zoom, Teams, Skype, Slack, DropBox, GoogleDocs and SharePoint are just a few of the remote-centric products that people are engaging with for the very first time. These applications are here to stay, so you might as well embrace them. Many business leaders are seeing significant productivity gains along with faster project completions due to fewer in-person meetings and more virtual communications. Team members are noticing the extra time in their day without the commute to and from work. In many cases they are also seeing the benefit of flexible hours vs. an “8 to 5” mandate. For many management people and team members, the new normal of today is better in a lot of ways. Going forward, expect an increase in the number of new digital tools. We will be expected to quickly adopt and master these new tools with less formal training and more DYI YouTube training videos.   

Productivity
The number of hours at a desk no longer means much. In “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work” by Wade Foster and the Zapier Team, the words “hire doers,” “hire people you can trust” and “trust the people you hire” frame the content of the book. Zapier is a 200-plus person company that is 100% remote workers. You can find the book at zapier.com/learn/remote-work

Productivity is the key measurement, rather than time in the office. More importantly, as our digital tools enable team members to accomplish more with less time and stress, those who do not produce will stand out. Many who work remote find that they can complete the work required in far less time than they could when they were in an office. Why? Fewer interruptions, less time waiting for a meeting and less time waiting for a returned email are just a few reasons. Do all remote workers put in 40-plus hours a week? No. Some put in far more and risk burnout. Others focus on getting their work done quickly and efficiently. When you take advantage of time gained from not working in an office, you can become more productive. 

Peer interactions
This is one of the hardest areas for new remote workers to adapt. Suddenly, you are alone at home or you are juggling home life and work life at the same time, with kids, a partner or roommate. Your peers are going through the same thing. You have to schedule time to create these interactions. Stopping by a work area to chat is no longer possible. Make a concerted effort to reach out to your peers and your manager. Overcommunicate. Schedule team coffees, maybe without the manager. Some people on Teams or Skype have a channel called The Kitchen just for socializing. Also, listening is just as – if not more – important right now. Listen as much as or more than you talk. Bad days happen whether you’re in the office or working remotely. A strong support system to lean on is still needed.   

Family
Rule one of remote work is to stop working. If you have a separate place to work, leave that place when you are done. If the kitchen table is your workplace, put all you work items away when you are done. A closet is a good place. That way your work gear won’t be staring at you.  

This is a new world, and we are all figuring it out together. I encourage you to be purposeful about how you approach this time. The next time you seek a job, you are going to be asked how you handled COVID-19. What will your answer be?