Exploring the Work-from-Home Experience & Its Out-of-Office Toll

Employees who are used to working in an office environment have undergone an abrupt change to working from home the past several months due to COVID-19. Curious to learn how they were handling the absence of in-person communications, collaboration, and teamwork, I reached out to colleagues (executives and professionals in a variety of organizations where working from home is not the norm) to understand their experience.

Here are the qualitative highlights compiled from more than a dozen responses.

Describe your experience about working from home since COVID-19 impacted your workplace.
Similar to many articles exploring the pro’s and con’s of working from home, my colleagues confirmed it’s a “mixed bag” and a “means to an end.” They appreciate the convenience and time-saving of not having to commute, and many are grateful to have the opportunity to continue working. At the same time, they’re frustrated with distractions from other family members confined at home, insufficient and/or inconsistent bandwidth, and fatigue from meeting virtually.

“The lack of personal engagement has created more challenges than I would’ve guessed. I underestimated how much I benefit from organically ‘talking something through’ – the benefits of speaking out loud and receiving real time feedback.”

“Having always had a lot of interaction with others in the office, I now have to make an effort to keep this collaboration going.”

What stands out for you about working remotely compared with working in your office location with fellow employees?
Most notably, respondents commented on missing personal interaction.

“Emails have doubled or tripled as a result of not being able to casually talk to others in the office. And the virtual meetings are more tedious than those around the table.”

“Our work has intensified and what stands out most for me, as CEO, is a lingering concern about staff burnout and my inability to intercede. Working remotely reduces the opportunities to ‘check-in’ on staff and make sure they’re doing okay.”

“Working from home takes a lot more effort to stay connected. While in the office chats occur naturally, I now have to pick up the phone or setup a virtual meeting to run ideas by somebody or just chat about the weather. It’s easy to lose contact with an introverted person and difficult to find out how somebody is really coping with this new normal.”

What are you most looking forward to about returning to your workplace environment?
The act and impact of being with other employees is a major theme. Being together feeds the energy of working as a team.

“I am most looking forward to the sense of team momentum. I know we can all knock out our work independently but that feeling of striving and progress is different when we can’t work as a true team.”

“Collaboration! Seeing somebody in person and not through a screen.”

“I look forward to the camaraderie of my colleagues.” 

Takeaway: the Energy Toll
While coping as best they can under the circumstances, people who prefer the office environment find that working from home requires more emotional energy to connect, communicate, and collaborate with others. They look forward to returning to their respective workplaces to regain the strong sense of teamwork and esprit de corps that happens when being together.

Note: Special thanks to everyone who took the time to share their working from home experiences for this post.

[Image by You X Ventures on Unsplash]

Customer service Engagement

Beware of “Askholes” & Others Who Won’t Listen

Understandably, people who ask for advice may not always follow it. But how they listen and respond makes a difference in the outcome and its impact on others. This includes frustrating encounters with “askholes” — people who constantly ask for your advice, yet ALWAYS do the complete opposite of what you told them to do” [Urban Dictionary] — and those who ask for advice only to dismiss it.

Ignoring valuable suggestions from reliable sources can negatively affect the workplace. Read on to learn more.

Example #1. When the consultant voice doesn’t matter

A colleague of mine shared the following experience.
     I was called in to consult with an IT organization to facilitate the initial sessions on a massive change and reorganization. People were not being forced to join the new organization — they came by choice and interview. During the first session, an employee who worked in network security stood up and said “I don’t support any of this and will work to stop it.” I was able to address the employee’s disruption temporarily and he sat down.
     When I later met with the IT leader to discuss this serious issue, he made light of it saying, “People say things like that during changes. It’s no big deal.” I told him it IS a big deal as the network security specialist accepted this job in the new organization by choice and said he will do everything to stop the change. Still the leader seemed unmoved. Finally I said, “I am telling you that you better check into what he is doing to the network. This is serious!!” He did and found out that the network security specialist was taking steps to subvert it.
     When you ask a trusted consultant for an opinion, at least check out what they are saying. This wasn’t the first leader to initially dismiss my concerns only to find out the situation was very serious.

Example #2. When the employee voice doesn’t matter 

A service-based organization implemented system changes that frustrated both front-line employees and customers. Fortunately, loyal customers were patient and empathetic as staff struggled to adapt. Several customers also politely shared their concerns with employees to be communicated upward. But staff feedback was routinely ignored to the point that employees resorted to asking customers to complain directly to management as senior leaders were more likely to respond to customer complaints.

As a result, customers were made aware of management not listening to employee feedback which lead customers to rethink their perceptions of how the organization was run. It’s why I remind leaders, “The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel, and if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.”

How’s your willingness to listen?

I realize not all suggestions and advice should be heeded. But ignoring outright the input of peoples’ experience and expertise is not only frustrating to those with something to say, it can lead to their disengaging with you.

Asking for advice is only half the battle. How you respond puts your professional credibility and workplace engagement at risk.

[Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay.]


Pathetic Tales from the Clueless in Charge

Incredulous but true. Here are several examples of the absurd-in-action from the executive suite.

  • A colleague who works in sales shared that her employer is undergoing massive changes and consolidation. Besides reducing staff and increasing the remaining employees’ workload, management also lowered sales commissions while raising sales goals.
  • At a staff meeting the head of a small organization announced the company was outsourcing its IT work — without having first told or consulted with the person responsible for the in-house IT function.
  • A CEO invested in a senior management team retreat where everyone, including the CEO, committed to agreed-upon behaviors to improve team efficiency and effectiveness. Several months later, the team found that everyone except the CEO was living up to their commitments.
  • The president of an well-respected ad agency called a staff meeting to announce a “merger of equals” with a firm that was much bigger and actually acquiring the smaller agency. It was news to the staff including several of the agency’s senior partners who had not been told their agency was being shopped. It was also news to the retired CEO and founder who kept an office and secretary in the agency but was out of town when the meeting was held. He learned of the deal when it hit the newspapers.
  • A CEO, who complained about wasting time in a company-wide email, made everyone wait for him on an all-hands call before cancelling it 25 minutes later. While he never acknowledged his actions (contrary to his pet-peeve), he continued to complain about employees wasting time.
Call the executives/decision-makers in these situations by whatever words fit: clueless, unrealistic, inept, [fill-in-the-blank with your own description]. Whatever you choose to describe them, they are also major contributors to employee frustration, disengagement, and burnout.
Customer service Engagement Training & Development

What’s Reflected in Your Brand Mirror?

To hold on to your customers amid strong competition, it’s important to provide a positive customer experience. But where do you begin?

You start from the inside out with the employee experience because the way employees feel is the way customers will feel – and if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers. 

Picture the relationship between the two as a mirror. If employees are frustrated by company policy or internal politics, their attitudes can be reflected in their dealings with customers. Who wants to be served by employees who feel hassled or ready to disengage? It takes only one or two such encounters before a customer goes elsewhere. And who knows how many other customers will hear of their experience?

What do you see when looking into your company’s employee-customer brand mirror?

  • a shiny reflection of positive experiences with your internal and external brand?
  • a blurred image that needs polishing to be more employee- and customer-focused? or
  • a cracked image opening up opportunities for your competitors?

Three keys to creating a positive and polished brand reflection:

  • Proactively pay attention and listen to employees to better understand their experience in your workplace; e.g., employee surveys, management by wandering around, engagement discussions, exit interviews, etc. Do your employees have the tools, resources, and information they need to effectively serve customers?
  • Based on what you learn from listening to them, involve employees in improving business operations to better care for customers and each other.
  • If your organization is in transition or stressed with limited resources, positively acknowledge those who rally the energy and enthusiasm to serve customers and co-workers despite the situation.

If you need a reminder :

“There is no way to deliver a great customer experience with miserable employees.”  Steve Cannon

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”  Stephen R. Covey

[Image credit: Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash]


True Confessions: I’m Tired of Employee Engagement

I started working on employee engagement long before the “e” word came into vogue, and I’m tired of it. Here’s why.

Overused as a business buzzword, the term “employee engagement” has become meaningless. It gets talked about in executive suites and management meetings, yet few companies actually do anything about it because too much effort is required to change a culture that needs fixing and artificial attempts in a cultural vacuum only make the situation worse.

As a result, I’m just plain tired of:

  • the endless rhetoric and discussions that go nowhere
  • the naysayers who don’t think engagement matters
  • executives frustrated with engagement because it’s not a quick fix.

Employee engagement 1.0 and beyond
When I started Quality Service Marketing more than 30 years ago, my work involved helping clients gain employee commitment to marketing and organizational goals. Managers wanted to know how to get employees motivated and willing to work with them to take care of customers.

Engagement’s scope has evolved since then to recognize that employee and employer each bear responsibility for it. Employees need to show up to work ready, willing, and able to do their best, and employers need to provide a workplace where employees are respected, trusted, and eager to do their best.

Work and workplace expectations have also changed. Employees want meaningful work with flexibility and fair pay. And while some companies proactively engage them as valuable partners, too many still consider them as labor to be manipulated in response to short-term market pressures.

That’s the main reason I’m frustrated with employee engagement. We haven’t fully transitioned from the industrial age of management control over employees-as-commodities to a better model of management with employees-as-respected-partners sharing in responsibility and ownership of results.

Not ready to give up
Despite my frustrations, I’m encouraged when I meet with employees who tell me how great their employers and workplace cultures are. Ditto when I hear and read about successful organizations where employee-care is as important as customer-care.

Despite the clueless-in-charge, there are still leaders out there who value their employees and genuinely want to do better with and by them. So I’m not giving up – because people matter and they deserve better.

[Image credit: photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash]


“You’re facilitating with what … ?!”

I’m proud to announce that I’m now a Certified Facilitator in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.

That’s right, I can help companies “solve real problems in real time in 3D” using specially selected LEGO® bricks.

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is a proven methodology based on extensive research from the fields of business, psychology, learning, and organizational development. It uses the power of “hand knowledge” that leverages the hand-brain connection: research shows the hands are connected to 70-80% of our brain cells. Using the neural connections in our hands, we can better “imagine, describe, and make sense of situations, initiate change and improvement, and even create something new.”

Participants engaged in this innovative approach “lean-in” to deal with business challenges in a safe environment. “Thinking through their fingers,” participants are fully engaged and empowered to unleash “insight, inspiration, and imagination.”

When is it helpful to use LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®?

Here is a sample of situations in which it works. Use it when you:

  • Are dealing with a complex challenge/issue that has no clear answers
  • Need to grasp the bigger picture, identify connections, and explore options/solutions
  • Want participants to equally contribute their respective knowledge and opinions on a topic/issue – with 100% engaged participation.

Its application is customized to each organization’s unique situation.

I’m excited to share this new addition to my facilitator tool kit. If your team or organization is ready to discover new insights and uncover fresh perspectives, let’s talk.




Workplace Engagement: an Inspired Strategy

We know that people can show up for work fully engaged only to have their enthusiasm and energy chipped away over time; i.e., once engaged doesn’t mean always engaged.

That’s because numerous factors contribute to one’s engagement levels that include an employee’s personal situation (involving health, family, financial well-being, and support systems) and his/her workplace situation (the nature of the job, resources available, company culture, trust, etc.). This means individuals and the organizations they work for share responsibility for engagement: employees need to show up ready, willing, and able to do their best work in a positive environment in which management fully supports employees’ efforts to do their best.

I’ve worked with many people who are committed to doing their best regardless of personal challenges. Whether or not they’re able to maintain their engagement, however, depends on leadership and management effectiveness.

“The willingness of the employee culture can’t be demanded; it can only be inspired. … employee management is only the illusion of control. On their own, people will decide how tightly they’ll embrace a new strategy. Their decision will be affected by whether they’re inspired to do well, whether they have a role model of good performance, and whether they get reinforcement for their performance.” Stan Slap

An engaged workplace is not only inspired, it’s also intentional.

[Image courtesy of]


Employee Engagement Killer

Have you ever found yourself in one of these situations?

  • Without warning, your position is eliminated due to restructuring
  • Your job security is at the mercy of company or government politics
  • Your job responsibility is minimized as a result of a management change or merger
  • Your competence and performance – reflected in stellar job evaluations – is questioned by a new boss.

Few people I know have been untouched by these situations. Their experience (and mine) leads me to describe the killer of employee engagement as “extraction” –  i.e., “Let’s wring as much as possible out of employees until we no longer need them.”

“Don’t take it personally”

Company decision-makers and/or those delivering the bad news try to rationalize “It’s just business” so employees don’t take their dismissal to heart. But how can people feel otherwise with the pain of losing one’s job, credibility, or work identity? Those left behind wondering “who’s next?” can’t help but feel at risk.

Several people close to me have experienced this pain. Here’s what they – and anyone who is feeling undervalued in the course of “it’s-just-business” – need to keep in mind:

“Your inherent value stands regardless of others’ decisions. You are not a victim of your circumstances.”

Engagement Marketing

HR Pro’s Name Favorites in the “Cartoon Employee Hall of Fame”

[With Employee Appreciation Day approaching, I’m delighted to share this special post from my friends at myHR Partner. These HR professionals are serious about their work, yet also have a great sense of humor. I encourage you to visit their Modern Employer blog where you can find helpful and informative content.]

myHR Partner’s Cartoon Employee Hall of Fame

In recognition of Employee Appreciation Day, which falls on March 1st this year, we would like to share our first Cartoon Employee Hall of Fame. It’s a short list right now, but we’ve included our expert commentary to make it special. We’ve also included suggestions for what to do to celebrate your workforce on their special day in honor of these inductees. Enjoy!

The Simpsons © 20th Century Fox.

Homer Simpson
With famous quotes like “Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers” and “I think Smithers picked me because of my motivational skills. Everyone says they have to work a lot harder when I’m around,” how could we not recognize Homer’s influence on legions of employees who seek to improve their work habits and have been encouraged to realize that at least they are not as bad as that guy.

Our HR commentary: Watching Homer Simpson at work, you have to wonder “Who the heck was that guy’s hiring manager?” Can you imagine what kind of antics would have turned up on his background check? The show’s writers are missing out on comic gold by not covering that in an episode. Talk about a company in need of help with its hiring process!
           Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by Mr. Simpson: Donut buffet.

SpongeBob Squarepants © Viacom International

SpongeBob Square Pants
SpongeBob loves his job as a short order cook at the Krusty Krab, and he’s good at it, too. We salute his positive attitude and work ethic, although his mannerism and overly outward personality can at times feel like an assault on the senses. What he lacks in workplace etiquette he does make up for in song-and-dance routines, however. Because he doesn’t ever intentionally mean to annoy anyone, it’s funny to us. For Squidward, not so much.

Our HR commentary: Could you have a more energetic or optimistic employee? That type of enthusiasm in the workplace is definitely needed — in moderation, of course. When it begins to become a distraction to his coworkers, that’s when a constructive conversation should occur. Maybe Mr. Krabs could conduct such conversations 2,000 leagues under the sea.
          Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by the square-pantsed one: Karaoke and line dancing lunch hour.

Mike Wazowski and Sully
In a world where monsters generate their city’s power by opening random doors and scaring children, the Monsters Inc. team of Mike Wazowski and Sully are the undisputed company champs. They always bring in the most screams and are hailed by management as the greatest thing since sliced bread. They are good guys and dedicated workers and deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their achievements, including induction into our Hall of Fame.

Monsters, Inc. © Pixar, The Walt Disney Company

Our HR commentary: Mike and Sully rock, there’s no doubt, but their rock star status might have inadvertently worked against the larger team they belonged to at the company. Even putting creepy, evil Randall aside, when team leaders focus too much on just the brightest shining gems in the company, they miss out on the diamonds in the rough. Missing opportunities to build up the rest of your team can really stifle growth, create internal resentment and discourage other talented employees.
          Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by Monsters Inc.’s most famous duo: Door prizes, of course.

The Flintstones © Hanna Barbera

Fred Flintstone
The world’s most famous prehistoric “bronto crane operator” (we believe the more politically correct title “geological engineer”) is anything but your typical quarry employee. He works at Slate Rock and Gravel Company, and even though his boss, Mr. Slate, has fired him on many occasions, Fred’s better work traits always seem to win him his job back at the end.

Our HR commentary: Fred Flintstone may be loveable but he is definitely the kind of employee who needs help keeping his emotions in check on the job. If you have a lot of Freds on your team, you probably should have training for managers on how to work with “drama queens” and other distracting personalities, as well as some team training on how to communicate more effectively.
          Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by our favorite caveman: Company bowling tournament.

The Jetsons © Hanna Barbera

George Jetson
He works at Spacely’s Sprockets turning the Referential Universal Digital Indexer (R.U.D.I.) on and off. It’s reassuring to know that in the future a nine-hour workweek full of button pushing may be the norm. We must also admit that the we like the idea of someday being able to come home from the office to find that housework consists of pressing more buttons, when it’s not being done by a robotic maid, of course.

Our HR commentary: More than 50 years after ‘The Jetsons’ first aired on TV, there are still so many workplace communication issues in those episodes that are relevant. Email, texting, social media and other technological advances haven’t cured the problems. In some cases these modern conveniences have actually made the communication problem worse. One accidental reply-all email or ill-worded voicemail can make you want to just scream “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!” 
     Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by the Mr. Spacely’s star button pusher: This is a tough one. Maybe a ’60s inspired lunch theme and serve moon pies all around?


When Strategic Change is Designed to Disengage

After hearing from clients and colleagues undergoing organizational restructuring, I’m totally confounded by their descriptions of what’s happening. Managers are brought in from “corporate” or outside the organization and placed in positions to make changes without gathering any input from current managers who are running successful business units.

Yes, I get that company execs can change strategy and supporting structure(s) when and how they want to. It’s the processes they use that are most concerning – especially when they seem designed to disengage. Like changing job responsibilities with no consideration or input from the managers and employees in those roles. Or telling people they have to re-apply for their current jobs. While such an approach might be a way to eliminate under-performers, it’s insulting to those who perform at or above expected levels.

Executives who initiate strategic changes without engaging current managers in the process disrespect them by dismissing their institutional knowledge and experience working in their respective departments.

While organizational change isn’t easy. it doesn’t have to be made more painful by those in charge.

“The trick is to know what to change when. And to achieve that there is no substitute for a leadership with an intimate understanding of the organization working with a workforce that is respected and trusted.” Dr. Henry Mintzberg