Nothing gets done in a single silo or department anymore. Constant collaboration and trust are at a premium because everything worth doing is always led by cross-functional teams. Now, the essential foundations of Collaboration and Trust are deteriorating. As leaders, we need to act now and stop the slide. We need to make our people feel safe, that they belong and that what they do really matters.

As you know, throughout August 2020 we undertook a survey of leaders across the globe to ask them about their greatest concerns and their best tips, the mindshifts they had to make this year and how they keep their community alive. As of 5th September, we've analysed 365 responses from leaders of small, large and enormous organisations, from start-ups to household names. Thank you for your time and efforts in helping us highlight the key leadership and business issues we all need face and how we might address them to emerge victoriously from this Pandemic.

As we analysed the responses it became increasingly evident that this situation has caused all of us to dig deep into our souls and recognise what truly matters to us as human beings. And it's how our brains are wired to respond to crisis and difficulties that emerged from the rich responses:

Can you see me?

“I used to think that being invisible would be an awesome super power. Now I struggle to maintain my identity in the organization. I can't see them, they can't see me, no one knows me, they don't collaborate with me. How are they going to trust me?” Says Beth, an account manager in a large MNC.

Disconnected and Isolated. Am I safe? Do I belong? Do I matter?

Working from home is an environment that fosters disconnection and isolation. Yet, we all have an innate desire to be safe, liked and to do something that matters. Without it, there can be little trust or collaboration… rather, unhealthy competition is rampant.

This pandemic has changed us and our lives, probably forever, and somehow we need to find ways to be better at leading from home and helping our people feel safe, that they belong and that they matter. If we don't, the world very rapidly deteriorates into dog-eat-dog.

Thinking of others

A quarter of leaders mentioned that they actively shifted towards a more outward mindset — to respect others time, situation and circumstance with empathy. Actively reaching out empathetically will help with feelings of safety, belonging and mattering.

Actively reaching out

41% of respondents actively compensate for the isolation by taking the initiative to reach out beyond the irregular and sterile communications of email and daring to go on camera for the richness of a video conference in the hope of catching a friendly smile or a glimpse of the boss's home office.

Facing the Challenges of Leading and Working from Home

Getting your priorities straight

After a bunch of back-to-back meetings we get “zoom fatigue” as our brain tries to reconcile the talking head being so small yet so close inducing a permanent state of low stress. And the spotty, low resolution connection across an overloaded home Wi-Fi as we become super-responsive as well to “prove” that we are indeed working.

43% learnt that they needed to better plan and schedule their work to enforce downtime between meetings and keep focused on the things that matter.

Setting Boundaries

Then there was that conversation with your boss that became a nightmare of interruptions from bored kids escaping home school lessons demanding to be fed and entertained, mentioned by a third. But it was still better than the presentation to your client when you were forced to use their system for the first time and the camera caught you with a delightful nostril shot, the slides refused to load and you didn't know what that button did until you accidentally left the conference.

Establishing clear boundaries between work and home and sticking to those boundaries was a big concern, and a major tip to thrive in this situation.

Getting better at Virtual Presence

Maybe you can salvage the contract with a reluctantly re-arranged meeting if you can regain your confidence and be thoroughly professional and knowledgeable yet friendly and approachable. Perhaps then they will think highly enough of you and that you are worthy of winning their business.

Just a few of the many challenges we all face as we settle in to a new way of working extracted from our research on the tips and traps of working and leading from home during this pandemic.

Top 3 Challenges by the numbers

Challenges of being less visible

In top spot for concerns, more than 67% of respondents expressed concern about being less professionally visible, missing opportunities of those easy, informal interactions in and out of the workplace and losing opportunities to grow business or career. What we need is the skill set to deliver engaging, impactful virtual experiences effectively – we need good virtual presence. Interestingly, those who like or even prefer working from home were significantly more concerned about this than those who dislike WFH.

Challenges of being virtual

34% were concerned about the challenges of working and communicating virtually having lost the subtleties of body language for effective communications. What we took for granted in with face-to-face communications is that when I shake a person's hand or I look them in the eye, I can get a good sense of whether I trust them or not. The key question is ‘What is the other person's intent?' And we can't get as good an answer from the virtual world. Nick Morgan, a world renowned communications expert calls this “the envelope of intent”. Someone approaching you with good intent produces oxytocin in our brain, and oxytocin is essential for us to feel trust.

Challenges of uncertainty

Dealing with uncertainty marginally beat setting boundaries for third most cited concern as 27% of respondents recognised their own challenges in learning how to deal with uncertainty and build necessary resilience as well as helping others to stay motivated and hopeful. The longer this situation continues, the greater the mental stress that allows the mindset to drop from thriving to surviving.

Challenges summary and their implications

  1. If I'm less visible am I safe? Is my job, safe?
  2. When I'm virtual, do I belong?
  3. When I'm uncertain and forced into survival thinking, do I matter?

The concerns highlight how this situation has forced many to question three fundamental human needs of What Does the Future Hold for . The near permanent state of low level stress is taking a toll on good mental health and leaders and organisations need to recognise that the issues are real, becoming more serious and need to be properly addressed.

We have a deep, innate need to feel safe: we want to be respected for our competence and that our boss and organisation are truly well-intentioned in keeping us employed and not planning to replace us with someone cheaper, better, faster from an adjacent time-zone.

We want to feel that we belong: we are known and visible to our chosen tribe. That we are kept in the loop and have the easy opportunity to build solid relationships that cross the formal and informal hierarchies.

And we need to believe that what we do matters: we need to be seen to be trustworthy and trusted, that we have confidence in our physical and virtual presence so that we can make the difference in the world we are meant to.

The essential foundations of Collaboration and Trust are deteriorating and that's going to kill our businesses and the economy.  As Leaders, we need to act now and stop the slide. We need to make ourselves and our people feel safe, that they belong and, yes, they do matter.

So what do we do about it?

During this crisis, many of my coaching clients have benefited greatly from Hack #2 – The Astounding Power of the Pause.

Yes, it sounds simple, because it is. Our greatest enemy right now during this crisis is not a killer virus. Nor is it the politicians nor the WHO. Our greatest enemy right now is ourself.

We can get so caught up in the day-to-day issues and demands and the incredibly uncertain future and our own struggles that we haven't got the time to think about other people's struggles, concerns and worries let alone think about “what if…”

Our brains are swimming in the stress hormone, cortisol. There's almost no oxytocin from a friendly touch, a hug, a smile, a connection to make us feel better. Family matters and concerns fill us with fear and adrenaline, and we either want to curl up and hibernate, fight back or run-away… but you can't run away because you can't leave!

Your brain waves are on high beta 24/7 processing the information, rumour, speculation and endless self-talk. It's like taking a six-month long never ending journey down whitewater rapids without a life-jacket, in a damaged canoe and half a paddle. You know the name of that creek.

Is there a simple, easy and quick way I can reduce the cortisol and adrenaline flooding my mind, increase oxytocin and give myself a much-needed dopamine boost?

I'm so glad you asked. It's Hack #2 – The Astounding Power of the Pause.

Now you're back and in control, hit reply and ask me for the next hack to help you in this battle to lead virtually better from home or anywhere in the world.