Being vs. Doing – Remote Work Values
Being vs. Doing – Remote Work Values
Steve Pao
February 19, 2021
“We are human beings, not human doings”
—The Dalai Lama

We’re now one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden shift to work-from-home (WFH) across-the-board. In the last year, as managers, we’ve all gotten lots of policy advice of what to “do” with very little advice on how to “be.”

For the “doing,” we’ve been inundated with multi-step programs involving many different kinds of advice. For example, a piece by the US Department of Commerce recommended the following:

  • Equip your team with tech and productivity tools (e.g., Asana, Slack, Zoom)
  • Establish daily check-ins
  • Encourage dedicated workspaces (stipends for home offices)
  • Provide emotional and steady support
  • Dress for success (i.e., business attire while working from home)
  • Don’t forget about non-work interactions and team building (e.g., Zoom happy hours)

In general, these recommendations are both widespread and good. Still, a year into this pandemic, we have learned that some recommendations have their own implications and nuances. Examples:

  • Technology tools are enablers, but they are also sources of tool fatigue.
  • Daily check-ins are great for those that need the reinforcement and structure but shouldn’t be used to micromanage or constrain the freedom advantages of WFH.
  • Expectations around dedicated workspaces at home are less appropriate for people who do not have space in their living situations.
  • Policies around emotional support by their nature must reflect a set of values.
  • Dress codes were already topics of discussion in the physical office before employers started telling people how to dress at home while working.
  • Zoom Happy Hours have evolved into “just another meeting” adding to fatigue.

Still, there are opportunities. Practitioners of mindfulness often promote improvement by shifting our focus from what to “do” to a focus on how to “be.” A simple Google search on “mindfulness being versus doing” reveals some of this discussion.

In contemporary politics, this sentiment has been stated famously another way:

“I also think it’s important that we not drown people in minutiae before we’ve vindicated the values that animate our policies.” —Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Transportation Secretary during his 2020 presidential campaign

Politics aside, the need to discuss values as the foundation of operating principles like those suggested by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to prevent any downsides from their nuances.

At AMPLL, we have reflected on values (our “being”) related to the future of work here for our operations (our “doing”) and to inform our product design.

Be compassionate. Forced WFH has exposed differences in our family situations, housing situations, and access to technology. It has also changed the context in which people are accustomed to both doing their work and living their lives. All of this has affected us in different ways, and implementation of some policies has put more strain on some than others. One size does not fit all.

In our work, there are opportunities to show care, respect, and compassion for differences in people and their work styles. For example, if we know that a team member prefers to meet after 5:00pm, maybe 1 out of 3 meetings, we can meet after 5:00pm to show not only that we understand them and their needs but also to encourage and support their work efforts.

Be trustworthy.  Part of trust is understanding the mix of how forced WFH has blended our work and life situations together, prompting heightened levels of transparency for everyone involved. To be most effective, teams should share insights on work preferences and styles by sharing more than just free/busy time. Shared vernacular and common experience allows for deeper discussion, which helps us feel more connected to our teams. The flip side of the coin is to recognize that we have to trust to be trustworthy and employers should resist any temptations to taking a “big brother” approach to remote work.

Be evidence-based. The world is changing. Given the rate of change, there will be an advantage to basing decisions on evidence over conjecture. Evidence continues to mount over many “softer” issues, which more hard-lined managers must be aware of. Diversity, loneliness, burnout, are all examples of issues that evidence is driving business leaders to address now more than ever. All the insights, coaching, and information that we bake into our product is grounded in science and data from reliable sources. Our aim is to help our users leverage this data to gain more energy and achieve better balance at work and in life.

Be daring. We’re not talking about being a daredevil but rather in having the courage to be boldly unconventional. We only get there by having some individuals chart the path to new practices beyond traditional productivity tools and “hacks.” Individuals will lead the way by trying new things - maybe silent meetings or maybe something else. However, we won’t get there without some people out on the edge. We invite those of us who want to be daring to think of work-life in a brand new way.

We hope you can see how these values influence our company, our remote work practices, and our product. We invite you to share your thoughts with us!

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Steve Pao

Steve Pao is Chief Product Officer at Ampll and a member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, an opt-in research community of business professionals. Prior to Ampll, Steve was an early employee and product executive at two companies that did IPOs (Latitude Communications in 1999 and Barracuda Networks in 2013). Steve is a proud "empty nester" and lives in Portland, OR with his wife whom he met in 7th grade German class.

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