With leaders and their employees stuck behind computer screens, company cultures collapsing (or on mute, as we wait for offices to re-open), and depression rising fast among employees, what's really going on -- and what can leaders do to get it all back on track?
Curious about how to address these serious, widespread problems, I caught up with international brand-and-culture expert Martin Lindstrom. Over the past two decades, he's administered a strong dose of common sense to dozens of the world's most familiar corporate brands. A New York Times bestselling author, his latest book is titled The Ministry of Common Sense.
In a recent episode of my podcast, Lindstrom and I discussed his views on the psychological damage corporate cultures are suffering right now. How do we solve it? The answer: common sense and the below go-to tips.
1. Going "forward" to work
There's never going to be a return to "normal." The "good old days" (just last year?), says Lindstrom, were clogged with pointless routines and nonsense. With the bottom line benefiting from office rent cancellations, closed cafeterias, and reduced cleaning, security, and power bills, a strong case is being built in favor of the current work-from-home business model. There won't be any "going back to work." Instead, we'll be "going forward to work." Once you've accepted this reality, you'll have laid the emotional groundwork for defragmenting your life.
2. Defragment your daily routines
For all the years of our working lives, our daily routines have been constructed around physical interaction. During the pandemic, we've tried to replicate this format with back-to-back Zoom calls, endless PowerPoint presentations, and our merger of private and work. But taking a step back and getting a broader perspective on the world will help to identify what should change. Just as a computer needs to defragment now and then, reshuffling its memory for enhanced efficiency, we need to do the same. Are all those Zoom calls essential? Do we really need precisely 60 minutes for every conversation? Where did the toilet break go? Timesheet your activities for one week. Then step back and ask yourself what you should "remove," what you should "park," what you should "keep," and what you should "improve."
3. Introduce the digital watercooler moment
Remember those casual conversations around the water cooler, those chats as a meeting wrapped up? They're things of the past. Accounting is thrilled, since those hours weren't billable, but they were the emotional glue that aligned people and generated empathy. They were where we came to understand the other's point of view, where we repaired those unnecessary hiccups from the last meeting. In this new world of digital connections, it's helpful to insert breakouts in your Zoom and Teams meetings. Ask everyone to spend five minutes discussing how they solved their biggest challenge during the past week. After the Zoom session, get on the phone and check in with several participants to ensure they're truly onboard.
4. Get bored
Four years ago, realizing he was losing his creative edge, Lindstrom made a life-changing decision. He ditched his phone, and he hasn't had one since. "What started off as a detox became my path into boredom. And boredom, it turns out, is the foundation of creativity." Lindstrom says intentional boredom is like jumping into a helicopter to see the world from above. It helps reconnect the dots and make bold decisions. Lindstrom's advice? Cut your daily calls in half and insert some breaks. Instead of multitasking and preparing for the next meeting while you're on a call, use those breaks to prepare for the next meeting -- and use a few minutes of those non-scheduled periods to allow yourself to be bored.
Lindstrom is quick to admit that there's nothing incredibly complex about all of this. In fact, he says it's really anything but common sense. Mired in the middle of all our current challenges, he thinks we've lost perspective. He suggests you step back (or take a ride up in that helicopter) to get a wider perspective on your company, your work, and your life. Redesign your daily routines, introduce some virtual watercooler moments, unleash yourself from those wall-to-wall virtual meetings, introduce a little boredom into your day, and recharge your human creativity. The leader-in-you will recover, and you'll help corporate culture return from life support.