Best Practice

Identity – The forgotten challenge of remote work

The COVID-19 global pandemic forces us all to accommodate an inordinate amount of change.

For many of us, everything from our basic safety to hygiene habits to where we eat has changed in recent days and weeks.

Along with all that, many of us have had to make significant changes to how we work. These changes provoke a crisis of identity – and there’s a strategic advantage in helping your workforce resolve it for themselves.

Whether getting accustomed to new technologies or learning new safety protocols, there’s a lot to learn. At a fundamental level, this amount of change has many of us asking ourselves, who will we be in this new reality? What opportunities lie before us and what loss will we experience?

Savvy Communications and HR professionals will take advantage of this moment by creating the space for new and positive rituals and cultural habits that respect employees’ mental and physical health and sense of identity.

It’s well accepted that we have more than one identity – we come and go from physical and virtual places all day long and establish familiar patterns that allow us to migrate from our “work self” to our “family self” to our “online political self” etc. with relative ease.

Even so, each switch between these modalities of our identity forces us to confront the small (and large) inconsistencies between them. The ideas and beliefs you must internalize and accommodate in your work life may vary from the ideas accepted in your household.

Each of these compromises provokes a mental burden called cognitive dissonance – the stress one feels when confronted with the necessity to hold two differing beliefs at once. 

Digital disruption to every facet of work was already in full swing before the coronavirus outbreak. And this turbulent moment of a global pandemic forces massive disruptions to our familiar patterns of work and social life which in turn reveal the cracks in the facades we rely on to reconcile our different identities.

Organizations will gain an enormous strategic advantage by fostering cultures, workflows, technological & organizational systems, artifacts and leadership practices that enable their workforce to frictionlessly move between identities.

Maintaining the integrity – the wholeness – of identity is critical to your workforce’s ability to accommodate change, offer discretionary effort in times of need, advocate for the company, and work productively and collaboratively. 

But how?

For one thing, as we train more of our workforce to work remotely and adopt new technologies, we must remember that technology is the enabler of connection, not the connection itself.

Screens, conference calls, chat groups and the like are inherently lower fidelity than an in-person interaction. The literal amount of data you absorb in a virtual meeting with someone pales in comparison to what your senses perceive in person. But that doesn’t mean these virtual systems are flawed beyond use, we just need to use them wisely.

  1. Spend an equal measure of time co-creating a new culture for a new mode of work – what are the artifacts, expectations, behaviors, symbols, and rituals that will define this new expression of your culture?
  2. Compassionately support leaders as they make the hard turn from a lifetime of tried-and-true ways of connecting with their organizations to new methods.
  3. Guide and support teammates in deliberate and managed steps for reestablishing their identity in a way that allows them to maintain their personal integrity in a new work reality. 

As the people who have perhaps the greatest systemic influence on employees’ experience, now’s the time to reevaluate our systems of communications governance, supporting technologies, roles on our teams and relationships with our internal stakeholders. 

We have an opportunity to inspect our own habits and find ways to embrace the most productive and forward-looking practices while we shed the unproductive parts of “business as usual.”

Curious to learn more about rethinking and redesigning teams, culture, leadership communications or technology for a new work reality? Tune into this Poppulo webinar and virtual Q&A on Thursday, April 2, 11am ET / 4pm UK:

Joining me on the panel will be Karmon Runquist, Director of Web & Digital Communications at Wentworth Institute of Technology and the webinar will be moderated by Neil Lieberman, Poppulo’s Head of US Marketing.

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