Lockdown forced us families into a small space for really a long time. In my case: myself, three teenagers, a stressful job and quite a bit of wine. For the first time, the kids had a window into my professional world and, as expected, they had many opinions about it: I talk too loudly, pace the living room annoyingly as I speak and spend a lot of time waving them away from the view of my camera during endless video meetings…
And they roll their eyes a lot.
But what I wasn’t expecting was a window into THEIR world – and that we can learn from them.
I manage Internal Communications at a global hi-tech company with 26K employees in 80+ countries. A global pandemic was NOT in our handbook, and like everyone else, we had to step up fast, effectively moving around 20K employees to work from home overnight. Factor in our many different cultures, languages, time zones, connectivity issues, and general world panic about what the heck was going on – and our team worked on overdrive creating content, tools, platforms and much more to support our managers and employees during these turbulent times.
One of those afternoons quite early on in lockdown I was trying to focus on preparing content for our leaders on how to connect and engage with employees virtually … and I heard screaming and shouting coming from my 15-year-old son’s bedroom. Of numerous young voices, yet he was alone (obviously).
I peeked round the door and there are multiple frames of kids on his computer screen and here’s what they were up to: they had recreated the spring scouts’ trip. It’s one of the highlights of the year for all ages in the scouts – they hike and eat crap and lose their voices and don’t shower for days. Bliss.
They were totally bummed that it was canceled (obviously), especially the younger kids for whom my son is their instructor. So, he and all the fellow instructors got together and decided that they’re going to make it happen. The Virtual Spring Camp. They planned full days of activities: morning wake up at 6:30 am… virtual hikes … camp food … late-night torch stories before bedtime … and even tent building in our living room.
And I heard laughter. So much laughter.
As I got back to my work (despite the noise) it occurred to me that there are parallels here: our leaders have much to learn from these “young leaders”. These days they are struggling to stay connected with their employees, keep up engagement, recreate the feeling of togetherness. So, here’s what we can learn from our kids about exactly how to do that:
1. Bring back feelings.
Much has been said about this lately, but it can’t be understated. These are not usual times: be compassionate, show empathy. People are struggling with new concerns around aging parents, isolation, finances, to name a few. (And maybe these kids were *only* sad about missing their trip, but for them, the struggle was real). Show your employees that you see them, share stories, maybe you have your own concerns too that they can relate to? Be there for each other, even with laughter.
2. Progress over perfection.
This new reality demands us to do new things in new ways: so be creative, use your imagination, but do it fast. Don’t over plan, just do. Those teens whipped up an online program in no time and some activities worked and others not so much (please don’t mention the online “cake in a mug” attempt). And if you really want to know the definition of progress over perfection, you got to watch my kid trying to teach a bunch of 9-year-old boys morning yoga over Zoom. He ain’t no Yogi.
3. And finally, be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Trust me, my son felt pretty uncomfortable rising for “camp” at 6:30am. The new ways of doing things mean we are trying things out for the first time. We are not seeking excellence, it’s about showing up regularly, checking in and building in new habits. Don’t worry if it doesn’t run smoothly – this makes you human, and this builds trust.
Later that day my son literally bounced out of his room to grab snacks from the kitchen. He was excited, happy, wanted to share with me that’s going SO brilliantly. He had a croaky voice already – the sign of a successful camp. And he’d even put on last year’s camp shirt. I hadn’t seen him this animated for a while. THIS is what turning lemons into lemonade meant I thought, as he grabbed just that from the fridge. One of my few “lockdown moments” that I will cherish – and learn from – for a long time to come.