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Remote Balance

I won a VLUV balance ball at a charity event, and I've enjoyed using it as my desk chair ever since our move this summer. It took a little getting used to, feels a bit like exercise, but who doesn't need more exercise? So thanks to Karl Hahne and Hafele Japan for turning me on to this modern office addition.

I'd used balance balls for workouts in the past, and "Balance" is one of AMT Group's Action Values (the others being Creativity, Empowering, Encouraging, and Listening), so it's only fitting that I address the topic of "balance" in the context of remote work. Fitting, and requested (as mentioned above) by a few readers. The readers shared how the pandemic has wreaked havoc on their balance, with challenges popping up everywhere: at home, at work, and those "third spaces" like Starbucks.

Since the New Normal that's coming will contain a mix of working at home, working at clients' offices, logging in from temporary work spaces, along with the traditional in-person collaboration, how will you manage all this? Each reader will have his or her own way, and I encourage experimenting. First, as I suggested in Chapter 1, find your chronotype and match work activities to your type as much as you can.

Here's how it has been shaping up for me: I take care of creative, solitary work like writing at home, at a coffee shop, or at a collaborative work space, usually in the mid-morning hours. There are several inexpensive "WeWork-type" alternatives in Tokyo. Some cost less than $10 a day, require no membership fees, and their daily rate includes beverages, WiFi and copy services. What options do you have around you?

To deliver online coaching or group seminars, I prefer a consistent set-up where I know the lighting will be good, WiFi stable, and where I can quickly access hard copies I may need. So for those, I use my home office.

The New Normal brings a question to nearly everyone: How often and for what purposes will you go into the office? This is one of those areas where equity, rather than equality should rule the day. My hope is that organizations would seek to treat everyone equitably, that is "fairly and impartially," which is not the same as treating everyone "equally." If some on your team do their best work remotely, why require them to come in more than is absolutely necessary? And why not offer those who thrive in an office environment more face-time? (Not Apple's app, but real face-time!)

It's long been recommended that emotional issues be solved face-to-face rather than over text or e-mail. I've seen minor misunderstandings over a simple word like "apparently" lead to major conflicts and "flamewars" when having people sit in the same room would have avoided the misunderstanding, or at least would have allowed it to be cleared up in a matter of minutes. I also am a firm believer in regular catch-up, feedback, or coaching/mentoring meetings, so that subordinates know they will have a set time during which they can bring up any issue with their boss. For those regular meetings, as regular cadence of, say, once every two weeks makes sense to me.

Work-Life Alex?

Several years ago, we were assessing a team on their Global Readiness®, and one of the elements the team leader wanted to improve was "work-life balance." He told us, "I'm not even sure how many of my (all Japanese) staff are familiar with the term.” Boy, was he right! During one of the first interviews, we asked a team member, "How would you describe your work-life balance?" He replied, "Work-life Alex?"

We laughed at the time, but early in the pandemic, when the days and even weeks rolled into each other, it seemed that work-life balance got sheltered-in-place, and completely out of sight, perhaps with Alex. Now, with “work from home” more common, finding balance is even harder. As late as September 2020 one commenter from San Francisco wrote, “I finish work and I’m still home. Then I’m home but still at work. I don’t like it.” Some may not like it, but there’s a lot you can do to make it better, for yourself and for those like that San Francisco commenter.

The "new normal" will see more innovative ways in which "non-quantifiable" work will be measured, so that more of us are paid for output rather than for hours logged. This may create less steady income for those who relied on regular wages, but to me, that's preferable to micromanaging time spent in front of a computer that some companies engage in.

At the dawn of the Knowledge Age, visionary futurists like John Naisbitt (author of Megatrends and seven other books) told us to focus on the invisible (services, digital information), on the small players rather than the giant corporations, and, later, to keep our eyes on the growing influence of China. Who would have known, back in the early 1980s, other than Naisbitt and maybe Dean Koontz, that an invisible virus from China would accelerate our journey away from tradition and into the wilds of remote work?

I am using that balance ball as a desk chair, while other leaders are going further, working while standing or exercising. One recent podcast guest was being interviewed while walking on his treadmill. What used to be metaphorically synonymous with drudgery has become a norm for some. These people are literally working on a treadmill! What's next, "noses to the grindstone?"

Remote work is a mixed blessing, an opportunity and a challenge for different people in different ways. Individuals and organizations with agility, those having developed, practiced, and rewarded balance–are the ones who are going to do more than just survive in the New Normal. I trust with your better G.R.I.P. on remote work, you will be among those who thrive.

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