One Year into The Pandemic: What Have We Learned About Work

One Year into The Pandemic: What Have We Learned About Work?

One year has passed since we all moved to remote working. The kitchen used to be the place of our informal reunions. We’d gather, a tea or coffee mug in hand, and talk about our weekend, a Netflix must-watch, or the new incoming project. These times are far gone. Nowadays, our workstations are more likely our kitchen or living room tables, maybe even our beds. We spend about 8 hours a day in front of our screens, going from one zoom meeting to another. The only people that we get to shout at are our family and our pets. This year has brought a lot of changes, and with it, a lot of valuable insights.

We saved a lot of time
Remote working allowed us to save a lot of commuting time. Everyone I know took this time to explore new hobbies or expand their skill set. Some friends started cooking or baking some raiser service dogs, others picked up certifications that would help them in their career. Overall, gaining a few hours a day allowed us all to have a healthier, more balanced way of living.

We saved money and learned new skills
With everything closing around us, 2020 has been the year of savings. Between the money usually spent on commuting, dining out, clothing, coffee, etc. we’ve been able to pocket all that money. It also taught some of us the delights of a nice home-cooked meal, the challenges of a homemade haircut, the hard work of refurbishing furniture.

Sweatpants became our new work attire
Those days where we’d spend hours getting ready, making sure our outfit matched and we looked professional enough are dead. Sweatpants, for most of us, became our new work attire. This lockdown allowed us the freedom to wear what felt good and what was comfortable. No matter what happens in the next few months, this freedom is too good to let it go and return to our restrictive tight jeans. There is no turning back from the sweatpants era.

We have developed a love-hate relationship with Zoom
This pandemic put the Zoom software at the forefront of everybody’s remote work life. In many ways, it felt like a godsend, allowing us to be in touch with each other and our co-workers at all times. But in others, let’s be real, Zoom felt like hell on earth. We’ve all had the experience of our zoom window freezing, a zoom meeting not starting or ending abruptly on you, and the many audio and video issues that can and do arise. Zoom can be that person we desperately want to hug or that piece of trash we can’t wait to throw out the window in desperation. Either way, we all can relate.

We realized connection is essential
One thing we did notice this year is the importance of human contact. Even for the most introverted of us, being secluded from our peers for so long took its toll on our mental health. Therapists have been overbooked for months. The importance and necessity for connections made itself crystal clear in 2020. In those lonely times, our pets have been life-saviors. Our dogs, cats, or even goldfish, have been the only connection to a sentient being we’ve had for months. They delivered support and unconditional love during the hardest times. We are deeply social creatures after all.

We will never work 5 days a week at the office schedule anymore
While it did take us a while to get accustomed to a fully remote working situation, we are now well acclimated to it and, for the most part, enjoy it. One big realization throughout this pandemic was that, yes, we can work well remotely and be as productive as before. Our work efficiency did not suffer, and our workflow adjusted quite well to the remote situation. Once we are all safe and vaccinated and everything reopens, we will probably go back to work in the office, yes, but in a very different capacity. Some of us will probably go for a couple of days a week, and some others, only one, or up to four. The work schedule will be more relaxed and flexible to the needs of everyone. This, we learned, truly allows us to be as efficient and productive as possible while keeping the connection with each other.

Through this pandemic, we learned that working from home does not impede productivity. Instead, it allowed us to have a more balanced and healthier lifestyle. We saved on commute time and money, which in turn let us have more time with family, start a new routine, volunteer, or do anything that we kept putting aside prior to March 11, 2020.
Whenever the time to return to the office arises, we’ll come back with a more flexible and healthy vision of our work schedule, and will keep up with everything we learned during the quarantine. There is no way to go back to the way things were before. All we can do is move forward, and forward looks pretty good right now.

Crisis Management

Crisis Management

Crisis Management is 70% Internal and 30% External

The ability to plan for adversities that seem unlikely and improbable is a challenge for businesses and corporations. With any luck, a crisis management plan will be a documented, trained, and ready to implement set of procedures that the corporation will never have to put into action until an anomalous event occurs that threatens operational continuity. However, when it is needed, a crisis management plan is an essential tool, helping businesses return to operational norms as quickly as possible.

When organizations think about crisis management, their focus is almost exclusively external. They are worried about how reporters will cover the story or what they might say to upset customers.

The reality is if leaders spent more time focused on the internal aspects of crisis management, their ability to respond externally would improve dramatically.

In crisis management, the name of the game is speed. The faster a crisis team can get ahead of the issue; the less damage will be caused to the company. Speed is based on three factors: the flow of information inside the company, the internal processes that drive decisions, and trust.

A supply of information
Lack of information is the number one reason companies choose not to respond rapidly. It’s true that sometimes critical information is not available, but far too often it’s discovered after the fact that a key piece of information was blocked by a senior manager afraid to share bad news. How many times has a spokesperson learned of a disaster from the media and not their own company? Information plays a critical role in determining the strategic direction leaders choose to address an issue. If the flow is slow, so too will be the response.

Having a process in place
One way to improve the flow of communication is to fine-tune internal processes that drive decision-making. During tabletop exercises, you can measure how team dynamics impact a company’s ability to respond.

Dysfunction within a team is a direct result of a lack of process and understanding of how that process works. Without that understanding, meetings become a free-for-all with differing opinions and paralyzing indecision. Team structure, clear roles and responsibilities, and simple protocols are all effective tools to manage the chaos. If internal teams aren’t clear on their roles and responsibilities — and if they can’t immediately get to work to address the issues without direction — the company’s ability to respond effectively will suffer.

Trust
Trust is at the heart of every issue. Do I trust this person or this company to do what they say they will do? Trust can’t be earned on the outside if there isn’t trust on the inside. I constantly have to remind my clients to focus more on their employees in the midst of a crisis than any other audience. Employees are brand ambassadors who foster the relationship a company has with each target audience. A relationship without trust is bound to fail.

The first 24 hours of a crisis often determine how the entire issue will be resolved. Organizations that have strong processes in place that enable information to flow freely and have established trust within the team will simply respond better. When speaking with executives, trust is the core issue. They either question the data provided to them by their internal partners, or they question whether their key audiences will trust that they have the situation under control.

Pandemic Poem

Gifts often arrive when we least expect them—sometimes from people we don’t know and may never meet. This morning, we were given a gift in the form of a poem. It was written by a woman named Lynn Ungar. I find great comfort in it and am compelled to share it with you.

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

More than Sugar Skulls

Growing up the US Halloween has always my favorite holiday –dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating, and getting scared beyond belief in haunted houses, corn mazes all made it my favorite day of the year. A few year ago, I went to San Miguel de Allende. This trip opened my eyes to Dia de los Muertos; a touching and heat filled event. Days away from this celebration inspired me to dig deeper into this holiday and its origins.

While this holiday may include beautiful colors and sights, it’s quite sacred and holds a great deal of meaning. Most Americans, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is the “Mexican Halloween.” While this isn’t the case, the vast majority of American’s who “participate” in this holiday don’t know the actual origins and meanings of this two-day event. The spiritual ritual dates back 3,000 years, and it has outlasted more than 500 years of colonization.

During the old days, Dia de los Muertos was practiced during the ninth month of the Aztec solar calendar, and it went on for a full month. However, in an attempt to convert the natives to Catholicism, the Spanish colonizers moved the celebration to November 1 and 2 (All Saints Day), which is when the holiday is currently celebrated. While the rituals involved in the celebrations have retained some Catholic elements, the indigenous roots of the celebration are extremely prevalent.

While most people see death as an ending, the Mexican culture views death as a continuation of life. Instead of simply mourning loved ones, they celebrate the lives that they had. On November 1 — Dia de los Inocentes s the celebrations of babies and children that have passed. On November 2 is when the adults are celebrated.

During rituals, Mexican’s go to the gravesites of loved ones and eat a meal with them, often times a meal they enjoyed. Altars are built and include photos of the deceased and marigold flowers, which symbolize death. Offerings are like pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) and water to give loved one’s nourishment and strength on their journey. They include beautiful flowers and designs to show that death shouldn’t be feared or shown in a morbid light.

Altars also hold candles, which are used to guide souls to our altars, along with burning incense, resin or herbs, the soles that visit the alters they do not eat or drink what is on the altar, instead they absorb the aroma and energy of the food, which nourishes the spirts.

Most Americans would call this “sugar skull makeup,” however it’s not. It’s called Catrina makeup. Catrina is a reference to a zinc etching from 1910 to 1913. As Latin Times writes: “She is offered as a satirical portrait of those Mexican natives who, [the artist] felt, were aspiring to adopt European aristocratic traditions in the pre-revolutionary era.”

The actual sugar skulls are made of candy, piped with icing for decoration.  During celebrations, these are eaten as a symbol of consuming death and the negative emotions that come with it — and not letting death or those emotions consume us.

This holiday means so much to the Mexican people. It brings healing and insight in the face of grief and keeps parts of the old ways alive. Dia de los Muertos and its rituals are proof and a testament to our resiliency and strength through centuries of colonialism and genocide.

Origins of National Hispanic Month

It is in the tradition of our country to recognize, cherish and conserve the many cultural contributions of the people who have helped achieve the greatness of our Nation. It is high time that our immigrants and their descendants from Latin nations, as well as those citizens whose Spanish heritage and lineage within the current boundaries of the United States date back to pre-pilgrim days, were honored in the same manner.  —Representative Robert D. Price (Republican-Texas) on H. J. Res. 1299, 90th Congress (1968)

On June 11, 1968, California Congressman George E. Brown, together with 19 cosponsors, introduced House Joint Resolution 1299, authorizing the President to proclaim annually the week including September 15 and 16 as “National Hispanic Heritage Week.”

 

The purpose of the resolution was to give recognition to the Hispanic influence and the role of Hispanic people in American history. It called on the people of the United States to observe the week with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

Congressman Brown’s original resolution mentions the states, cities, and towns with Hispanic names; the roles of Hispanic people in developing cities, towns, and regions; and the considerable population bearing Spanish surnames.

The legislation asserts the United States’ wish to attain mutual understanding, respect, and appreciation of the cultures, heritage, and arts of our neighbor nations. President Richard Nixon later emphasized this point in his proclamation of September 12, 1969, stressing the importance of ties with the United States’ Latin American neighbors.

The resolution further states that the “Spanish surnamed population has contributed the highest proportion of Medal of Honor winners through acts of bravery and determination in the defense of our land.”

The proposed week included the dates of September 15 and 16. September 15 is the day when five Central American nations, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, celebrate their independence from Spain in 1821. September 16 is Mexican Independence Day, commemorating that country’s independence from Spain in 1810.

Congressman Brown’s district included a large portion of East Los Angeles and other parts of Los Angeles with heavy concentrations of Hispanic or Latino residents. He was joined in the sponsorship by two Hispanic Congressmen, Edward R. Roybal (Democrat–California) and Henry B. Gonzales (Democrat-Texas).

Altogether the sponsors included 13 Democrats and 6 Republicans from the five southwestern states: —California, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona—plus one New York Democrat. Representative George H. W. Bush (Republican-Texas), later 41st President of the United States, was one of the cosponsors.

Brown’s wasn’t the only resolution introduced in 1968 to authorize the President to proclaim annually National Hispanic Heritage Week. Two similar joint resolutions, S.J. Res. 184 and 196, as well as another House Joint Resolution, H.J. Res. 1301, were also introduced and show the momentum toward celebrating Hispanic or Latino contributions in an officially designated way.

H.J. Res. 1299 made an easy passage through the House, with one amendment to delete the supporting clauses in the resolution in favor of a short and concise text. It was sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Judiciary Committee and reported out without amendment.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law on September 17, 1968 (Public Law 90-498).

 

Johnson issued his first proclamation on National Hispanic Heritage Week the very same day as he signed the legislation. Proclamation 3869 calls “the attention of my fellow citizens to the great contribution to our national heritage made by our people of Hispanic descent—not only in the fields of culture, business, and science but also through their valor in battle.”

Twenty years later, in 1988, S. 2200 was introduced by Senator Paul Simon (Democrat–Illinois) to extend the week-long celebration into a month-long celebration.

Simon’s bill was the companion bill to an earlier attempt by Representative Esteban Torres (Democrat–California), H.R. 3182, which amended P.L. 90-498 by deleting “week” and inserting “month.”

Torres remarked that a month was more suitable for proper observation and coordination of events and activities to celebrate Hispanic culture and achievement.  While his bill died in committee, Simon’s bill passed Congress and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, on August 17, 1988 (P.L. 100-402).

Since 1988, we have celebrated the rich and vibrant Hispanic culture and history with National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15.

Writing a Creative Brief

Many creative marketing projects get underway without a clear sense of expectations between the marketing folks requesting the project and the creative folks delivering upon it, resulting frequently in lost time and expensive rework. A marketing brief is the best way for the marketer to clearly lay out a framework for the creative team. The process can be driven by either side – creative or marketing – but both sides need to agree on the brief before the work can commence. Here’s the Creative Brief Template that was shared with me when I was at Apple Computers.

Background
Please summarize this program and what you want to achieve:
How will you measure the success of this program?

Who is the Primary Audience?
What should be avoided in talking to this audience?
What do they believe before we tell them anything?
Who is the secondary audience?

Objectives
What objectives are you trying to achieve?
What are the priorities of those objectives?
Can you suggest strategy or positioning to achieve the objective?

The Message
If you could get one sentence through all the clutter, what would that be?
If they asked you to prove it, how would you do that?
What other major points do you want to communicate?

The Medium
What is the best way to reach this audience?
Is there another way?
Are there existing pieces that this piece must work with?
How will this piece be delivered to the audience?

Anything Else
Any other design objectives or special circumstances?
Are there any mandatories that must be in the piece?

The Deadline
When must the message get to the audience for maximum effect? (i.e. trade shows, events, product intro dates)
When must we deliver the finished work?

Budget
How much money do you have to spend on this project?
Has this budget been approved? By whom?

The Responsible Parties
Who needs to sign off on final execution?

The Effectiveness of Regret

Regret is a tricky one. It’s clearly not rational, and its afterthoughts are impractical. Yet regret can be a fantastic and efficient impetus for making decisions.

I realized a lot of the choices in my life have been made by using regret as the metric to project how I would feel about potential consequences. There was a persistent trend underlying the source of a lot of dissatisfaction:

I was bothered by things I didn’t do.

More bothered by the things I didn’t dare try.

And most of all, hated the unforgiving curiosity of endless “what if’s” and “might have’s”.
Really, why live with this nagging feeling when it’s possible not to?

Weighing every choice with the intention of preempting regret does wonders. It puts an abrupt stop to unease tinged with fear of missed opportunity. When there is no definitive best solution, future-oriented hindsight adds so much perspective, especially if one of the choices is at odds with what is logical or with what feels like is expected by others.

As much as my decision-making relies on this, the problem with this strategy is twofold:

1. It’s ultimately a reactionary tactic. The course of your life is dictated by seizing what you would rather not want to miss out on than what you actually may want to do. It seems unnecessarily relativistic if what we value is objectivity.

2. The feeling of regret, at its core, is a dimension of sentimentality. By definition, that sentimentality allows emotion to trump logic.

So the question really is: can using a comparative, logical framework to make decisions based on predicted emotions still be logical in the end? But then again, how unfulfilling our lives would be if we allowed logic to be the supreme driving force in all our decisions?

If we believe happiness is synonymous with lack of regret, then this tactic would be all but infallible. It was particularly surprising to hear this was the very approach that prompted Jeff Bezos to take a leap of faith to launch Amazon, as he officially formalized into “The Regret Minimization Framework”. It seems like a systematic method, but I’d also be curious to see if it would always lead to the optimal outcomes we’re looking for. Arguably, regret minimization deals with consistently avoiding the most negative results but doesn’t necessarily generate the most positive.

Looking back, I can pinpoint that this was the underlying motive that drove me to do a lot of things that seemed strangely ambitious or even out of place. But it’s also the same rationale that has gotten me a lot of things I couldn’t have fathomed attaining otherwise.

I’d rather do more than wonder if I missed out.

I’d rather risk looking foolish than avoid dismissing something before it’s even had a chance to happen.

Seeking a regret-free conscience requires the conviction that there’s nothing to lose. It simply makes more sense to just go for it.

If nothing ends up happening, then it won’t matter. But if something does work out, it just might mean the world.

And the fact that that possibility exists is worth everything.