Americans are working from home. During the last week, as the COVID-19 coronavirus has continued is slow, steady spread around the world, companies large and small have sent employees home in an attempt to prevent unnecessary spread of the virus.
I have been working out of my home office for seven years, so this does not represent a big change for me. During those seven years, I have learned the how to succeed as a remote employee. I have learned how to have a voice amongst my colleagues, even when I am in a room by myself. I have learned how to facilitate conversation and change, and I have learned how to grow and develop in my work. I never worked in my organizations’ headquarters on a regular basis, and yet through the years I think I have made meaningful contributions and impact. I think Alfred Adler would have been proud.
Alfred Adler was a social psychologist who did much of his work in the early 20th century. Long before computers, long before Facebook, Twitter, Yammer or Slack, Adler argued that the two most important things that humans pursue and desire are a sense of belonging and a feeling of significance. People yearn to be a part of a community. They want to know that they matter, and that their contributions matter to others.
Belonging. People naturally want to be a part something, be it a community, a family, or a team. They want to be connected to something larger than themselves. They want to know they are not alone in life or life’s pursuits. Working from home, and now under a possible quarantine, achieving that sense of belonging can be more challenging than ever before. How can you belong to something when you are all alone? What, exactly, are you trying to belong to?
Consider, if you will, the home page newsfeed in Yammer, the Microsoft enterprise social networking platform. People need just to review their Yammer newsfeed as a quick, effective reminder of extent to which they belong. They see posts from colleagues working on projects, and they see how that work connects to their own. They see others sharing the challenges of working under new, trying circumstances, and realize that they too feel the same way. They see photos of pets sitting on desks, and computers set up in cozy corners of studio apartments. They see themselves reflected in the newsfeed. They see their work, their interests, their concerns, their community.
Significance. Only just the other day, I made a post in our Yammer network, and that post was “liked” by the CEO of our organization. A very simple act on his part. An act that only took a fraction of a second, and yet from hundreds of miles away while toiling away in my office all day by myself, I got a tangible, incredibly meaningful reminder that my work mattered, that people were paying attention. Working from home, we are not going to run into executives walking down the hall and be able to share a quick update in exchange for that incredibly valuable feeling of acknowledgement and recognition. We can bring our work to Yammer, and Yammer can bring that important feeling of significance to us.
Working from home may become the new normal, but being alone is anything but normal. Feeling alone and sequestered should never be the norm. Being quarantined, for many of us, feels strange and uncomfortable, and that’s OK. Often, we are coming to this new, lonely place from work. There is someone in the cubicle next to ours. People are meeting in the conference room down the hall. Conversation is happening and work is getting done. In the normal events of our day, our work colleagues, to one extent or another, are all influenced by us. They see what we do, they see our impact, and there is a reaction, a response of some kind.
Adler argued that “society’s ultimate goal, to have awareness that we all belong in the community, and know our responsibility in shaping the community.”
If you were to make a post in your Yammer network, and your CEO replied (even with just a “like”), you immediately have a sense of how you are shaping your community. The way people respond to you. The way you see your work reflected in their work. You are shaping your community.
Learning to work form home is a lengthy process, but along the way, it is incredibly important to take advantage of the technological tools available to you so you can feel like you belong so you know you are significant. Be it Zoom, Yammer, Slack or just Outlook, let these tools echo your personality, skills and influence. Let them provide you with that imperative sense of belonging and significance that is so important to who we are what we do.