The Future As Seen By Me In 2010

Well looky here, things one has scanned in eh. (ignore the photo, that's some guy that made some accounting software, not sure what became of him ;) MIKE RIVERSDALE is fuming. The expensive headphones he bought in Sydney three weeks ago have just died. His first reaction is not to randomly spill expletives into his coffee, but to use his iPhone to vent his frustration to his Twitter con- tacts, under the moniker Miramar Mike. "I will also put, 'What should I do?' It's a conversation. I'm reaching out to the people following me." The council predicts hand-held digital devices such as smartphones will rule the world in 2040. They already rule the life of Mr Riversdale, whose company WaveAdept helps businesses adapt - their computing sys- tems to allow staff to work from anywhere - and with anyone. In order of fre- equency, he uses his iPhone to tweet (1136 followers; 8363 tweets since joining), e-mail, make phone calls and use online services, such as checki

Working From Home #3: "It's still just work", Get Your Fix Of Rituals

Further to my guide to working from home and the 3 personal lessons therein,. Of course we've all zoomed (!) past the "1: Reduce the tech hurdles", and I've given some thoughts* on "#2, "Don't be scared" and now let's have a think about my final lesson gleaned from over 10 years of working from home in a multitude of guises.

Rituals. We humans love rituals, in fact we are completely made up of rituals which bind ourselves to others allowing for the the "sum of the whole is greater than the parts".

When I talk a ritual I mean more than a routine. A lot of people have quite rightly, discussed getting a new / amended set of daily routines as we work from home during this unprecedented times (see the "Further reading" at the bottom for a list of routine lists).
A daily ritual is similar to a daily routine since they are also a series of tasks that are completed in the same order. But a daily ritual differs in its intention. Daily rituals are meaningful practices and are internally motivated. A daily ritual can provide energy and enjoyment along with efficiency and structure. A ritual is a carefully selected way of doing something that has a sense of purpose and a positive side effect in addition to the straightforward completion of the task.
(source: How Are Daily Rituals Different from Daily Routines? from Lucy Gower)

At your workplace you will have a set of routines that you may have replicated with the team as they work from home. Most of the routines will be part of the business processes you have to ensure the machinations of your organisation carry on carrying on. Reports will be written, accounts will be paid (early!), teams will have their daily standup, and alllllll other routines you will have.

This is the work of work and must continue.

However work is still just work, by which I means work was, for many, always more than a simple set of routines. There are much more to being connected at work, to being part of a team, and certainly being happy at work than simply acting out a series of routines.
Workplace rituals can serve various functions. Smith and Stewart (2010) outlined three essential features. The first is how the ritual is differentiated from typical behavior. The second essential feature is that rituals are required depending on the situation. The third and final essential feature of rituals is that they produce conduct and actions that are atypical during a normal day. Above all, rituals are a mechanism for learning core values of an organization, because they help establish what the organization holds as a core value
(source: Exploring Organizational Culture of Restaurants Through Workplace Rituals [pdf] from Joshua Deakin)

Working from home will be a change in a large part of how you spend your working day ... but not in what you do. Hold on to those office rituals you have, come together via video a conference to do the daily Dom Post quiz, take lunch at the same times you'd normally do, stop work and leave to go home (log off, stand-up, leave the desk) at the same time. All of this is still just work, it hasn't changed, it's now happening in a different place that's all, and you just have to get creative about how you replicate thew rituals now that you're not physically in the same place as your colleagues.

Meetings, get togethers, team quiz time

These are fairly obvious examples of workplace rituals. The routine of stopping for morning tea / smoko at 10am, someone gathering the troops around the daily quiz and reading out the questions is one I have heard many have replicated. Awesome. The ritual is what matters, it's not the winning the quiz (even if you think it is), it's the connection to the team, the side chats, the way people take joyful potshots at those getting the answers obviously wrong. The ritual is connecting, the routine is how it happens.

The great managers I've met know intent, they understand the reason for the routine and why there are important rituals. They join in, they get it. The challenged / immature managers see them as "stop work time", a reason for the staff to "skive off doing the work", these folks tend to see the routine amongst a whole series of routines / processes and fail to understand the WHY.

Working from home involves replicating the rituals NOT merely the routines. Some routines don't work when physically separated however the need for a similar ritual is still needed - get creative.
“Some of my own research has found that when you do a ritual, the anxiety response in the brain — the signal that is typically associated with negative emotion — becomes muted,” he says. “Rituals help provide order and structure, and a sense of calm and relief. From a neurobiological level, there is a tangible difference in the results when performing any ritual, even if it is entirely made up. And if you perform a ritual across decades, even centuries, as seen in some religions, that can be incredibly powerful psychologically and neuro-biologically.”
(source: How Rituals At Work Boost Team Performance (An Investigative Report) from Katie Morell)

Consciously remember what makes your workplace what it is

This is the easiest thing to say and probably the hardest task to complete - remembering what it is about a work place that makes it different, special, your own will very quickly move away from the routines, the processes, maybe even the people and focus upon the emotional reasons.

The WHY you went to work at your current workplace or maybe why you no longer work at another, will help you winkle out the rituals you need to replicate (not just clone).

The key word here is intent - what is the underlying intent of the ritual.
Write it down, check it out with peers, ask the team. If you're agile and have high trust then add things to the routines, take stuff away, and discuss what happened - very quickly you will get to the heart of the ritual, and believe me you'll never lose it.

Actively set-up ways to replicate the rituals you have

Ok, so you know that positive feedback, one on one, is a particular ritual that both you and your colleagues appreciated. It's not just a HR routine that happens once a year (a common mistake), but much deeper than that, it's what you tell people why you love working at your company, you feel supported, cared for, appreciated and the routine of getting regular, timely, and accurate (honest) feedback is part of that.

The ritual matters however the past process may no longer work, you can't pop into a cafe to say, "When you do A it means B, so can we X from now on", you can't get the team together for Friday evening drinks to say, "Awesome work people!", you can't ... you get my point, there are much that has been removed.

Your job is to replicate the ritual.

Replicate the ritual, do not fall into the easy trap of replicating the routine in all it's colours and processes. For instance, having your daily quiz via video conference is grand, it may feel the same, but how are the side conversations happening, how is the end of the quiz handled - many merely move back to work once the quiz was done, but if you think back to the "old days" that's not what happened for all, some people stayed in the kitchen to talk work, others caught up on their kids, it was probably more of a fade away than a hard stop. The ritual is connecting, not answering questions printed in a newspaper.

Stick with new routines, but also dump with ease when needed

My final tip is to know that change can feel like it's not working in the early stages. 

You know this. Who hopped on a bike for the first time, felt totally at home, and simply whizzed off down the street without a care in the world. No, it was wobbly, weird, and even felt a little dangerous feeling.

Give yourself a fixed time to try new routines. For example, "We'll all join at 10am for morning tea and the Dom Post quiz using Skype", if after say two weeks it's not working then move on, maybe other rituals have already superseded them. BUT, stick to the time-box you've set for yourselves as you don't want to prematurely drop it.

Be honest with yourself and your team, if it's not working then change it, dump it, move on but only after giving it a fair suck of the sav. 

Remember the old routine may simply not work in these new ways of working and can't deliver the ritual, or newer routines have superseded this one. Maybe new tech means people are getting together via a Slack channel and the ritual need to connect (for instance) is already being met - perhaps even deeper, harder, and more resiliently than before, these new ways of working will come with changes people don't want to ever lose (a post for another time), for instance:
“What I saw today” chats with colleagues or on Slack or Yammer
How will you know a routine isn't working - ask, feel your way, use the force, be human. The intent of the original ritual will not be being met, it's simple as that. You'll know.

Just remember, don't be too hasty, don't fool yourself with a small sample size, don't throw your toys out the cot after the first attempt. It'll feel weird anyway, so give the ritual a chance of working itself out, for people to stretch their shoulders, and for teams to jostle around in the new ways of working.

So, there we have it - old rituals and very probably new routines for us all. When I work with leaders and organisations through change I have a series of frameworks that I use and whilst I come at the word through a tech lens it is always about the people. I hope these tips and and insights have helped.

MIKE TIP: Two connected rituals we all go through is 'leaving the work world', and 'entering a new one'. Your first set of routines may be to close the laptop, change into the not work clothes, and leave the work area - remember the ritual, the intent, is making sure the work team knows you'll be there tomorrow (all for one, one for all). Get your routines that work for these two rituals.
The commute home, while long and frustrating for some, can be a time to switch off from work. This is especially important when working from home because when you’re finished you’re already there! If you don’t switch off, you might find yourself thinking about work more than you should, compromising your work-life balance.
(source: 14 tips to help with remote working. from InternetNZ)

Further reading

(these are mostly focused on routines, however that's fine as routines can lead to rituals, just be clear in the intent)


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