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Reflecting on One Year of Remote Work | Lessons in Leadership from Jennifer McCollum and Kristen Howe

March 16, 2021 Deana LaFauci

Nearly one year ago, many of us packed up our laptops, chargers and notebooks, with the anticipation of working from home for a few days—perhaps weeks—as we worked to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus.

One year later, we are reflecting on how the reality of a virtual workspace has impacted our lives—both personally and professionally. For many of us, the volatility of the last year, and the challenges we have faced, have changed the way we see the world and the way we approach our work.

How has this year impacted you—and how have you grown as a leader? What’s changed for you?

Jennifer McCollum, CEO of Linkage, and Kristen Howe, Chief Product Officer, recently sat down for a reflection on the past year of remote work. Their big takeaways are relatable and serve as important reminders for leaders to continually acclimate to a new reality.

Executive Leaders Reflect on One Year of Working Remotely during COVID-19 and Share Lessons in Leadership

 

Watch Jen and Kristen’s video interview, and then check out a short summary of their big takeaways and further reading below:

1. Understand what’s possible.

At this year’s Women in Leadership Institute™, best-selling author Glennon Doyle reminded us of a universal truth that is even more poignant during this pandemic time: “We can do hard things—but we can’t do impossible things.”

As leaders strive to meet big demands—on their time, their emotions and their health—we must remember that we are human, and that in many instances, we have been served with impossible challenges.

Jennifer emphasizes that our ability to thrive is dependent on giving ourselves understanding.

“We are resilient,” said McCollum. “We will figure out our way through this, we’ll continue to innovate. [COVID] has actually required me to be a lot more patient with myself and the team, a lot more understanding, a lot more empathetic, and that starts with myself.”

 

2. We have to set boundaries—and stick to them.

COVID has changed the way we live and work in profound ways—and our ability to set and maintain boundaries separating our work lives and personal lives is extremely important.

“[What] I’ve learned about myself is that I need to draw harsh boundaries around when work starts and when work stops,” said Howe. “It’s easy to get sucked into answering emails early in the morning or late at night. Adding COVID, it’s made all that worse. We’re working from home and we’re not leaving our homes that often, and it can feel claustrophobic.”

Early in the pandemic, Howe took meaningful steps to confine work physically to her office and to “time-bound” her work, empowering her to be mentally and physically present with her family at night.

 

3. Working in a virtual world means adjusting how we think about our schedules.

A schedule you created for yourself pre-pandemic—filled with reoccurring meetings or check-ins—may not work for you in the virtual world. The monotony of working from home in a quarantined state is fatiguing and challenging over time.

McCollum has taken steps to dramatically rethink how she sets up her workday. “When I look at a calendar with 8 or 10 hours of Zoom meetings, I think about how I can dissect the day into those one-hour chunks, so I have a little bit of time for transition between meetings,” said McCollum.

A strong temptation of working in a virtual world is to overpack our schedules, filling each moment with meetings or work. Joining back-to-back meetings doesn’t allow you the time to process the last meeting or prepare for the next one. Leaders benefit from setting their own time—a mix of deep thinking and planning time and hands-on meetings and management.

And, McCollum reminds us that we must give ourselves a break. Her activity of choice? Getting out onto the tennis court a few times a week.

 

4. Take small moments to gain new perspective.

Living in a world changed by an unprecedented health pandemic has been stressful and traumatic. When we experience difficult times, we can feel closed off to new ideas, burned out and listless. That’s understandable, explains Howe, but we also can use this time to reflect on what is truly important in our lives.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself during the pandemic,” said Howe. “I’ve realized that I’m lucky that I live where I live. My neighborhood is wonderful. I live right by the Potomac River. It’s a relief to get outside and walk around in a beautiful area.”

A time of challenge, change, and transition can allow us moments of reflection that open our eyes to new perspectives.

 

THE BIG TAKEAWAY

The lessons we learned in the first year of the pandemic were oftentimes hard won, and as leaders, we have a responsibility to use them to inform our leadership style and practices. As we head into a second year of a pandemic-changed reality, we are newly prepared to rise to the challenge.

Linkage is a global leadership development firm committed to advancing women and accelerating inclusion in leaders and organizations.

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