“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein.
Those who try to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s thinking and expect different results are in it for an unpleasant surprise. This type of thinking is also referred to as legacy thinking. Legacy thinking is much easier than thinking about the unknown. And yet, that’s what we need as we navigate a period of uncertainty, because the way we feel affects the way we think. And if how we felt before Covid-2019 was already a leading cause for chronic occupational stress at the workplace, then working remotely during a pandemic can make it that much worse.
Remote working has been around for a while and will continue to prevail as companies try to adapt to working in an increasingly digitized world. According to the World Economic Forum, 78% of business leaders think hybrid and home-working will have a negative impact on productivity.
Despite organizations having had the opportunity to adapt their processes and enable their workforce’s technical infrastructure to work remotely, the question remains on how do you motivate and increase productivity? Simultaneously, many workers still face the stress and anxiety of feeling disconnected from their colleagues. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) identified three negative motivators (emotional and economic pressure, and inertia) that often reduce work performance. These have likely spiked in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Emotional stress and economic anxiety are soaring as people worry about losing their jobs, paying their rent, and protecting their health.
Even before the pandemic became a reality, the WHO found that Worldwide, 615 million people suffer from depression and anxiety and cost the global workforce an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. The eponymous Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) conducted a survey of 7,500 full-time employees by Gallup found the top five reasons for burnout are:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from their manager
- Unreasonable time pressure
In the current remote environment, these issues are amplified. Negative emotions continue to prevail in an unknown environment. Now is the time for organizations to immerse in adapted learning and development methods that focus on enhancing the emotional employee experience during online collaboration.
A crash course on mind-hacks
Dr. Andrew Huberman from Stanford University gave an eye-opening talk a few years ago on the intersection of the brain, emotions, and behavior. Huberman is specialized in neuroscience. His professional life goals are to understand what creates the human experience, thought and action, and new ways to relieve suffering. I recommend you dive deeper into his work as I will try to simplify the essence of his talk as much as possible for this article.
Our brain is an organ located in our heads. It has three jobs: 1) control our behavior; 2) perceive the world; 3) plan, decide, and imagine. We all know of the part in our brain, referred to as the “lizard brain. This part of the brain is fundamental in keeping us safe. It triggers our survival instincts and uses all of our mental energy to focus on staying alive. For example, someone who has just been in or witnessed a car crash will feel an intense emotion that causes a traumatic brain experience. The brain will go into full survival mode to keep them safe. Pretty essential to ensure we rely on our protective short-cut mental models during times of danger.
During this process, Dr. Huberman explains that when our “urgency mode – survival instincts” are activated, the alert system in our brains is triggered – the nucleus basalis. The nucleus basalis then releases the AHc+ hormone into specific parts of our brain. At that moment, our map of the world is shaped by the strong emotion we felt at the time of our experience. If we perceive it to be negative – car crash is perceived as danger – that then creates a negative thinking pattern. Unless we change this, it is ingrained in our brains.
Now imagine if feelings of fear and stress frequently trigger the nucleus basalis in your brain because of your working conditions, the economical environment and your emotional pressure? Your mental energy and emotional well-being will significantly degrade based on the negative maps of the world you perceive and create in your brain. As an adult, you can leverage the power of strong emotion by providing a different meaning to what you perceive. So if you perceive fear at the workplace as a positive emotion to help you focus and decrease human error, for example, you will change the map of your experience. Of course there are some more nuances and more complexity, but basically, what you feel creates your maps of the world in your brain. And if you associate negative language and thinking with your feelings, you will perpetuate your state of survival mode.
Dr. Huberman explains that the secret is to give it your all with drive, and focus, BUT to keep it light and in perspective by exercising presence. In other words, you have to take your work seriously and exercise, reaching a state of flow and deep work. In the process, don’t take yourself so seriously! Don’t overthink things in your mind, that little voice in our heads.
Increasing people’s remote productivity
If your organizational culture is still based on old management and leadership methods that are one of the root causes for workplace burnout, then remote productivity will continue to plummet. Developing a new leadership style based on fostering a culture where positive emotions prevail, is the foundation for increasing remote productivity and engagement.
The PERMA model is an excellent map for you to increase those positive emotions and flip your script, so you can enhance your well-being, engagement levels and productivity! The PERMA Model, developed by the founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, states that Positive Emotions, Engagements, Relationships, and Accomplishment are at the core of well-being. It is well known that organizational well-being is directly linked to increased performance and productivity.
But how do you take this forward in a remote or hybrid working environment where the ripple effects of covid are still looming large?
The answer will be different for different organizations, and even across multidisciplinary teams. For sure, though, team-building and creative ways collaboration is something to be exercised to build functional trust and learn what is important for your team to thrive instead of survive in the current online environment. Creating immersive learning experiences and environments that leverage the power of purpose, play, and positive emotions while exercising creative problem solving, decision making, and new ways of team collaboration online will only benefit your organizational productivity.
Through our Personal Leadership for Teams workshops, we focus on customized learning experiences through learning-by-doing training focused on team building. We have delivered dozens of training online, where we created new ways of connecting, collaborating, and communicating. The break-out rooms functions allow people to feel safe and trusted as they let go of their pressure for a while. During this time they create new maps of perception that can form the basis for new ways of thinking in the remote working world. They learned and laughed, they ignited their creativity and problem-solving skills, and they learn how to use the power of emotional intelligence combined with leveraging their cognitive ability to increase their team’s productivity and well-being. We conclude the workshop by using the power of visualization and triggering positive emotions by imagining what the team would do, feel and look like if it was working in a conducive environment where people felt connected with each other and the organizational purpose.We know that information plus emotion results in long-term memory. So as people connect, learn and ignite their positive emotions they will create new mental models essential for increasing remote productivity.
If you are interested in learning more or organizing your online leadership team building workshops, let’s connect!