Leaning into the Future of Work
Setting the Scene:
What does the future of work look like? How do I connect with my team virtually? When should I work? These are just some of the questions that plague new hires and especially early talents as they experienced remote work for the first time. To proactively help our employees , the SAP Next Talent team created resources and conducted workshops based on our own professional journeys and what we’ve experienced managing 90 early talents each year. These materials focused on staying focused while working remote and navigating work predicaments virtually. As society shapes the future of work, it’s imperative that we continue to practice effective work practices, including the ones below.
Caitie Sullivan, the Director of Internal Programs SAP Labs US, focuses on experiences that matter for our 10,00+-employee base in our US offices. Joe Ham (me) leads experience and strategy for SAP Next Talent, a recent grad tech rotational program for young talent on the West Coast. Joe also lead operations for our SAP Labs US locations.
In 2020, with just 48 hour notice, we pivoted our offerings for all our programming to virtual with minimum disruption, while ensuring we provided the necessary resources for our employees to thrive while at SAP.
Both Caitie and I started with SAP 4-5 years ago, and it was our first taste of working from home. Coming from different industries in previous work that required us to come into the office, or limited hybrid models (working 1 day a week from home), it was a stark change to work purely from home and be in lockdown. Regardless of the working models, in any company or team, there were moments (specifically predicaments due to high-stress situations) that allowed us to craft frameworks on how to best navigate them with all people involved – some that we’re sharing below.
How to Succeed at Work Remotely
First and foremost, you need to set boundaries with yourself to be successful when working from home. There is no one watching you, no one to stop by and check in, and no one around for you to casually walk over to and ask questions. Without these serendipitous moments of support and structure, it is up to you to hold yourself accountable and support yourself.
Everyone’s boundaries look different, so it will take time, self-reflection and trial and error to figure out what best works for you. As you’ve probably read everyhwere, you need to establish a working area and a routine. But don’t choose these elements arbitrarily, truly look at what your job requires and when you are at your prime time. Are you a morning person, or a night owl, does your job/personal life require early morning and late afternoon calls so you are more of a 6 am – 8 am then 12 – 6 type person? Finding these blocks or rhythms of productivity and then blocking your calendar during times you want breaks or need to recharge will help you optimize your time and not burn yourself out.
Coinciding with the time is the place. If you’re working in the morning, where in your place gets morning light (light triggers the ‘awake’ hormone in our brain and will help wake you up. The most important thing is that the space needs to be separate from where you relax. Your brain cannot tease apart relax mode and work mode if both happen in the same spot on the couch or on your bed. Creating this separation will help you ‘turn on and off’ work and maintain a good boundary for mental health.
Even if you have the perfect routine, you’ll get stuck every once in a while, and that is ok! You are human. First, forgive your wandering mind. It is a sign that you are curious. Rather than just staring at a screen trying to manifest creativity or motivation, just take a break. This is the freedom you enjoy working from home. Step away from your computer and go for a walk, make a meal, play with your dog, call your loved ones, read a young adult novel – whatever it is, change the scene. Changing the scene and the focus will activate a different part of your brain and reduce your stress hormones, allowing for more creativity to flow through you. Many times, while you are doing the other activity you’ll think of an answer for your problem or at the very least feel refreshed when you return to your desk.
If you do solve your problem, or finish a project, meet a deadline, impress the boss after a release – don’t forget to reward yourself! Humans crave comradery and celebrations when something is finished, and while that naturally happens when you’re surrounded by people in the office, you’ll need to create it when working remote. These rewards could range from skittles next to your desk, to watching your favorite show during lunch, to proactively putting PTO on your calendar after that big deadline. However, you celebrate, just make sure you reward and Treat Yo Self.
One of the last questions we get asked managing so many new hires and early talent is “how can I be a thought leader, and not be forgotten in a remote environment”? Many are afraid of the ‘out of sight out of mind’ bias and that they will not be considered for a project or promotion because they simply are not in the office. But now, after a year of remote work, managing people and performance is no longer about how many hours you work, but rather who you are as an individual, how quickly can you produce quality work, and if you have consistent and reliable outputs. Yes, you should put in time, do your job and be curious! Become an expert in your company, your product and your job – read everything! Focus on your deadlines, project manage yourself and keep that work life balance. But don’t fall into the trap thinking more hours is better; that is a losing battle. It is not always about working harder, there is no badge for who works the longest hours. It is about working smarter and optimizing your strengths.
How to manage work predicaments virtually and effectively
We found that there’s natural occurrence when we are more remote as a team – work predicaments. Whether it’s a misread e-mail, tone in someone’s virtual call, or just miscommunication in projects – we know that work predicaments can happen. And if/when they arise, we provide a simple phrase for us to use:
When in a work predicament, don’t be a D.R.A.G.
- D – Disseminate information quickly to ensure there’s a level of transparency and to ensure the team is up-to-date on all necessary actions.
- R – Respond to inquiries needed from you in a timely manner, encouraging you to set priorities and to strategize a smooth communication channel.
- A – Acknowledge pitfalls from the start to limit the amount of “surprises” that may come up in the future.
- G – Gather information along the way to that you can debrief after the situation has occurred while also documenting learning lessons for you (and the team).
We decided to put our findings above to the test and share these skills in a workshop. The workshop included 110 attendees from around the world – a majority from U.S.A, Canada, and Brazil. Of those attendees, 55% responded that the session was helpful. We had fellow SAP employees also share a few of their own tips including:
- “There is an app my team uses for our slack channel called Geekbot allows us to do asynchronous standups by sending daily prompts during the beginning of a workday (depends on your time zone). It serves as a good update for your coworkers, and it serves as a good centering tool as you update yourself on what you did and what to you intend to do for the day. I recommend for people who need to give themselves some loose structure.” Anish Shah, Data Scientist, SAP BrilliantHire, SF Bay Area
- “A tip for everybody as part of the ‘rituals’ to shift from personal time to work time, I used to cycle to work, but since I’m doing WFH I still go and cycle for 15 min.” Pedro Spadotto, SAP iXp Intern, Brazil
We also did pulse check to explore how their #remoteLifeatSAP was going 2 weeks after the workshop. Of those who attended, 91% of respondents said it was “Good” or better. Many are finding moments to “hunker down” and get work done (with the occasional distraction). They are using the shared resources from the workshop and finding creative moments to connect with colleagues virtually. Some attendees even shared the impact the workshop has made in their day-to-day including:
- “I really like that the moderators shared facts about the brain and productivity rooted in behavioral psychology. I really believe in changing your routine and space so that it works for your brain.” Kaitlyn Cheung – UX Designer, SAP Concur, SF Bay Area
- “I am benefited from the workshop by doing some self-reflection. I really liked that the moderators shared some tricks to know what my triggers is. This is a very important skill for me because by identifying my emotional status, I have effective ways to deal with it such as taking a deep breath and working for 10 mins and calm myself down. I see myself now doing self-reflection while I work from home. It’s been beneficial because I can effectively communicate tricky issues with my co-workers and keep my high productivity at home.” Bing Wu, Data Scientist, SAP.io, SF Bay Area
Personally, the impact this workshop had was invaluable. Moving from HR to program & experience management at SAP allows us to work more closely with early talents launching their careers. We’ve also learned that to many, working remote is a new concept that requires additional conversation and dialogue. This topic is important now more than ever seeing that we are all stepping into this new, unknown #worklife. We’re not ones with a perfect solution or formula on how to succeed at working remote and navigating work predicaments – it’s our hope that continued engagements like the one we hosted will benefit our communities as we shape the future of work, together.
A slide deck of the workshop is available and an in-depth piece on the workshop can be found on LinkedIn here. Have additional tips & tricks to share? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Run best (remotely).
Strategy & Experience Lead
SAP Next Talent
Director, Internal Programs
SAP Labs California