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The Future of Work
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the new virtual, stay-at-home-produced YouTube series called Some Good News with John Krasinski. Admittedly, it is a welcome reprieve from all of the scary and depressing news related to the coronavirus pandemic; in fact, that is exactly John’s purpose in the show. John highlights videos and tweets from around the world of people finding ways to celebrate and thank those working on the front lines (from health care professionals to grocery clerks) during this pandemic, and jumps in to do the same. He also uses his celebrity connections to create special moments for his viewers, such as virtually bringing together the cast of Hamilton to perform a song for a young fan and hosting a virtual prom. John helps me find the humor in our remote work situation when he does goofy things like walk off camera at the end of his show, revealing the crazy mismatch between his outfit visible throughout the show of business-wear shirt, tie, and jacket, and the boxer shorts or pink tutu bottoms that were hidden behind his desk. Without minimizing the seriousness of the situation we are facing, he touches my heart and lifts my spirits in elevating acts of human connection and kindness.
What I have found myself wondering in watching this show, and others in which this type of production and connection is now occurring virtually because of necessity, is whether or not it will become a lasting medium post-pandemic. I find I enjoy the authenticity of the format, the ability to be invited into others’ home lives, and the creativity that is required to coordinate these virtual productions. I also appreciate that they can do all this while reducing the costs associated with in-person production and the negative impacts of travel and commuting on our environment.
For the last month, I have also appreciated another new experience that has been the result of the pandemic, and that is being able to have video appointments with my health care providers. I didn’t realize (until I asked) that federal regulatory and reimbursement barriers actually prevented most health care providers from offering their patients the option of video appointments. The threat of the spread of COVID-19 forced an immediate change in these barriers. And while I suspect once we have reduced the threats of the pandemic, many patients will choose and may need the option of an in-person visit. Video appointments, however, will remain a robust tool for health care post-pandemic.
Each of these are small examples of how the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to result in positive changes for our future. I’m not going “Pollyanna” on you and ignoring the grim reality this pandemic has created for our society, especially for those already most vulnerable to economic and health hardships. But I believe that the only way we make the losses meaningful, is to make sure that we use this experience to create a more equitable and humane society. And so, a couple of weeks ago, I asked my CNM colleagues, “as CNM responds to the COVID-19 crisis, what lasting changes are we creating?”
Miranda Evjen Sanchez, Director of Student Experience, had this to say:
I believe we have learned that excellent work can be done remotely and creatively, and that our care for students and their success comes through just as much on the phone or chat as it would in person at the Welcome Center or in our offices. I am really excited about the online processes and efficiencies we are creating as well. Many of our students struggle with transportation or getting to us during office hours. Creating these online and automated processes makes CNM truly accessible to many more.
Sonya Lara, Associate Director of the Contact Center, shared:
I am reminded of one of the main tenets you shared about the future of work; communication, critical thinking, strategy depend upon the work of creative human beings. Our future is reliant upon folks that have these “human skills,” to include a level of emotional intelligence necessary to understand how decisions impact our students, as well as affect our colleagues. We are rising to the moment by being really great at demonstrating these skills, such as communicating and collaborating, in a way and with people that we maybe didn’t do as much before COVID-19. We are recognizing opportunities for lasting change: using our tech to do the heavy lifting and are utilizing it in different ways which optimize our resources.
And Kyle Lee, CEO of CNM Ingenuity, echoed these themes of using technology to intentionally increase access when he shared this:
Digital access by individuals will be higher as a cultural norm after the pandemic crisis. While previously a meme for millennials and Gen Z, every generation’s instant connectivity as a result of stay-at-home orders has normalized our relationship with technology at every age level. But, the gap between those who can be online digitally and those who cannot will widen and has to be addressed. Crisis escalates divisions. Poorer and underserved communities who can’t participate in an accelerated digital culture will have fewer opportunities. I hope it reaches a national crisis that transcends how we discuss inequity today and allows for more honest forward-looking opportunities to change.
The disruptions to educational systems, business models, national and global politics, work, supply chains, health care and more were coming, influenced by trends in areas such as technology, globalism and income inequities. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly accelerated these disruptions. Many of us are still in shock and grappling with the uncertainties, hardships, and tragedies brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. But perhaps the best path to begin healing is to turn our attention to using what we’ve experienced and learned through reacting to this crisis to reshape how we intentionally move forward.
When faced with such dramatic shifts in a short span of time, when what we “know” one day changes the next, it is hard to imagine what a post-pandemic future holds for ourselves, our work, our families, and our communities. As I read about projected impacts of coronavirus on business models, work, health care and educational systems, our economy, global and national politics, and more, it is clear that our society and our lives will be fundamentally altered.
Recently, I watched a YouTube video one of our history faculty, Brandon Morgan, put together about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and its impacts in New Mexico. As any good history teacher does, Brandon skillfully made connections between the past and the present, and then ended by guiding us to think about our future with the following:
“What lasting changes do we want to create as we move forward? How will we rise to meet our moment? And how will future generations look back at us? Each of us has the capacity to make the decisions that will address these questions: what [will be] our answers?”
As I witness the multiple ways in which our college, our faculty, staff, and students, have responded to this pandemic, I am again reminded of the many reasons I am so proud to work at CNM. As we continue to operate in crisis mode, we won’t always get it “right,” but there are so many working so hard inside every department and at every level of our organization to help us not just survive this moment, but to also begin building the lasting change we want to create beyond this moment.
How will we rise to meet our moment?
In just under two weeks our CNM faculty rallied to move more than 1,800 face-to-face courses to some form of remote delivery in order to keep the almost 14,500 students in these courses on track in their educational and career goals. Our faculty and school staff have engaged in heroic efforts to make sure we do everything we can to move our students to this semester’s finish line. Our distance learning staff not only provided critical support for this effort, but also developed emergency preparedness guides for students and faculty unfamiliar with the remote teaching modality and hosted virtual labs to support faculty and students.
CNM Ingenuity also transitioned several noncredit courses and contract trainings online and remotely and, with ABQid and CNM’s Small Business Development Center, has increased support for small businesses struggling during the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, the FUSE Makerspace is part of a multi-organizational collaborative to create and monitor a website designed to recruit New Mexico suppliers, distributors, manufacturers, makers, and testing centers in the fight against COVID-19 and has recently re-opened its physical space to prototype and make objects for hospitals.
When we shifted to modified operations, our facilities staff did a deep cleaning of all campus spaces and continued to work to keep them clean as students and faculty had to access them. And, as the rest of us made transitions to remote school and work, ITS stepped up to identify and deploy a technology device check-out plan for employees and a computer-loaner program for students. They also set up free wireless access in our parking lots for those who do not have access in their home environments and have provided invaluable technical support to our community during this transition with daily live remote sessions.
Our Student Experience Team is busy making personal phone calls to check in with our students and to remind our community that we are still “here” even if we can’t be here “in person.” Students Services managed to provide continuity of all services remotely, and also offered a daily virtual student support group. Outreach has developed video step-by-step video tutorials on the application process, is hosting WebEx events for high school counselors and community organizations. MCO is keeping us connected with timely communication updates, a faculty and staff community Facebook page, and a webform that allows anyone to submit information about resources in the community that can help CNM students or employees. And the result of a multi-department collaboration is a pilot of a new process for community creation of content and a new page to house it called CNM Cares.
Human Resources quickly put together training and resources around working and supervising remotely, and along with payroll helped executive leadership understand who among our employees were going to be most significantly impacted by our modified operations and how we could best support them. And finally, our executive team, led by our new President (who probably didn’t have time to celebrate her 3-month work anniversary date) has been working tirelessly to figure out where we are today, how do we adapt, and where do we think we need to shift to be ready for tomorrow.
There are countless other examples of how our CNM community has risen to meet this moment and more will emerge as we call for “all hands-on deck” to help our community respond to post-pandemic impacts. The crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has not only accelerated the impending disruption to higher education, but it will also usher in the greatest economic disruption since World War II. Those hardest hit by all of this are those who already had the least access and fewest resources—many, the students we are dedicated to serving. The challenges associated with surviving the crisis of work, learning, and living during this pandemic and adapting to a “new normal” post-pandemic will be in orders of magnitude much bigger than what we are used to dealing with. These challenges will require unprecedented agility and extraordinary degrees of creativity, collaboration, and inclusivity.
As we end our first semester of this new decade, a semester in which our lives were fundamentally altered, I invite you to think creatively, collaboratively, and inclusively about how we can use this moment in history to create the lasting changes that will move our college and our community forward.
“You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”
I’ve seen the sentiment above expressed in various social media posts, and I think it captures a thought circling in my head since my first column on remote work was published two weeks ago.
I am weary. I am weary of managing remote work and remote school. I am weary of COVID-19 news. I am weary of social distancing and social isolation. I am weary of worry and anxiety for me, my family, my friends, our community, and our world. I know I am not alone in this weariness.
We are exhausting ourselves operating in crisis mode to make sure our students, our employees, our friends, and our families are ok, so it might seem like taking time for self-care is impossible, even selfish. For those of us who are privileged enough to even have the option of working remotely, it seems almost offensive to suggest we need to engage in self-care. But just like the airlines tell us to put on our oxygen mask first before we assist someone else, I believe it is imperative we make time for self-care.
As the lines between “work” and “home” life become blurred, even more so when working remote, it is critical that we integrate self-care into both. The future of work and humans’ ability to adapt to accelerated change suggests a necessary shift in workplace practices that prioritize employee well-being. To make this shift many organizations are examining how they can promote and support the inclusion of self-care as part of our “workday.”
My partner and I are trying meditation as one form of self-care. We are on week three of a 21-day meditation experience, facilitated by Oprah and Deepak, on the theme of hope (which is something else I am intentionally pursuing). I’ll be the first to admit that two years ago I would never have made time in my day, let alone in my month, for meditation. But three people in my life opened the door for me to reconnect, through meditation, on what I had learned a long time ago: there is an amazing and somewhat mysterious relationship between our body and our brain that we still don’t fully understand. I’m a pretty pragmatic person who once would have labeled meditation under the category of “woo-woo,” but after listening to many interviews of great leaders and thinkers speak to the importance of meditation, I’ve finally stopped diminishing it’s value with that label.
Self-care is also self-forgiveness when we make mistakes. We are all going to make our share of them as we navigate this “new normal.” Self-care means recognizing that we might be experiencing a form of grief in all of the losses we have experienced in the last few weeks, and that we may need to give ourselves permission and space to grieve. Self-care is being kind to ourselves when we aren’t our best selves because of the stress we are all experiencing.
In listening to a webinar on working remotely (over my lunch hour!), the facilitator shared that “self-care” in working remotely should also include getting outside, moving away from your workspace for a few minutes every hour, and turning off work during a lunch break (whoops). Not only are these physically healthy practices, but they enhance our ability to think creatively when we are engaged in our work. I also read that our ability to think creatively is undermined when we start our day by checking the messages (text, email, etc.) on our phones or computers. Three weeks ago, I stopped doing that.
It is particularly difficult when we are operating in crisis mode to see the urgency of creating time for practices that leverage our ability to think creatively, as self-care practices do. But I am challenging myself to do so, and invite you to do the same, as we are facing a time in our history in which we cannot afford a failure of creativity and imagination.
I’m conducting meetings in my bedroom, in the living room, and (when the sun is out) on our outdoor patio.
When I started my fellowship on the future of work in September, I was inspired by companies who were pioneering future-of-work practices like remote work and began thinking about the infrastructure and policies we would need at CNM to implement some of these promising future-of-work options. I don’t think any of us could have imagined that we would be where we are this week – trying to figure out how to transition a large organization that was firmly grounded in the traditions of face-to-face workplace work, to remote work—in a matter of days.
After downloading a 3rd kind of meeting software onto my laptop, I sent a frustrated “your directions don’t work” email, only to discover it wasn’t the directions…it was the user.
It isn’t pretty – in fact, it’s downright messy. And why wouldn’t it be? There are companies that have for years been implementing remote work policies and practices and they are still trying to figure out how to do so effectively. We are definitely not getting the chance to implement this practice in ideal circumstances. We don’t all have access to the right devices, the right tools, or the right training to make this a smooth transition.
I was facilitating my first remote team meeting and the two teens in our house could be heard asking me if they can have a snack (10 minutes after finishing lunch!).
Like me, I am guessing many of you don’t have an ideal home environment for working remotely. My partner is conducting remote meetings in the back of the house while I do the same at the front of the house. It is fun to see how each of us operates in our work roles, but it also is distracting and lacks necessary privacy. Add the fact that many of us also have kids who are at home because of school closures, and so we are trying to figure out how we monitor, entertain, and engage them—all while trying to do remote work. Even when I successfully manage to get the kids occupied during a video meeting with colleagues (using bribes I once would have condemned as not-so-good-parenting), some other home interference occurs like the dang neurotic dogs barking at the wind in the background.
I couldn’t figure out how to virtually raise my hand in a senior leadership meeting.
Having had to start remote work before COVID-19 resulted in this transition for CNM (because of a personal medical crisis), I am so grateful for the option of remote work. But, even though I have found the technology works fairly well to connect, collaborate, and ideate with my colleagues, I am also already desperately missing in-person connections. And as a closet introvert who once swore I could go two weeks and not talk to a soul, I think it might be incredibly lonely living by oneself right now.
This weekend I had a “remote happy hour” with a couple of girlfriends. Sigh.
As we continue the work of the college, to retain our incomes, progress towards educational goals, and for some sense of normalcy and purpose, we need to continue to find ways to stay connected to our community. CNM has a tradition of caring for and being responsive to our community needs. We have students and employees who are and will experience incredible and real hardships during this time and we cannot forget this. There are several emerging efforts among our faculty and staff to organize support for our community members in need, and I am going to find ways that I can do more to support these efforts.
The pile of dirty laundry we haven’t been able to get done in the last week (due to navigating too many health crises), and I may have been showing on my last video conference call.
As we emerge from our emergency remote response, I think that we must do so with a new commitment to what I believe is the “why” of implementing remote work policies—and that is to create greater equity through access to flexible work options. I hope we can help develop policies and practices that allow us to embrace the advantages of multiple work options; providing employees and students expanded access to engage in different ways of working (and learning) as our personal and professional lives evolve and change in unanticipated ways.
Stay safe, find something to make you laugh, and help nurture community and hope.