The Live Show

In those first few days as the global pandemic started to unfold, it was clear to anyone paying attention that major office life disruption was coming. We weren’t exactly sure how long or to what scale that disruption would happen, but it was obvious that Work From Home (WFH) was about to get real real.

Some companies, large and small, did a great job of rapidly responding. They immediately let or even pushed employees work from home, allowed them take their extra monitors and other gear home, and created a culture of patience from the top down while we figured out how to build comfortable workspaces in our houses on the fly.

Others took longer to come around. They were slow to let employees work from home, even where it was completely possible to do so without much interruption or risk. They downplayed the pandemic and more importantly, their employee’s concerns and fears about the pandemic. Some even began developing assessment models to apply to inevitable layoffs that factored in how well people were working from home. (i.e. who had built a dog bark free workspace and who hadn’t)

I was recently on a virtual happy hour (not quite the same, but a welcomed relief from a hardcore week last week) and someone mentioned that after all this she would be choosing jobs at companies based on their WFH policies. I challenged her on that, saying that I thought there was something bigger here. It wasn’t the WFH policies alone. Companies are showing us who they are at a cultural level. WFH is just one aspect of that. We need to be look at how companies are behaving overall, to their employees, to their customers, to their vendors. Who ARE they? Because they’re laying it all out for us to see right now.

Moving an entire office from an office building and into 100 or 500 or 1000 individual homes in a matter of days is a difficult thing. Does the company culture already have the patience for that? Is there support for that process? Are managers allowing (and encouraging) Zoom calls to go off the rails when it’s clear that the team needs to process through a particular stage of grief rather than trying to shove the meeting “back on track”? Is senior leadership holding space for timelines to bend and shift on projects to allow for people who need time to go to the grocery store and stand in line at specific times of the day, or support a spouse who now works odd hours, or home school kids who now need extra support since we can’t put them on the bus and see them in the evening?

Or is the company simply trying to push the same model of “normal times” and “in-office” into the “WFH during a pandemic” model without much regard to their employee and/or customer’s state of mind?

Is the senior leadership leading with empathy above all else right now? Because laying off an employee, even in part, because they’re struggling to find a workspace that doesn’t have a dog barking the background isn’t leading with empathy.

Community Management has always been based on leading with empathy. It’s always been engrained in our daily task list, our daily approach. It’s why elevating Community Managers in the planning meetings and the daily standups is so critical right now. We bring a perspective that is unique, time tested, and insanely valuable. I guarantee you, we can see further in the future than many in the organization right now because we have a better insight into how social groups function and react under pressure.

And what is happening in the WFH world right now if now “social groups under pressure”?

In today’s strip, I’m extremely excited to introduce you to Marcello, the only named character in Confessions of an Online Community Manager.

Yes, Marcello is my cat. And yes, Marcello wears bow ties in real life. And yes, I might be suffering from extreme cabin fever to be this excited and/or to be putting bow ties on my cat.

This strip was inspired by my own experiences of having Marcello insert himself into multiple Zoom calls, as well as the countless other cats, dogs, children, significant others, and delivery people who have also had cameo roles in our Zoom calls during the Shelter-in-Place orders these last few weeks.

The right answer isn’t to scold your colleagues for their inability to “control” their surroundings. It’s not to get angry that they haven’t recreated your office building in their basement next to the water heater. The right answer when Marcello (or the equivalent) jumps up on the keyboard is to simply laugh, take a moment to fawn over my adorable cat, then seamlessly move on. After all, it’s going to happen to all of us at some point during this required WFH situation at some point.

We’re all in this together. Buy a bag of pet bow ties for $12 and make it fun. Your friends and family will think you’ve finally snapped, but you’ll know the truth… that you’ve snapped, and it’s hilarious.