March 30, 2020

Thoughts by Joni Fedders, President of Aileron

It seems like reality is setting in for many of us in week two of quarantine. Staying indoors, spending time apart from the people we love, and interacting with team members through a computer screen doesn’t necessarily feel good, but it’s becoming more accepted. Settling into this new normal hasn’t been easy. It’s catalyzed a massive period of adjustment for myself and for our team; we’re being called to be more adaptable than ever, and to exercise the practices that support flexibility: patience, compassion, and trust. Internally it requires us to lower expectations, judgments, and, in some ways, intensity.

We’re being patient when kids, spouses, and pets show up to conference calls, and we’re giving people extra breathing room as we all try (and fail) to juggle home life, parenthood, and the stress of our circumstances while doing work. We’re being compassionate as we derail calls about cash flow and operations to share our fears, vulnerabilities and anxieties. And – most importantly – we’re trusting that everyone is doing the best they can.

Here are some more specific ways we’re being adaptable to this new way of working:

We’re being flexible with our expectations

We’re changing our idea of what work meetings look like, and letting people know it’s okay if we hear dishes, dogs, and kids laughing during a call. We’ve found that this has taken away a layer of anxiety people feel when we expect them to be fully focused and eliminate all chaos around them – which isn’t possible right now.

We’re also being flexible with time. In this new environment, it’s unrealistic to think our team is sitting down at 8:00 am and working until 5:00 pm. Heck, that expectation is unrealistic even in an office setting. We’re opting to trust that people are using their time the best they can, and consciously choosing not to add unnecessary stress by creating impractical expectations.

We’re not just being flexible with when people show up, but how. We’re not expecting everyone to show up with a “this is awesome, everything is fine” attitude all the time. We’re reiterating to our team that we don’t have to constantly operate at high energy levels; there’s a place for anger, sadness, and frustration in our daily work. Just because things feel more normal doesn’t mean the emotional roller coaster is over.

We’re being flexible with our virtual processes

We don’t expect the processes and systems we’re using today to last forever. In fact, we’re already thinking about the next iterations of them. Our virtual all-team morning huddles are serving us now, but how long will that last? Our Zoom Friday happy hours are working now, but will they still feel special in two weeks?

We’re giving ourselves space to experiment with new ideas. More specifically, we’re rallying around one idea: Virtual work shouldn’t rely on using video to replace every interaction. We’re thinking about how to use group text, chat platforms, phone calls, and even hand-written mail to create human bonds, and we’re hesitant to rely too much on technology to do the work for us. So far, that looks like giving our team a half a day of vacation time next week to connect with their families and take a break. We’re also exploring the idea of an innovation hour: a 2-hour block of time when we’re all working independently on a passion project, and experiencing connectedness while engaging in individual pursuits.

We’re being flexible with content delivery

Last week we launched a new virtual workshop, Shifting Energy to Lead Change. This project was accompanied by totally new kinds of stress. To start with, we designed this content in one week flat. We also asked people to use new tools and technologies they weren’t familiar with so we could share our content virtually. We all agreed the stress was worth it, because we knew this workshop was something our community needed. So we stepped out on the ledge, used new tools and processes, and experimented in front of a live audience in the hopes that we could help our community navigate the challenges they’re facing. I participated myself, and found it to be an incredible process for sorting out your emotional roller coaster anytime, but especially during this time.

The biggest blessing for me personally has been seeing our team come together to fulfill our mission. I’ve seen in totally different ways what we’re capable of when we rally around an idea. Like how coal becomes a diamond when under intense pressure, our team has astonished me with their ability to use this time to give birth to incredible work. That’s a gift I’m taking away from all the chaos, and a feeling of gratitude that’s going to carry me through the next week.

Hear from more members of the Aileron team in these other journal-style posts:

  • “The Next Normal: Reopening Aileron’s Campus” by Sara Wiggershaus, Client Services Manager
  • “Creating a ‘We’ Culture During COVID-19” by Kristen Rhoads, People Engagement Manager
  • “Making Space for Gratitude” by Joni Fedders, President
  • “Riding the Emotional Roller Coaster” by Joni Fedders, President