The pandemic has impacted everyone's life, but especially office workers, who have had to quickly rearrange their schedules, work-life balance, lock dogs and cats during Zoom calls, and gulp over productivity books.

Companies like Twitter and Facebook had already said they are going to allow their employees to work from home after the pandemic. We are being challenged to reconsider work best practices to learn how to sustain empathy, communications and brainstorming in the new reality.  The main idea here is to reduce stress and increase productivity as much as possible. Here are a few ideas Maxim Savelyev, Donnelley Financial Solutions (DFIN), is considers to be the most valuable:

Maxim Savelyev - Product Manager, Donnelley Financial Solutions (DFIN)

Transitioning to remote work is stressful in many ways. The underlying reason is the same as always - any changes, especially forced ones, disrupt our normal routine, and require us to adopt new behavior patterns. The deeper we go, the more insights we may find.

One reason it can be stressful is related to extrinsic motivation. Pre-COVID, working hours served as a solid indicator that a person is at the right pace: “Okay, I did my 8 hours today like everyone else, so nobody will judge me now that I am done for today”. But when the person works remotely, it becomes hard to assess their place within the team. It may lead to negative thoughts like,“Did I do my best today?” and “Do others work harder and better than me?” No one wants to be the worst team member. The need to compare yourself with others and ensure that you are doing things well leads to constant stress and self-doubts.

Another reason is the significantly higher level of responsibility. You have to manage your time and your tasks with almost no external control. Your job transforms from a usual 9 to 5 to something that fully utilizes your willpower, prioritization skills, and ability to focus. Not everyone can go through this transition smoothly and hassle-free.

Those potential problems are related to one thing - your mindset. When we don’t have the means to change the reality, the only thing that we can affect is our perception. Promoting mindfulness practices is a way to reduce stress and, at the same time, improve efficiency on a personal level, as well as company-wide. A clear understanding of people’s incentives, what their personal goals are, and how it aligns with business goals removes many internal contradictions. It lets us free our mind of stress and fill it with something meaningful.

The current situation doesn’t let us completely get away with presenteeism, but the demand for mindfulness existed long before COVID. Crises tend to accelerate trends, both outgoing and ongoing. So, I believe that due to this crisis, more employees will ask the right questions and find answers for them.

At this time, the role of product manager as emotional leader becomes even more significant.

Empathy and emotional intelligence have long been seen as crucial for a good product manager who needs to work with people on both sides of the product - internal (developers, designers) and external - the market (marketers, sales people).

It’s harder to motivate and inspire employees without personal communication. The role of the product manager should be redefined as an emotional leader who needs to learn new tools and approaches to align with people’s needs, and understand their feelings based on their values and backgrounds.