July 16, 2020

Why Poor Punctuation could be your Weakest Link

Punctuation is important, right? Without it, a string of words won’t necessarily make sense. The same goes for our work. We need punctuation points over the passage of time in order to keep some sense of reference to what we’re working towards: how well we're progressing, what we're learning, the degree to which we're still aligned as a team, and so on.

For most of us, the clear delineation between work and home life has long been blurred, but we’ve coped. Then with the move for so many to work remotely all of a sudden, that blurring become even fuzzier. We hear stories of people going live on video conferences from 8 am to 8pm with barely enough time for comfort breaks between calls. Stories of folk having to be available across multiple time zones, repeatedly, resulting in an always on, always available mentality in the company. We even hear of bosses insisting on installing monitoring software on employees’ computers so they can check workers are putting the hours in while away from the office! Sorry, but they’re focussing in totally the wrong direction here…

Punctuation is needed. That’s why it’s at the heart of Distributability, our model for successful distributed working.

If you lead a dispersed team, it’s up to you to promote it happening in the right places, for yourself and your team. And if you're a team member who works away from the office, you will also have agency in choosing when you add in some punctuation to your working life. Don't let poor punctuation wear you down and become your weakest link. Use it well to keep aligned as a team, focussed, and able to asses your progress.

Here are a few quick ideas to get you started:

  • Start the day with a very quick team check in – asynchronously if you’re spread across time zones. At minimum one short message to everyone in the team with a quick update: something social, something work focussed.
  • Set up some business partnering where two people can support and challenge each other towards achieving their goals. Check in with your partner at lunchtime. A quick call, a quick message, 5 mins max. But connect. It’s a comma in your day, and a quick pulse check on progress.
  • Check back in towards the end of the day with the whole team. Anyone need support with anything? Open your eyes and ears, and listen. Don’t instruct. Clarify intentions for the following day.
  • Make sure you take at least one day per week to rejuvenate. Put a big full stop on work, close the page, and don’t open it again until the following week. If you've been working in survival mode these past few months, it can only go on for so long before you die of a heart attack. Effective leaders know they have to look after themselves in order to look after their people.
  • Have clear OKRs that link to overall organisational objectives. Check in on progress weekly - yes, we recommend weekly: research shows there’s a direct correlation between the frequency with which you update progress and the likelihood you’ll achieve the goal.
  • Imagine your days, weeks, months and years as if you were writing a book. If your day is a sentence, what's your full stop? Every sentence is in a paragraph, so if a week is a paragraph, how are you marking the end of the week and pausing for breath before launching into the next paragraph? And if a chapter is a month, how are you marking that? What story are you telling? What chapter will be written by when? What paragraph are you developing now? What sentences will you write today? (Big thanks to Graeme Codrington, @FuturistGraeme for this metaphor, it speaks volumes).

Without punctuation, the story usually won’t unfold as you’d initially hoped. Sure, it can (should) morph in tune with the external environment as that evolves, but don’t confuse appropriate adaptation with a story that meanders all over the place, lacks progression and ends up covered in dust because no one wants to read it.

Punctuation gives focus and reference. Use it so that when the time comes to open the speech marks and declare what you’re bringing to the world, it has the intended impact.

If you’d like to know more about Distributability can help your dispersed teams, do get in touch.

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