Managing Stress and Emotions When Working Remotely

As COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe, more and more of us are starting to make changes to the way we work. Google, Microsoft, Trader Joe’s, Gap, and United Airlines are among a growing number of U.S. companies that have already acted to address their workers’ most immediate employment concerns stemming from the pandemic, including recommending or requiring employees to work from home, offering more paid sick leave, or maintaining wages in spite of reduced hours.

We’ve spent the past four years studying the science of emotions and their intersection with our lives at work. In our research, we’ve spoken to thousands of remote workers around the world, and from these conversations — and our own personal remote work experiences — we can attest that feeling isolated is common when working from home. Living with uncertainty in the face of a pandemic makes the current situation even more stressful. Here, we’ve pulled together our top tips for both tackling the challenges of remote work and managing stress and difficult emotions.

1. Emotionally proofread your messages. As we move away from face-to-face interactions with coworkers, it’s important to reread your messages for clarity and emotional tone before hitting send. Sending a direct message or email that says “Let’s talk” when you actually mean “These are good suggestions; let’s discuss how to work them into the draft” might bring up unnecessary anxiety for the recipient. If you’re worried about how your tone will come across, pick up the phone or offer to jump on a video chat. Your colleague (who is probably also working from home) might be glad for the chance to talk.

2. Be mindful of time zones. To help people in all time zones feel included, strive to delay decision-making until you’ve heard from everyone who should be involved. This is an especially good time to hone your documentation skills so everyone stays in the loop, and to see if your team could cover some meeting content over email, Slack, or another messaging platform instead. After switching to remote work, Humu, where Liz works, set up a 15-minute companywide meeting every day at 11:45 a.m. PT (which allows for team members on the East Coast and in Europe to join as well), during which the team can fill one another in on important announcements. Everything discussed during the meeting is also sent out afterward in a companywide email.

3. Schedule time for serendipitous collaboration. When we work remotely, we miss out on all the impromptu moments with our colleagues that lead to good ideas: chatting before and after meetings, catching up in the kitchen or hallway, and stopping by each other’s desks. When meeting via phone or videoconference, schedule time for informal conversation at the beginning and end of meetings.

4. Make room for minibreaks. Stepping away from your desk for even five minutes helps you relax — and stay focused. Danish students who were given a short break before taking a test got significantly higher scores than their peers who didn’t get any time to relax. Mollie has been using the app Time Out (for Macs), which reminds her to take periodic breaks to stretch, walk around, or change position at her desk.

5. Set up an after-work ritual. It’s easy to overwork when you don’t leave a physical office at a specific time each day, so it’s extra important to keep healthy boundaries. Your brain will benefit from a signal that tells it, “Work is over!” Some ideas: Meditate, listen to music, read a magazine, or lift weights. (Some studies show that weight training boosts your mood more than cardio.) Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, ends each day by transcribing any loose notes into a master task list, shutting down his computer, and then saying the phrase, “Schedule shutdown, complete.” “Here’s my rule,” he writes. “After I’ve uttered the magic phrase, if a work-related worry pops to mind, I always answer it with the following thought process: I said the termination phrase.”

6. Put time on your calendar to exercise. Commit to getting some physical activity by blocking off time to work out on your calendar. Need some working-out-from-home ideas? Try a seven-minute workout, or a variety of desk stretches that might (almost) replace going to the gym, or just put on your favorite song and dance it out. Even better, make it a virtual group activity: Jump on a video call with a friend, pick a YouTube fitness video, and get your sweat on together.

7. Check in on each other. This can be done by setting up virtual lunches, teatimes, or what social media management platform company Buffer terms pair calls. For pair calls, Buffer employees opt in to be randomly paired with someone else at the company once a week. Calls have no set agenda; coworkers get to know each other in pairs by talking about their families, hobbies, and favorite shows. If your organization uses Slack, one easy way to set this up is through Donut, a Slack bot that pairs people automatically.

8. Be thoughtful when you do head out. Not all of us have the ability to do our jobs from home. For the sake of those who still have to be physically present on the job (think doctors, cashiers, and pharmacists), be sure to wash your hands regularly and carefully when you go out, practice social distancing, and thank those who can’t stay home.

In these uncertain times, many companies are striving for business continuity and supporting employees as best they can in a variety of ways. Flexible, virtual work arrangements help employees continue to do their jobs, but these unprecedented circumstances require adjustments that for many come with significant challenges. It’s important now more than ever to support one another as we navigate the days ahead.

Combating the Toll of Digital Pollution

If you went back to London in the 1600s, you would find a coal-fired metropolis, where heavy smoke from the city’s burning hearths and furnaces damaged buildings. Only during the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800s, when respiratory diseases became the leading cause of death in the city, did people finally recognize how air pollution was affecting their quality of life. It took even longer to galvanize people into action, with laws finally enacted in the 20th century to improve air quality in London.

We know how fossil fuels and other byproducts of the industrial age have affected people’s health and contributed to the climate crisis. In the digital era, a new kind of pollution, fueled by technology growth and dependence, has had an unintended yet profound impact on society. As business leaders, we urgently need to understand these effects so we can build our businesses and develop our products more responsibly.

We’ve started to see the consequences of unregulated digital growth in the tech sector but until now haven’t recognized these consequences as pollution. As with any new form of pollution, recognizing it takes time. Digital-era pollution can be categorized into the following three types.

Eroding Trust In Information Ecosystems

During a cab ride recently, the conversation with my driver turned to politics. He shared the news that he had read about various politicians, but each time he added a disclaimer: “This is what I read, but who knows if it’s true.” His most sobering comment spoke to the erosion of our information ecosystem and the alarming spread of disinformation: “Years ago, I would open a newspaper and feel like I got the facts. Today, I have access to all the information I want, but I just don’t know what is real.”

The early days of the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s offered promise and hope for democratizing knowledge across the globe — anyone looking for information could have it at their fingertips. But in recent decades, as social media and platforms have transformed how we share and distribute information, we’re seeing how truth itself can be disrupted through a digital lens. Apart from the spread of false news across social networks, the web also enables users to curate their online presence and personas in a way that adds to a sense of distorted reality and distrust.

Education and information access are pillars of society — but some of the most prominent, widely used products in the digital era have eroded our access to knowledge and facts.

Polarization Effect

While there are several underlying reasons for political polarization, including the rise of partisan cable news, changing party composition, and racial divisions, our digital products also contribute to the polarization effect. In a new study, researchers were able to demonstrate for the first time that Facebook’s algorithms for ad targeting contribute to political polarization.

Social media also increases polarization by giving airtime to more extreme views. Wide reporting has revealed how prior versions of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm favored extreme content and contributed to the radicalization of users’ preferences. Studies show that the addiction to validation (through things like “follows,” “likes,” and “faves”) leads people to post increasingly polarizing content and to express moral outrage.

The digital economy has also contributed to polarization by increasing the divide between the rich and poor. Wealth inequality has risen to levels not seen since the Great Depression. The risks of an economic downturn or a decrease in demand, previously assumed by companies, are often now borne by workers amid the widespread deunionization and outsourcing that are part of the gig economy, leaving many workers trapped in a cycle of insecurity (made even more precarious during a pandemic).

Increasing wealth inequality and polarized views create a more divisive society that makes people more disillusioned with majority rule. By creating an increasingly divisive society, we are, in fact, eroding democracy.

Social Media Pollution

While air or water pollution affects physical well-being, social media can pollute the mental health of individuals and damage our well-being as a society. Recent research has shown a correlation between social media use and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Another study found that people who stopped using Facebook for a week were happier than those who continued using it.

Even more dramatically, in 2014 Facebook demonstrated through an experiment on over 1 million users that it was able to make individuals feel positive or negative emotions by curating the content in their newsfeeds. The experiment showed how social media platforms make it easier to manipulate people. The power of using Facebook for manipulation was known at least as early as 2010 but more fully entered public awareness after the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted in 2018.

Together, these forms of pollution fray the fabric of a democratic society. People are more divided and easily manipulated and have a harder time accessing facts. There have been calls for more digital regulation as people recognize the need for change, but history shows that regulations will always play catch-up. While we wait for meaningful regulatory action, digital pollution threatens our society, and many of the unintended effects of our digital products are hard to reverse.

Toward a Cleaner Digital Footprint

Tackling digital pollution is a shared responsibility. While recognizing that the oil and gas industry is a heavy environmental polluter, we also know that as individuals, we each have a part to play in reducing our carbon footprint regardless of our industry. As business leaders, we need to recognize our responsibility in creating a clean digital footprint and building products that reduce digital pollution. Whether you’re a technology leader directly involved in engineering new products or a business leader who affects product decisions, there are many ways to get involved.

Leaders can do these three things to engineer positive change while avoiding digital-era pollution:

  1. Determine your vision. To recognize when a product or business is polluting the world, we must start with a clear picture of the change we intend to create. Define your vision by answering questions about whose experience you’re setting out to change, why it needs changing, and how it will look once you’ve accomplished your goal. This detailed vision serves as a signpost for what the world will look like when you’ve achieved your vision. Your product is only a mechanism to create the change you envision — it’s not the end goal in itself. Clear signposts are needed to judge a product’s success — that is, whether it’s creating the change you set out to achieve in the first place.
  2. Recognize when you’re compromising on your vision. Building a product often requires a balance between making progress toward your vision and the realities of running a business, such as meeting revenue goals and investor expectations. These trade-offs permeate everyday business decisions. For example, the iconic “like” button increases user engagement (and therefore ad revenues), but it’s been shown to decrease user well-being. Vision debt accumulates by trading off progress toward the vision against pleasing stakeholders and investors. A visual approach to prioritization can help you identify when you’re compromising on your vision (and societal well-being) to achieve business objectives or profitability. By making more deliberate and thoughtful compromises as we build our products and scale our businesses, we can work toward a cleaner digital footprint.
  3. Take responsibility on the path to creating change. Until the digital era, most businesses had a local reach. In contrast, even relatively niche products today can affect millions of users. It’s important that we recognize our responsibility for the impact our products have on society. As recent employee protests at Amazon and Google show, you can hold your organization accountable for the change it’s creating. You can choose to take the Hippocratic oath of product leadership and recognize that you’re responsible for the product decisions you make and the resulting change your product creates in the world.

By taking a deliberate approach to building products, we can achieve business objectives with a cleaner digital footprint to change the world for the better.

Ford is working with 3M and GE to produce respirators and ventilators, and the UAW to make medical equipment, as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies (F)

  • Ford will work with 3M, GE, and the UAW to make respirators, ventilators and medical face shields.
  • “This is such a critical time for America and the world,” Ford chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Ford announced Tuesday that it would work with 3M to produce respirators, GE to build ventilators, and the United Auto Workers to ramp up production of plastic medical face shields, all to combat the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

“This is such a critical time for America and the world,” Ford chairman Bill Ford said in a statement.

“It is a time for action and cooperation. By coming together across multiple industries, we can make a real difference for people in need and for those on the front lines of this crisis.”

In addition to using its 3D-printing capabilities for face shields, Ford is looking to repurpose components that currently go into vehicles to make respirators and ventilators, and could use its factories to produce the much-needed products.

“Ford is working with 3M to manufacture at scale Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs),” the carmaker said.

“Ford and GE Healthcare are working together to expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s existing ventilator design to support patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing.”

The automaker has shutdown nearly all its global production in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Brands can save American lives during the coronavirus crisis by running ads next to news coverage of the pandemic

  • David Cohen is president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group for more than 650 leading media companies, brands, and the technology firms. He previously was president of Interpublic Group’s Magna, where he executed large global transactions for the ad holding company giant and its clients, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Spotify, Twitter, and Verizon Media.
  • He says it’s time for brands and agency executives to allow news and COVID-19 related information to run alongside all content.
  • Most brands don’t want to run campaigns beside bad news, but during a crisis, increasing viewer access to information is crucial.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

There is one simple, critical thing every brand and agency executive can — and must — do in the face of the coronavirus crisis. 

We ask all brands, agencies, ad verification firms, and other companies in the digital advertising supply chain not to block the news. 

This is not about politics — lives are at stake. All major brands and agencies have the ability to decide for themselves the 10, 20, 50, or 100 news organizations they deem legitimate and critical to our health, safety, and economy. Don’t block them. Don’t block them at all.

David Cohen, Interactive Advertising Bureau
David Cohen.
David Cohen

Please immediately instruct your brand and agency teams to update your programmatic and all other media buying to enable advertising surrounded by topics you would have previously avoided, including “crisis,” “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” etc. The faster you do this, the more lives you will save. 

As Dr. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard University put it, “In a pandemic, good info saves lives.”  

Having spent the last 20 years working closely with marketers on the agency side of the business, I know all the arguments about this first-hand.

Brands want to keep their ads and logo away from inappropriate content.  No airline wants to run an ad next to a news story about an airline crash.

That’s normal and understandable.

But there’s nothing normal about today’s current global health crisis. Solid, fact-based reporting educates, informs, and saves lives.

Brand safety must begin with consumer safety. Healthy consumers and a healthy economy are essential to healthy brands. 

America needs a vibrant, ad-supported news industry, and it has never needed it more. 

Every dollar you spend on credible news sites helps save lives through the following:

  • It ensures that credible news organizations can afford the staff required to provide critically vital information. 
  • It ensures that reckless disinformation efforts will be blunted by news that is accurate, fact-checked, and reliable.
  • It ensures that the public at large — the people who buy your products — stay alive and well.

This is not only a wise thing to do. It is not only kind. It is absolutely necessary.

It’s hard to calculate the precise economic impact of blacklisting coronavirus content, but it will unquestionably be significant. An analysis of UK premium news sites by Adyoulike showed a 40% decline in homepage targeting in ads transacted in the open market for the first 15 days of March.

You need healthy consumers and a healthy economy. Supporting credible news is the best way to maximize both. What’s more, news organizations are showing significant audience growth. Audiences are paying attention.

Open the floodgates of advertising dollars to support credible news sources. Don’t debate. Don’t delay. Do it now. 

The stakes are too high to do anything less.

  1. DO continue to support your brands and your business with advertising. DO NOT risk the long-term survival of your brands.
  2. DO instruct your brand and agency teams to immediately update your programmatic buying immediately to enable advertising on topics you would have previously avoided, including “crisis” “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” etc. DO NOT wait for the situation to evolve.
  3. DO encourage your colleagues to take immediate action; tweet, post on LinkedIn, shout it from the rooftops. DO NOT underestimate your influence.
  4. DO urge trade organizations to join us in this rallying cry. DO NOT assume they’re already on top of this.
  5. DO provide customer service representatives with scripts to answer questions if any arise, such as, “we are advertising on these sites because this is a critical health issue facing all of our customers, and we want everyone to be well.” DO NOT assume your internal teams know what to do.
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12 Essential Insights for Managing Teams

For decades, researchers have published findings around leadership and team building in MIT Sloan Management Review. This collection offers a dozen of our most popular articles on managing teams.

Reading Time: 3 min 

Teamwork doesn’t just happen — good teams require good leaders who have vision and practiced skills. Leading effective teams today requires laying the groundwork for how team members and the wider organization will be successful. We’ve collected a dozen of our most popular articles on leading teams from our archives.

This collection, all of which are free on our site Tuesday, March 24, through Thursday, March 26, offers a range of actionable advice for managers on how to foster trust and accountability, resolve conflicts, and bridge geographic distances on distributed teams. Readers will benefit from decades of research from academics and practitioners on the skills and effective approaches leaders need to manage diverse teams to enhance collaboration and achieve better performance.

1. The Smart Way to Respond to Negative Emotions at Work

Christine M. Pearson

Whether provoked by bad decisions, misfortune, poor timing, or employees’ personal problems, no organization is immune from bad feelings. Many executives try to ignore negative emotions in the workplace, but that tactic can be costly. When employees’ negative feelings are responded to wisely, they often provide important feedback.

2. It’s Time to Tackle Your Team’s Undiscussables

Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux

The more undiscussables there are on your team, the more difficult it is for the team to function effectively. Ignoring unresolved conflicts results in strained relationships and bad decisions. This article outlines how leaders can bring the four types of undiscussables to light, improving team learning, problem-solving, and performance.

3. Five Rules for Managing Large, Complex Projects

Andrew Davies, Mark Dodgson, David M. Gann, and Samuel C. MacAulay

Large-scale, long-term projects are notoriously difficult to manage. But research on megaprojects — defined as projects costing more than $1 billion — reveals five lessons that can help executives manage any big, complex project more effectively.

4. Five Ways to Improve Communication in Virtual Teams

N. Sharon Hill and Kathryn M. Bartol

When it comes to managing your virtual team’s success, it’s not the technology that matters — it’s how people use it. This article looks at five strategies for conquering distance and improving communication and performance in dispersed teams.

5. How to Create Belonging for Remote Workers

Liz Fosslien and Mollie West-Duffy

A common question among leaders about managing remote teams is how to ensure that employees feel connected to their work and to their colleagues. There are practical steps managers and colleagues can take to make their remote employees feel valuable and ingrained in company culture.

6. How to Manage Virtual Teams

Frank Siebdrat, Martin Hoegl, and Holger Ernst

Dispersed teams can actually outperform groups that are colocated. Based on an investigation of the performance of 80 software development projects with varying levels of dispersion — members in different cities, countries, or continents — this article asserts that virtual teams offer tremendous opportunities despite their greater managerial challenges. To succeed, however, virtual collaboration must be managed in specific ways.

7. Why Teams Still Need Leaders

Lindred (Lindy) Greer, interviewed by Frieda Klotz

While flat organizational structures have gained favor in recent years, hierarchies continue to provide many important benefits, says the University of Michigan’s Lindy Greer. Depending on the circumstances, the answer isn’t to eliminate hierarchy but to train leaders and teams to use it flexibly.

8. The Trouble With Homogeneous Teams

Evan Apfelbaum, interviewed by Martha E. Mangelsdorf

Diversity in the workplace can increase conflict. But research also suggests that if teams lack diversity, they will be more susceptible to making flawed decisions.

9. Improving the Rhythm of Your Collaboration

Ethan Bernstein, Jesse Shore, and David Lazer

With so many digital tools in the workplace, team collaboration has gone omnichannel. Given how hyperconnected people are, the authors set out to explore the implications for organizations and teams. Their research demonstrates how alternating between always-on connectivity and heads-down focus is essential for problem-solving.

10. The Unique Challenges of Cross-Boundary Collaboration

Amy Edmondson, interviewed by Frieda Klotz

Many of today’s team projects have built-in hurdles because of differing communication styles, cultures, and professional norms. Leading this kind of “extreme teaming” requires management skills that don’t always come naturally — such as humility.

11. In Praise of the Incurably Curious Leader

Douglas A. Ready

There is a growing recognition that curiosity is an essential leadership trait. Leaders who consider themselves perpetual students are thriving by asking questions, demanding them of their teams, and exploring the root cause of problems rather than focusing on temporary fixes.

12. How to Lead a Self-Managing Team

Vanessa Urch Druskat and Jane V. Wheeler

Teams that are basically left to run themselves can be highly efficient and productive. To be successful, though, such autonomous groups require a specific type of external leadership.