How Nature is Saving Remote Workers (And Can Help You Too!)
By Mark Morey
Remote worker burn-out is a tsunami slowly rolling towards every manager who thinks they dodged a pandemic bullet.
As New York Times columnist Jennifer Senior put the matter bluntly in her recent op-ed: “We are not, as a nation, all right.” (1)
The ground is shifting beneath our feet. Life is confusing and yet our responsibilities are still requiring our participation and leadership. If you are in a company and have direct reports you have already seen the signs of what’s to come. Upper management is in a crisis of downturn, pink-slipping to meet the shareholders’ quarterly expectations (2). Teams are collapsing, reorganizing, and working longer hours than before to keep their jobs (3). Throw in remote learning and the parent-employee adrenals are taxed with no relief in sight. With many schools not opening to in-person instruction, the influenza season approaching, and the economic recovery in an apparent stall, those experiences could remain challenging well into 2021.
“People are afraid — the fear around your job and around the economy — I want to make sure [managers] know I’m constantly responding to emails and messages and am always on Slack,” said Cali Williams Yost, founder of the workplace consultancy Flex Strategy Group. That is compounded by a lack of management skills in setting the right tone for remote work, she said. “It’s a toxic brew of burnout and overwhelm.” (4).
Political chaos, combined with social unrest and climate-disrupting events like West Coast wildfires are like a riptide pulling already tired and overwhelmed employees further from shore.
When managers look in their playbook for solutions, that page is empty.
My story is an unlikely one, but in times like these, different ideas can lead to different results. My work inside Nike the last 9 months has reconciled the tension between remote worker health and well-being and the biggest societal destabilization since the Great Depression.
“The world is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.”
- Kristalina Georgieva, head of the International Monetary Fund. She forecast that 2021 would only see a partial recovery. (5).
For the last 25 years, I have been pursuing the potential of conscious human development in the arenas of families, communities, and workplaces simultaneously. I’ve taken this approach because living systems are nested, like circles within circles, of inter-related influence and dependency. I’ve worked with thousands of people, hundreds of communities, dozens of organizations, and Fortune 100 executives. What I’ve discovered over and over again is that we have lost our way from restorative cultural processes at the community level, and as a result find ourselves in an overextended, individualistic, and disconnected society (6).
I believe we have an opportunity for change, based on what I know about what humans need to thrive versus what causes us to collapse. I believe that the future of work will not be slightly different from the past but radically different, if we are to accept the invitation of rising to the occasion as organizations and as a society right now.
A primary source of my approach to connected leadership is three essential connection points that make for a thriving human being:
- Connection to Self
- Connection to Others
- Connection to Nature
When I was several months into a contract with NIKE, working as a VP executive coach and developing the leadership of their direct reports, the pandemic hit. NIKE went from 3,000 to 70,000 remote workers literally overnight. There was zero plan for how to pull this off, either technologically or psychologically. The technology was eventually implemented, but a wellness plan was not. Business seemed to continue as usual, but in reality, days were longer, more isolated from peers, and more chaotic because employees were working at the dining room table with kids running around (7).
Drawing from my life experience in leadership development, I quickly put together an experiential offering via Zoom and WhatsApp that focused on that three-part connection framework that thriving humans require. One activity above all others was central to restoring the sanity of remote workers, extending wellness to their families and friends.
“I was a reactive leader without purpose who was also going through a significant life event that caused a great deal of anxiety. I was working hard without much feedback or direction. Through the connected leadership challenge I took back control of my personal and work life while also building a deeper understanding of my peers and of our connections with nature. I gained confidence, focus, and became more intentional.
“Finally, my empathy for my peers and my employees took on new meaning. I feel more connected to them and feel like I know them better than ever. I sit outside almost daily. My family follows me. We spend a great deal of time outside now. I feel more connected with my peers at work. We trust each other more. I have learned a great deal about my team and what they are capable of. Overall I am very excited about what’s next.”
- Ben, Nike Director of Engineering.
What’s the secret? Going outside with the intention to connect.
“Taking walks in nature lowers anxiety and depression while boosting mood and well-being, a large-scale study published in Ecopsychology magazine, showed.
Scientists are also exploring how exposure to nature might result in lower risk of depression, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Exposure to natural environments lowers stress, including its physiological correlates of the “stress hormone” cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure. By boosting mood, natural environments may also decrease inflammation at the cellular level.
- Harvard Business Review (8)
Here’s what you can do right now to get these same benefits of intentionally being outside.
- Find a spot outside your door, no more than a 20 second walk. Sit on your stoop, porch, by a tree. Across the street in a park, on a balcony, on the roof of your apartment building.
- Go there initially three times a week, for several weeks, for 20 minutes each. Somewhere around your tenth visit, you will have a dramatically changed relationship to yourself and that space.
- Arrive by attuning to your three senses of sight, sound and touch. Smell and taste are a bonus.
- Create an Aim for that moment. Develop your Why.
- Return to your senses.
- Allow awe and reverence for life to be in your attention.
- Breathe deeper for a minute.
- Return to your inside world with a commitment to share your reflection from being at your sit spot.
By itself, this can change your life over time. Being in a community of practice will deepen and accelerate the health benefits. What if the future of work embraced this and a host of other practices of connected leadership, like gratitude in the workplace? There is a lot more to human development that can foster connected company culture, but this simple nature practice is a vital place to start. If you find yourself treading water or still haven't come up for air, these practices that have stood the test of time will rebuild your capacity to thrive amongst uncertainty.
Mark Morey is a one of a kind leadership coach and company culture expert. His short course Thrive on Demand is available for remote workers everywhere, especially managers who are caught between up and downstream responsibilities. Mark and his team at A Connected Leader have worked at Google, NIKE, Harvard and numerous other organizations bringing cutting edge practices of human potential and regenerative leadership. Contact Mark for custom remote worker wellness courses.
2. In Washington, D.C., a nationwide stimulus bill remains in limbo.
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