- the anxiety that you will go unnoticed or become invisible
- the fear that you will become irrelevant or lose power
- the fear that your efforts and performance are overlooked
2020 will be forever the year that launched the digital workplace into the stratosphere as the new normal, moving us all from the boardroom to the spare room. Nonetheless, digitalization of the workplace creates endless opportunities for every organization and employee worldwide by finally building a long-overdue corporate culture that allows and stimulates flexibility, is focused on output rather than input and is completely based on trust. But every silver lining has a cloud. Meet #FOME.
What is #FOME?
#FOMO, the fear of missing out is nothing new. We all know it or have it. But our new reality, where we mainly work from home, created the derivative #FOME – the fear of missing exposure. The anxiety that your performance will go unnoticed or that you are suspected of not being productive (enough) while working remote. The fear that the social cohesion in your team will disintegrate, making you lose your power or influence, and thus making you irrelevant in the (digital) workplace. Basically you are panicking about your visibility.
The last several weeks have been a struggle and learning curve for us all. We did our best to adjust, even setting up an office in the laundry room if we had to. We all hoped this situation would be temporary but after a while reality kicked in making us realize that this is our new normal. The upside. We are no longer stuck in traffic and we can work in our PJs. The downside. Adjusted office hours with meetings from 8AM until 6PM, even skipping lunch time, being the new cool. Making your head spin and mailbox explode by the end of the day while you realise you haven’t done anything productive except that you now know the color of your colleague’s kitchen wall – Tranquil Dawn by Levis (available in stores now). And yet you accept every meeting invite as if your life depended on it while you know that many of those meetings can be replaced by a simple email or a quick chat message. So why aren’t you declining those meetings that aren’t adding value to your work and induce stress as you can’t focus on what matters – getting the job done? Because you’re anxious that when you decline meetings, you will lose visibility in the digital workplace.
Some organizations already were olympic gold in scheduling meetings for every decision or discussion. And the new normal initiated even more meetings pushing regular office hours to its limits. Why? The fear of missing exposure.
- How am I going to show I’m working enough / long / more hours? Meetings.
- How can I show my performance to my manager? Meetings.
- How do I stay top of mind? Meetings.
- How do I stay visible or relevant? Meetings.
- How do I keep information flowing? Meetings.
- How can I track the performance of my team? More meetings.
These are of course irrational, but totally human, reactions to an unprecedented situation. Many things changed overnight and catalyzed the feeling we are no longer in control of our work environment and career. We have the feeling that we are no longer on top of things, that we are not included as much or are missing out on things. This is driven by no longer being able to have small talk at the coffee machine, have lunch together or drop by your manager’s office for a quick chat. Adapting to a new situation is a process and we are still adapting and finding our way in the new normal.
How does digitalization impact work visibility?
Digitalization of the workplace introduces new technologies and a new way of working reconfiguring the visibility of your work in relation to your organization, colleagues and superiors. Digitalization doesn’t by definition mean less visibility of your work. New technologies might even allow you to make your work more visible to a broader corporate audience. However, #FOME is triggered by a feeling, the fear of not being visible enough. And whether that is true or not, is irrelevant to the fear and anxiety that an employee might have. Who knows what and who knows who remains crucial for your internal career and visibility. As a consequence the employee might change work behaviour for the worse in hope to successfully manage the impression of others by focusing on “the doing” instead of “the work”. In other words, showing off input instead of focusing on the output.
The digital workplace requires a new way of working. The old rules won’t work here. We have to discover new ways of how we can have a constructive conversation and discuss performance. How we can have regular check ins without overflowing agendas or the need to schedule daily huddles at 8AM. How we can manage our team effectively to make sure work gets done by focusing on output rather than input. And how we can make sure that information keeps flowing without flooding the mailbox or agenda. The digital workplace requires employees to better manage their personal work time and schedule, while making them feel comfortable about their visibility and at the same time trying to avoid the trap to make the digital workplace one big meeting.
How does digitalization impact work visibility?
New rules have to be written and since this is an unprecedented situation, there are no guidelines to use. Resetting the terms of how we work requires HR to step up as a strategic business partner.
- Don’t set office hours. Don’t go for the easy solution but at the same time make sure that your organization doesn’t obtain olympic gold in organizing meeting marathons. Create a corporate culture that is focused on quality and not quantity. Don’t do meetings because you’re supposed to have or attend them, do meetings because they add value to your work. Don’t stop focusing on the employee experience. Implementing the digital workplace doesn’t mean you aced the work-life balance. Make sure you ban #fome from the digital workplace.
- Design meeting guidelines. Don’t expect everyone to adjust overnight. Easy to follow guidelines might give your employees a kickstart on navigating the digital workplace. Don’t write a 10 pager. An informal infographic will do the trick.
- Redesign your performance management before the digital workplace will force you to. Digitalization brings new rules and the old traditional performance evaluations won’t work here. Thank goodness! Because to be honest, no one likes them anyway. Take this opportunity to step away from traditional performance management tools and methodologies and design one that fits your organization perfectly. Think out the box and involve your employees. They will tell you exactly what they want. All you need to do is ask and listen.
- Ban performance tracking tools. Whatever you do to ban #fome, this is a big no go. We don’t track and monitor the performance of our employees during business hours. Trust is worth gold – trust the strength and agility of your organization and have trust in your employees.
- Ace the digital workplace by implementing the right software and tools for your organization and employees, and not just the next best thing in (HR) tech. Make sure that you know what your organization needs by assessing the current situation and defining your needs in line with corporate strategy and vision.
#FOME is a reality and a normal reaction to the digital workplace. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It is another opportunity for organizations to strengthen their corporate culture, redesign the way of working, and reinvent themselves. Make use of the collective intelligence that your organization has to offer. Involve your employees and it will create tremendous business value.