What Working From Home With My Family Has Taught Me About Leadership

Focus on what matters most, and don’t overlook the small stuff.

As the Global Chief Marketing Officer of SAP and mother of two young children, I’ve had to adjust to this new work-from-home reality like so many in the workforce. By nature, I thrive in the office. Impromptu brainstorm sessions and real-time collaboration are what I live for; I truly enjoy — and lately miss — connecting with others in person. However, working remotely 24/7 means the lines between work and home are more blurred than ever in our “always on” world.

As my husband Bill and I find ourselves in week four of our new setup, it’s been amazing to see how thoroughly these changes have reshaped the way we work and live. We are working from home alongside our two children, who are now homeschooling. Bill and I are working later than normal, so we are all going to sleep later. I work hard to run an organized life and believe that helps me sleep well at night. But lately, like many people, I haven’t slept much — maybe because being organized is the last thing I have felt over the last four weeks.

When the kids wake up, we need to set them up, log them in, and provide instruction throughout the day, in between our myriad of professional responsibilities. For the first couple of weeks, we worked hard to get our work and schoolwork done as best we could. It required a lot of juggling. Four weeks in, it hasn’t necessarily become any easier, but we have focused on teamwork and a certain level of organization. We, like so many others, are getting through this one day at a time.

And I have been learning from this time with my family. I’ve put aside time to help my children, submit their work, prepare meals, wash dishes (many dishes), and get some quiet time with them and my husband. Trying to keep up with it all has been hard, but my husband and I have become an unbreakable team and it has helped us recognize the superpowers I believe we all as human beings possess. It has also taught me the power of living in the moment and letting go of “what you think” is the best way to do something, until you only have one choice available.

March 31st was my son’s 9th birthday. We had a party planned for him and all of his classmates at a local sports facility where they could run around and play games for 90 minutes, followed by pizza and cake. Sadly, it had to be canceled given the shutdown, and he was heartbroken. I quickly wrote to all the parents and invited his classmates instead to a surprise “Happy Birthday Zoom” for him early the afternoon of his birthday. When I had all of his classmates on the computer screen, all 26 of them, I sat the computer in front of him, at which point all of the kids started singing “Happy Birthday.” He smiled from ear to ear. He stayed with them on video for nearly two hours — it was the first time they had seen each other in four weeks. They talked about their schoolwork, drew pictures, played trivia, joked, and laughed.

When I put William to bed that night he told me it was the best birthday he ever had. It wasn’t an elaborate birthday party with pizza, cake, and presents. Seeing his friends, hearing their voices, and talking about “kid stuff” was all he needed. It was his greatest gift of all. And it was an incredible moment of reflection for me.

When it comes to managing your work, and managing your families, focus on what matters most, and don’t overlook the small stuff. It really makes a difference. Your customers need very specific things right now. Listen to them, learn from them, and then deliver the value they need. And the same holds true for your families. It is not about everything being “buttoned up and perfect.” It’s about love, partnership, comfort, and support. It’s these little things that matter most.

Here are a few ways I’ve been leading and learning in the moment:

1. Communicate. Often.

Every Monday morning, I write to my leadership team, capturing reflections and “lessons learned” from the previous week, as well as outlining our focus for the next few days. I also send weekly video communications to our entire marketing organization where I reflect on our work and give clear direction about the focus and work we need to deliver based on what we are learning from our customers and communities. In periods of crisis or change, communication is needed more than ever, and as leaders we have a responsibility to make that happen.

2. Seize the moment.

It’s difficult at first to make decisions to cancel activities or events given the current environment, but it also presents an opportunity to do something fresh and new, and in most cases with little time, and that can be invigorating. At home and at work, I’ve challenged my family and my teams to creatively think about how we pivot these experiences to make the very most of the current situation. We’ve had to stand up digital events in less than a week, we pushed ourselves, and in the end, the results felt more rewarding.   

3. Operate in the moment while shaping the future.

As we manage through COVID-19, we must focus on positioning our brand value based on what is most relevant and helpful during this crisis. And as we think about doing things differently, or new, we can use this also as a learning to build toward future change. Many are saying that once the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, we will be in a “new normal.” How that new normal is defined will be based on what we change, or what we choose to do differently when we arrive. It’s important we start using our short-term actions now as the basis to shape our new normal.

Working From Home in the New Normal is a data-driven storytelling initiative from SAP and Thrive Global, bringing together insights powered by the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse with actionable Microsteps and stories from Thrive to help you navigate working from home. Visit daily for the latest data and stories to help improve your focus, prioritization, and well-being.

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