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Puzzles, people and a pandemic: Thoughts on 2020 from our VP of People Operations, James Hart.

Last March, without warning, companies and employees around the world instantly transitioned to working remotely. What was seen as a privilege just the week before, suddenly became mandatory and we felt the strain immediately. While we cobbled together workspaces on kitchen counters, couches, porches, etc., we quickly learned how much we missed office life. That short stroll to the copy machine or to grab a cup of coffee now seemed like a luxury. Even the commutes so many of us complained about were missed as we no longer had time to unwind with podcasts or the radio as we transitioned from work to home.

To make things even more complicated, many of us, including me, were forced to be students again as we helped our kids with virtual school. And let me tell you that third grade math today looks nothing like what we learned when I was in school (why don’t you carry the one?!?). Not to mention the technology issues that come with online school (mute all!). It’s enough to try to balance work and school while working full time, but we also have to worry about keeping ourselves and our families safe while we try to predict what will happen next during the pandemic. In short, it’s A LOT.

When we first started working from, I thought “this will only be a few months” and by the summer we would be back to “normal.” Now as we sit just weeks away from the end of the year, I have a feeling that this “…is the song that never ends…” Or at least doesn’t end anytime soon.

If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that moments like these force us to look inward. We all know that our greatest challenges often bring our greatest learnings, so to that end, I want to reflect on what I’ve learned over the last few months.

  • How to create new operating rhythms, professionally and personally. As we left the office in March, my well-formed routines and rhythms were all tossed out the window. I’ll use an analogy that is fitting for 2020: Imagine someone taking your favorite puzzle and sliding it off the coffee table. Early on, that’s what COVID felt like. Typically, I was up early to work out in the gym, then off to the office with meetings for most of the day. A few days a week, I’d leave quickly to get my son from school, then dinner, family time, sleep, and the next day repeat. While recreating “my puzzle” I learned to give grace to myself and others. Now instead of gym in the morning, I can run at lunch. Without rushing out of the office to pick up my son from school, I could use the time to schedule a check- in with a colleague to catch up. And I must say it’s been really cool to actually sit down and eat breakfast each morning. On the professional side, I have created team huddles a few times a week to stay connected and scheduled 1:1’s with key partners to ensure the cascade of communication continued. I brought in a little more structure and began with more deliberate goals for meetings to increase my effectiveness.
  • The significance of clear communication. With an abrupt change from office interactions to zooms, emails, slacks, text, and whatever other platforms that surfaced during this period, the significance of clear communication grew exponentially. I now attempt to remove as much ambiguity and “fuzziness” from my communications and try to paint a vivid picture of my expectations, thoughts, etc. I often think “slow down to speed up”. Slowing down at the beginning of a communication allows for effective execution.
  • Don’t take for granted the smiles and positive energy of our team. Positive energy is contagious, and unknowingly, many times propelled me through my day. The face-to-face interaction with my fellow Cardlytians, the smiles, the laughs, jokes, and kindhearted barbs are priceless. In the first few months of working from home it was a huge gap in my day. Now after nine months of working remotely I am intentional about scheduling at least one 15-minute meeting each day to get my positive energy fix. It’s always well worth it and fuels my tank.

I think I speak for the entire world when I say 2020 was not the year any of us expected. But there are moments of beauty we can absorb and teachings that we will take with us when we do get back to “normal.”  In between your Zoom meetings and teaching AP History to your child, try to find a minute to first congratulate yourself on making it this far(!!) and then reflect on what lessons you’ve learned the last nine months at home. Some will be good. Some not so good. But all are valuable as we move forward.

While I don’t know when we’ll be back together, I am energized by the idea of one day getting back to face-to-face work with an entirely new appreciation for my “puzzle” and all those who help create it.

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