Dr. Tracy Brower | How We Can Get Back to Work and Bring Life to Work

Dr. Tracy Brower is a work environment sociologist and a Principal with the Applied Research + Consulting Group at Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations, which focuses on work-life fulfillment. Dr. Brower is a contributor for Forbes and Fast Company, as well as an executive adviser for Coda Societies and the MSU Professional Mathematics Program, and she is also an award-winning speaker with over 25 years of experience working with global clients to achieve business results. She is also a board member for the FM Research & Benchmarking Institute and her work has been featured in TEDx, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. Dr. Brower holds a PhD in the Sociology of Work as well as a Masters of Management (MM) in Organizational Effectiveness, and a Masters of Corporate Real Estate with Workplace Specialization.

In this episode, John Corcoran talks to Dr. Tracy Brower about what businesses and employees should do to get ready to go back to work after the current health crisis. They talk about how the work environment has changed over the last couple of months, how company leaders should become present and visible to effectively take charge and guide their teams, and the importance of staying connected during a crisis.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Learn:

  • Dr. Tracy Brower’s observations on how the work environment has changed because of the current health crisis
  • How leaders can step forward, guide their teams well, and lead their companies forward
  • Best practices to keep in mind for leaders of companies that are laying off their staff
  • John and Dr. Tracy talk about businesses and people who reacted quickly after the outbreak
  • Dr. Brower explains what she means by great leaders being present and visible
  • The importance of leaders staying connected with their staff during a crisis, the impact of sharing regular videos, and how leaders can offer additional support to their staff
  • How the crisis is improving relationships and making people more empathetic with their colleagues about work life
  • How companies are likely to handle employees going back to work after the crisis and the possibility of companies continuing with work-from-home set ups
  • How companies and businesses are innovating and pivoting in times of crisis
  • What companies need to do to bring life back to work in the coming months
  • The people Dr. Tracy acknowledges for her achievements
  • Where to learn more about Dr. Tracy Brower

Resources Mentioned:

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:10  

Welcome to the Revolution, the Smart Business Revolution podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution. John Corcoran.

John Corcoran  0:40  

All right. Welcome, everybody. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of the Smart Business Revolution podcast where I talk with CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, authors, speakers, and many you know founders and CEOs of companies and organizations like YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, Lending tree, Opentable x software and many more. I’m also the co-founder of Rise25 where we helped connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. 

I’ve got a great guest for you here today. Dr. Tracy Brower is a sociologist. She is the author of “Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work”, which is a really relevant piece of work in today’s day and age, given what’s going on with coronavirus, and we are actually recording this right now, in the beginning of May 2020. Just to give you a touch point, the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to unfold. And so I’m really interested to talk with her about some of her predictions for the future and how this is gonna affect work, how it’s gonna affect companies, that sort of thing. She’s also a contributor for Forbes.com and Fast Company, and also a Principal with the Applied Research and Consulting Group at Steelcase. She’s an award winning speaker with over 25 years of experience working with global clients to achieve business results and an Executive Advisor to Coda Societies and the MSU Professional Mathematics Program. Her work has been featured in TEDx, Wall Street Journal, all kinds have different publications and that sort of thing. 

But first, before we get into this interview, this episode is brought to you by Rise 25 Media and if you’ve been listening for a while, you know how passionate we are about podcasting and content marketing that uplevel is your network. We are a podcasting evangelist. And for 10 years, we’ve been saying everyone should start a podcast, like I am here to talk to Dr. Brower in a moment and get her to ask her all kinds of questions of interest to me. But really, it’s like a Swiss Army knife. It’s a tool that accomplishes so much. It can and will lead to great clients referrals and strategic partnerships. That also will lead to great conversations, great relationships, and great content marketing. So to learn more, go to rise25media.com or email [email protected] 

All right, so Dr. Tracy, honored to have you here and I’m honored to pick your brain if you will, a little bit on some of these topics. You know, I think that you know, personally, I’m guessing you, you look like you probably were around during 911, probably experienced it. You also experienced 2008. So we’ve been through these things before, but nothing is quite like this. This really feels so different. What are just to start off, what are some observations that you’re writing about thinking about observing in terms of how work is being changed right now?

Dr. Tracy Brower  3:26  

Yeah, well, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. It’s incredible because it’s so unprecedented, and happens so fast. It’s happening so ubiquitously to us. And it’s touching so many parts of our lives, the way we work, the way we socialize, the way we play, the way we heal, the way we learn. You name it and it’s in. It’s affecting big things like life and death and incomes and livelihoods. And small things like the kinds of products that we buy, whether or not we can go out for lock. So that’s part of what makes it so significant. I think that this is one of those things that’s going to split our lives. We’re going to say to ourselves, you know, remember all those times before the pandemic, and then they’re going to be these things after the pandemic. But I think the really interesting thing as we talk about work, is the idea that we are in the biggest moment of reinventing work than we’ve ever been before. Like it’s just, it’s gonna be this enormous reinvention of the way we think about work and the way we go to work the way we conceive of work. I love that positivity in, in your message in your writing, particularly on Forbes, you’re looking at it from a glass half full type of perspective, looking at some of the positive impacts that can come from it, particularly for leaders for example, you know, you’re you’re saying some amazing leaders are really stepping forward and they’re doing great things, to lead their teams to give them certainty to lead the lead the company forward. What are some things you’re seeing in terms of leadership and best practices right now? Yeah. You know, that’s a really interesting thing. And I love to think from a glass half full perspective and an optimistic perspective. We don’t want to be Pollyanna, you know, like, resilience is about the ability to be in touch with reality, the ability to make sense out of reality, and then the ability to improvise and figure out how to respond. But that’s not being Pollyanna. So I think it is important to acknowledge reality. And that’s actually one of the things that leaders do really well. When leaders are leading well. They’re talking about what’s really going on. They’re being realistic, they’re being authentic, they’re being clear that they don’t have all the answers at the same time. I think they’re able to really point people to the future and motivate them toward a place that they’ll get through together. You know, like, we may not all know exactly how it’s going to come out in the end, but by goodness, we’re going to get there together. And I think leaders are really honest, you know, like, leaders may not be able to give promises about things. So they need to be honest and balanced about optimism. That is also realistic.

John Corcoran  6:08  

Now, for there’s kind of two different kinds of leaders right now, right? There are companies that are doing okay, or maybe even thriving. And then they’re leaders of companies that are not leading to layoffs. We see all the headlines. Let’s talk about that for a moment before we move on to the more positive ones for the for the companies that are having to do layoffs that are having to be brutally honest with some of their employees, some are even telling their teams you know, take a voluntary separation now, if you can, different things like that. What are some of the best practices for them? How should they approach that situation?

Dr. Tracy Brower  6:48  

Yeah, I think it’s a really, really important question. I think a really big part of it is being honest with people as early as you can, and making those tough decisions like some Those decisions are gut wrenching. But you’ve got to be able to balance the needs of people with the needs of the business. And you hear people say, so often I can handle whatever the message is, it’s harder to be in limbo about the message than it is to get a hard message. So to be as honest as possible, as early as possible, I think to make sure that the message is focused on the facts, but that the message is also really one of empathy and compassion. So you know, leaders are making hard decisions. They’re giving really hard news, but if they can be empathetic about it and compassionate about it, that’s a really big deal.

John Corcoran  7:38  

Yeah. And did you, I don’t know if this was your observation as well, but I felt like there were some really definitive, hard decisions made very quickly for a lot of different companies stunningly quickly. You know, like, you know, Danny Meyer, who’s the restaurant tour for his Shake Shack and a bunch of different chains he laid off like eating percent of his staff, I want to say within a week or two into, as this was really unfolding kind of quickly. And there are a bunch of other examples of that. And I’m not sure if that is just my perception or if perhaps, people were reacting, and people having lived through 2008. They didn’t want this thing to drag out.

Dr. Tracy Brower  8:23  

Yeah, I think that’s a great point. I mean, sometimes those early decisions are helpful to people because they’re not stringing people along. The other thing that I hear leaders doing really, really well is having a really good understanding of the protocols and laws related to unemployment and the kind of financial support that people have available. What I was hearing is that some of those early decisions actually gave people access to support financially that they wouldn’t have already had. And so it just really was some of those decisions, really nicely informed by facts and by This emphasis on what would really be best for people. I think the other thing that’s really helpful is when leaders can, as much as possible, give people enough information that they can make some of their own choices. So you also hear companies who are, you know, offering early layoff or early retirement, excuse me, or like a voluntary layoff. And they give employees enough information that they can make some really good decisions themselves. You know, one of the other things I think that’s super interesting is that there we are so inundated by information and there’s this information overwhelm and, you know, false news and not false news, and where do you turn and who do you rely on? And so a lot of times, employees look to their company as a single source of truth and sometimes look to leaders as a single source of truth. And that’s a huge responsibility because no leader has a crystal ball. On the other hand, I think it’s really useful when leaders can help put things in context. They can help make sense of things. So I may not understand every single possible dynamic related to the pandemic. But as a leader, I have a responsibility to understand how it impacts on our company, and our market and the team and the work that my employees are doing. And the more leaders can help put things in context and help make sense for employees, the better, again, with authenticity, they don’t have to have all the answers and they need to be careful not to send the message that they do, but putting things in context and being that source of sense making can be really helpful.

John Corcoran  10:36  

And another thing you’ve written about is that great leaders are present and visible. And you know, in an earlier life, I was a practicing lawyer. In fact, in 2008-2009, I was a practicing lawyer and working with a lot of different businesses, including many which struggled during that time period. And it was so hard for these business owners. You know, oftentimes their life’s work was crumbling, coming to pieces. And it was so personally painful for them, and hard for them to face their employees feeling like a failure, feeling like they failed them. And yet, that was what they needed to do. And I saw a lot of great people do it. I saw a lot of people struggle with it, too, you know. So I just wanted to ask you a little bit about that point about that. Because I’m sure you feel the same way just how difficult that is for leaders to be present and visible, as a business is failing or suffering major layoffs.