Change is an inevitable part of life, and we deal with transitions every day. Some are in the background and become so commonplace we don’t even really notice them, such as the transitions from morning, afternoon and evening. Other transitions are more obvious, like all of the change we’ve experienced during the pandemic: moving to remote working and learning, quarantining in our households, halting travel, cooking every day, etc. And it’s not over yet. We are now facing the next transition to hybrid work.
Transition to Remote Work
For some people, the transition to working from home was a nightmare. They had children without any help since daycare facilities were closed and schools switched to virtual learning. It was a very disruptive time for a lot of people. Not only did they have to negotiate the transitions for themselves, they had to do the same for their families.
For other people, working from home was a dream come true. They enjoyed not having to commute to the office which gave them more time for personal projects, fitness regimens and hobbies. Many people felt they were more efficient working from home because there were fewer interruptions by coworkers, yet they were still able to collaborate remotely, thanks to technology.
Transition to Hybrid Work
Now things are starting to change yet again. Some companies are requiring workers return to the office. Others are trying to figure out a hybrid blend of having their staff split their time between home and the office.
From the conversations I’ve had with leaders, the vast majority of employees do not want to come back to work full-time in the pre-COVID way. They say they are open to hybrid, preferring to work in the office just one or two days a week. However, I anticipate that some of those people saying they want to come back now will eventually start dreading those days of having to physically go into work. Since this is unchartered territory for everyone, leaders are sending out surveys to better understand what their employees want and trying to make customizations around business units, roles and responsibilities. In January, Gallup polled U.S. workers working remotely and found that 44 percent prefer to work from home even once restrictions are lifted.
More companies are responding to these employee expectations as they begin to announce their return-to-work plans, including these recently reported by the Washington Post:
- Citigroup is designating the majority of its workers as hybrid with an expectation that they work at least three days in the office.
- Ford is allowing 30,000 of its North American office workers to work under a flexible hybrid model where they are onsite for certain meetings but work from home for independent work.
- Twitter announced last year they would allow employees to be remote on a permanent basis.
- Lockheed Martin estimates that up to 45 percent of its workforce will be hybrid and is putting its managers through training, including the benefits of having a growth mindset.
- Target says most office workers will follow a hybrid approach and ended the lease at one of its downtown Minneapolis headquarters buildings.
The downsizing of physical office space will present logistical challenges since many businesses reduced the size of or got rid of their office spaces altogether during the pandemic.
Here at JMA, we’ve always had two offices in Chicago: one downtown and the other on the Northside of the city. For over ten years, I would commute downtown three times a week to meet in-person with my coaching clients. After a while, I dropped down to two days and eventually, I only made the commute one day. Once virtual sessions became the standard for meeting with clients, I decided to put the downtown office up for sale. I can be more efficient working from the Northside office, which also happens to be my home office. Other CEOs are making similar decisions.
REI recently built corporate headquarters in Bellevue, Washington and then sold the 8-acre complex to Facebook last fall without ever even moving into the building. It was designed to bring together thousands of employees, but during the pandemic, the outdoor recreation retailer pivoted its plans for office space to small, satellite locations throughout the Seattle area.
While corporate leaders grapple with how much office space they really need, they are also considering incentives to bring people back. The productivity of remote work has shown that companies need to rethink their space to provide more effective options for productivity and collaboration.
As we work to figure out what this new hybrid work model looks like, it will be more important than ever for leaders to help their employees manage transition. If you are working in the office three days a week and from home the other two days, your entire week is one in transition. You are switching locations, schedules, routines and technology multiple times a week. The future workspace will have a higher need for adaptable and agile workers.
Training to Be Agile
In order to handle transition better, you need to train yourself to be agile. It starts with your perspective and how you view the experience of going to work. If we don’t like something, it can often be attributed to the circumstances surrounding it and how we view them. For example, you don’t like going to work because of the traffic you have to deal with during your commute.
Think about going to a party as an introvert. You dread the party up until the minute you arrive and begin to engage. More often than not, you have a good time and are glad you went. We have these conversations with ourselves about the preparation for the event that colors the experience of the event itself. You are creating the experience proactively without necessarily being conscious that you are doing that.
These disruptive times may test the limits of our ability to adapt. However, with each transition we have the opportunity to learn a great deal about our inner resources and to ask ourselves what we really want out of life. This period of self-reflection can then lead to self-renewal and a new phase of stability and eventual equilibrium.
Sometimes life thrusts change upon us dramatically and unexpectedly. The pandemic forced us to leave our former lives behind and adjust to a new way of living, even if we felt totally unprepared or resistant to do so. Major life events like the pandemic, health issues, accidents and death can strike without warning and leave us struggling with a personal crisis characterized by denial, anger, depression and withdrawal. But not all transitions arise from negative experiences. Marriage, a new job, a move to a new location, the birth of a child, reacquaintance with an old friend — these events, which may be planned and expected, may also lead us into a life transition.
On other occasions, life transitions occur because we find ourselves in a rut. We may have the nagging feeling that something is wrong, although we can’t quite put our finger on the reasons. Our lives are not going the way we thought they would, and time is passing us by. We feel that it is time for a major change.
As William Bridges points out in his book, Transitions, our life transitions are composed of an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning. When a transition occurs, we need to give up our old definitions of the world, our old ways of doing things, as we are challenged by the process of “letting go.” Endings are difficult for most people, even when we are unhappy with the way things used to be. What is known is more comfortable than the unknown. Once we let go, however, we enter a period of feeling disconnected from the past but not yet connected to the present — the neutral zone. This is a time which can engender great self-reflection, an assessment of what we really want out of life, and a time to reorient ourselves toward the future. Finally, the new beginning completes the successful transition. This is when we embark on a journey of new priorities and the sense of a renewed future.
Bringing Our Old Situation to an End
There are four stages of the ending process:
Disengagement: We need to make a break from the roles, activities and settings of the former situation. Until this break occurs, we are prone to seeing the world in the old way, and this makes a successful transition difficult. Disengagement does not necessarily mean physically leaving or moving — as long as one can psychologically disengage from a situation, one can gain the perspective to begin to define the old ways more objectively.
Disidentification: Not only do our activities change, but we begin to give up our former self definitions. A person in the so-called mid-life crisis, for example, needs to abandon his or her identity as a “younger” person. To avoid this change is to postpone the inevitable, to invite continuing inner conflict, and to forego the advantages of moving into a different stage of life.
Disenchantment: Once our situations and our former self-definitions change, we may wonder about what is real and what is not. In a sense the world is made up of many levels of reality. Our old lives helped us to create one way of looking at things — our old reality (“This relationship is for life,” or “I’ll always have this job,” or “My health will last forever”). Disenchantment occurs when we are no longer under the spell of the old reality. We question our assumptions and begin to see the world in new ways, to look at other levels of reality. This opens the door to a healthy transition.
Disorientation: This is a stage of discomfort. Our old situations, self-definitions, and views of reality have been challenged, and we are left confused with the feeling that we have jumped into the void. We get by everyday by taking things a step at a time. Things that we had once thought were meaningful are no longer so. We all have a tendency to hope that things are constantly improving throughout our lives, but it may be more realistic to view things as they occur in the natural world — a series of expansions and contractions.
We gain and we lose. Day becomes night — and then day again. We need to empty our cupboards before we can fill them up again. Some people try to initiate a beginning before they accomplish the work of the ending, mainly because endings can be painful. For example, they may try to find a new relationship before putting closure on the old one. This creates a situation where the old structures, the old realities, are still in place and it blocks us from doing the work associated with a healthy transition into a new relationship. Before finding a new relationship, it is preferable to spend some time alone, think about what the old relationship meant and what was wrong with it, as well as to assess what this stage of life can now bring. To do this, we must confront the challenge of the ending and then move into the neutral zone.
The Inner Work of the Neutral Zone
In the neutral zone, we may feel lost, confused, disoriented and may show symptoms of depression. This time of confusion, however, can set the stage for self-examination and answers which guide us out of the transitional phase and into the future. The neutral zone is a period of personal reorientation.
Nothing much happens in the neutral zone, at least from the outsider’s perspective. People in the neutral zone often say that they need a few days, or even longer, alone just to think — or pray or meditate. Without the old definitions of the world and our accustomed activities to fall back on, time in the neutral zone can create substantial introspection and heightened self-awareness. This is a time to examine the course of our lives, to reacquaint ourselves with the nature of our inner selves, and to think of ways to make our dreams come true. Renewal arises from an examination of our inner resources.
Embracing a New Life
Genuine new beginnings emerge when we realign our ways of looking at the world and renew our energy. We may mistakenly look for external aligns to guide us into a beginning, but our inner attitudes toward life, our renewed self-knowledge, and our intuition are really the hallmarks of our new beginnings. By relying on our inner voice to tell us where to go in life, we are likely to have more motivation than if we were to depend on the traditional expectations provided to us by others. When the directions we must take in life become clear, it is time to take action to make things happen, identify ourselves as traveling on a new course, and then complete the process step by step. New beginnings incorporate some continuity from the past. We never give up the old completely, but use what we need from the past as a resource for our journey into the future.
Undergoing a Life Transition
Life transitions, difficult as they can be, afford us the opportunity to find our true inner direction and engage in the process of self-renewal.
Here are some guidelines to make the journey rewarding:
- Give Yourself Enough Time.
When our lives are disrupted, it takes time to reorient our inner feelings to the new reality. We may feel uncomfortable during a transition, especially when we give up our old activities. To create new activities prematurely, however, without giving ourselves the time to reflect and reorient, may only serve to perpetuate the old ways — and a rewarding life opportunity may be missed.
2. Arrange Temporary Ways of Living.
Although transitions can be disruptive, hold on to those parts of your life which provide comfort and security. When we feel safe, we are able to accomplish the task of the transition more productively.
If your transition involves a job loss, find temporary work until you discover what you want to do over the long run. If you have lost a relationship, there is no need to isolate yourself from all of your friends. Hold on to those who can comfort you.
3. Tolerate the Discomfort.
Transitions can introduce confusion and disorientation into our lives. Expect to experience times of anxiety and insecurity. These are natural feelings and an important part of the process, but they are only temporary. Trust in your own ability to see your way through the transition.
4. Take Care of Yourself During the Transition.
The stress of transitions may wear you down, and you may feel so depressed that you don’t want to engage in normal, healthy activities. Do something for yourself everyday which you find comforting and pleasurable. Get a normal amount of sleep and make sure your diet is healthy. Try to get some exercise every day, even if it is only a walk around the block.
5. Find the Support You Need.
A time of transition is an excellent time to seek the support of a coach who can guide you through the process in a safe and encouraging setting. Finding the support of friends is also important — but avoid those who are only there to give advice. While advice may be helpful at times, your greater need at this time is to explore your own feelings and to find the truth which emerges from your own inner resources.
In this uncertain time, acceptance, adaptability and agility will be key to your success. This isn’t the first nor will it be the last time we will have to navigate massive change. Transitions are disruptive, but it is possible to come out of them with more good in our lives.