Remember when phoning it in was a bad thing?

I got to thinking about the phrase, and where it came from, and what it meant. I’m pretty sure it meant that if someone was “phoning” into a meeting, they weren’t as present and interested and engaged as someone who was actually “AT” the meeting.

Were we looking at phoning it in all wrong? 

I mean, let’s be clear, someone phoning it in was at home, probably sick (or taking care of a sick child or parent), and doing their best to support their team and be a team player. It stinks that we as a culture devalued this commitment, as if it wasn’t enough.

Oh em gee how times have changed! Phoning it in IS the status quo. In fact, our phones unlock the universe. We can’t get away from our phones, they have all the keys, tools and information we need, both from the present and the past, so we can get to answers so incredibly quickly.
If everyone phoned it in all the time, we’d always be connected and always be working….oh wait. Is that ACTUALLY the world we want? With WFH as the new normal, many clients have told me they’re experiencing an “always on” expectation. It’s hurting their work self esteem, it’s hurting their relationships with coworkers, it’s hurting their relationship with their family, and importantly, it’s taking a mental health and emotional health toll on every person who is being put under this pressure.

We ALL now see the value in someone who is dealing with childcare, homeschooling, a difficult *home* coworker (life partner, spouse, or pet), and STILL trying to show up for their team.

We see the value, because we personally understand it. Before, when someone was phoning it in, we couldn’t see their value, we couldn’t see their pain, we certainly couldn’t feel it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. That colleague was experiencing pain, was sick, was dealing with a family crisis, and they still had enough commitment to you, their coworker, to phone it in for the meeting you called.

Now we ALL feel the pain. Let’s not forget that, even when this global pandemic subsides.

Most importantly, let’s start recognizing commitment when we see it.

Sometimes commitment isn’t about showing up in the way WE think someone should. Just because we can’t see them on zoom, or we can’t know what’s going on in their head, doesn’t mean that the commitment isn’t there. Commitment can take so many forms.

    • Your colleague could still be dealing with a major crisis, and just because they aren’t face to face on zoom, doesn’t mean they aren’t committed. They still showed up the best way they could.
    • Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe they couldn’t, because they’re committed enough to the meeting to know that if they’re going to be there, they need to be contributing, and they can’t show up because they just found out their mom is going in for a cancer test, and they’re hurting.
    • Or maybe they’re not online when they *should* be…but they are at 11PM once their 3 year old son finally stopped reading and decided to go to bed.
    • Or maybe, just maybe, you haven’t heard from them at all. But if you’ve taken the time to get to know them, you’d know they’re still thinking about that work project, and time away from their laptop is exactly what they need to get you the solution you need.

Commitment comes in many forms. Take the time to get to know your coworkers, so you can recognize commitment even when you can’t “see” it.


(A side note but URGENT warning for employers and managers: Empower your team to set boundaries on their work life. Not doing so is a recipe for burnout and you’ll be feeling the effects in the coming months when the unsustainability of the “always on” mentality becomes too much to handle.)

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