A time of amazing reinvention: remote work during COVID-19

Our first pandemic podcast featuring Carin-Isabel Knoop, Executive Director of the Global Research Group at Harvard Business School.

Carin Knoop is the Executive Director of the Global Research Group / Case Research & Writing Group at Harvard Business School, supporting faculty research and the development of about one-third of the School’s case study output and other types of research. She is a published researcher and co-author of the book Compassionate Management of Mental Health in the Modern Workplace, published last year.

The Case Study method is one of the highlights of the HBS experience and a profound educational innovation that presents the greatest challenges confronting leading companies, nonprofits, and government organizations — complete with the constraints and incomplete information found in real business issues — and places the student in the role of the decision maker.

The research group enabled HBS faculty to generate more than 1,600 cases in 75+ countries and many other pieces of course material.

Carin started attending HBS in 1992 to study her MBA, moving 10 metres from her dorm room to her office when she stayed on as a research associate. She explains that she came to HBS because she was interested in how organisations work, but fell in love with the academic side of things and decided to stay.

On the question of the role of mental health in the workplace (a personal research project for Carin), she believes that personal pathology has a big role to play and that, as managers or bosses, you need to start the work with yourself before you can try and help your employees. “For years it’s been clear that people are our greatest assets…” says Carin, “It’s always important to reflect and learn first.”

The important thing to remember is that we’re all human (whether you’re a boss, manager or employee), and therefore all of us grapple with some kind of stressor and need to look out for each other.

“It’s really important to create an environment at work where you can have an open conversation.”

There is a definite disconnect between what managers and employees believe about mental health at work. Managers always think the thing that stresses employees out the most is working long hours, when in fact employees actually feel stressed out about badly designed roles at work.

For Carin, what’s been interesting about COVID-19 is that it’s forcing us to really rethink the essentials like workspace design, co-worker personalities and how we express empathy without being condescending.

“Think about where your people are coming from, that’s the real opportunity.”

When it comes to her own workplace, the Harvard Business School, she describes the culture as very empathetic — the first decision made at the outbreak of COVID-19 was to focus on retaining jobs for the academic staff. Carin says the Dean calls the staff ‘the secret sauce’ of the school.

“Empathetic, committed, passionate, fast-moving… hard-driving but supportive.”

On the question of who should be managing and measuring culture in an organisation, Carin argues that everyone in the company is responsible for this. Why? Every person in an organisation makes decisions based on the company’s culture, for instance whether they will leave the company or whether to reinforce behaviours they deem as productive, etc.

Carin believes that, as s a manager, you should be making even more effort to ‘touch’ your employees — to make a difference in their lives and help them make a way through these difficult times.

“You need to change and think about how you’re going to build the culture.”

Carin had met Clayton Christensen, the HBS professor who developed the theory of disruptive innovation first described in his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. He also developed the concept of the Job To Be Done, which is something Carin often thinks of in terms of education and what it needs to accomplish in the world today.

“It’s a time of amazing reinvention.”

Enjoy! Hit play ▶️ above to watch the interview video.
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Timestamp notes:

0.11 — Hilarious introduction

1.54 — Carin’s background and what she does at Harvard Business School

2.30 — The global impact of research at HBS

3.10 — Mental health in light of COVID-19

9.22 — Stressors in the workplace and the low-hanging fruit for managers to help

10.14 — What’s the culture like at Harvard Business School

11.40 — The impact of the pandemic on higher education

13.15 — Carin’s career & the HBS ecosystem

14.50 — Who should be managing & measuring culture in an organisation? What is culture?

16.29 — Is recognition & feedback important for teams working from home right now?

18.47 — Communication and inclusion in the remote workplace

22.38 — Clayton Christensen & his books

24.23 — An average day for Carin & her fave reading material

26.16 — How to reach Carin: LinkedIN, cknoop@hbs.edu

If you have any feedback, comments, ideas or suggestions, please get in contact with us on twitter @giveahi5 or email us on podcasts@get5.io.
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