Leadership During The Pandemic - An Interview With Bruce Daisley

May 4, 2020

By Adam Chapman, EyeForPharma on Mar 21, 2019

Complexity is the defining business and leadership challenge of our time. But it has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. For the next few weeks, we’ll be talking to leaders about what it takes to lead through the most complex and confounding problems, and about Brody Moments (from Jaws’ Police Chief Brody and his famous line “you’re going to need a bigger boat”) related to the coronavirus.

Today we talk with Bruce Daisley, former VP at Twitter and author of EAT SLEEP WORK REPEAT: 30 Hacks For Bringing Joy To Your Job. Bruce was previously Twitter's most senior employee outside of the United States, in his role of Vice President across Europe, Middle East and Africa. He joined the company in 2012 having previously run YouTube UK at Google. Bruce's passion for improving work led to him creating the podcast Eat Sleep Work Repeat on making work better.

Bruce Daisley
Bruce Daisley PPA LTD 2019

David and David: What is a Brody Moment you’d be willing to share from your time at Twitter?

Bruce: When I worked at Twitter in London, people used to visit and exalt the remarkable culture that we had created, an effervescent fizz that seemed to envelope visitors. I quietly congratulated myself for this, but then things took a turn for the worse. Something of a bad news cycle combined with the need to make job cuts, and before we knew it, we were hemorrhaging colleagues. That’s when I had my own Brody Moment, and realized I was going to need a bigger boat. I couldn’t fix this with instinct and hunch. So I started to delve into the learning of psychologists and work culture experts. I quickly discovered that there was no shortage of research on what makes work better, but very little of it was reaching people in real-world jobs. That’s why I started my podcast and wrote Eat Sleep Work Repeat.

David and David: Work culture has been massively disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. What are the Brody Moments that leaders are experiencing today when it comes to the workplace?  

Bruce: The critical consideration for a lot of us right now is how we can keep our team productive and focused. A lot of bosses are concerned that because they can’t see their team members, they must be doing nothing. So they decide to keep an eye on them by summoning them to a Zoom meeting. A Zoom meeting where the manager can literally watch them doing nothing. Right now, managers must ask, “how can I make my team go faster?” One way is to give them clear, autonomous projects and leave them alone to get on with it. It’s much easier to observe that someone has done nothing when they’ve been solely responsible for it than when they’ve been in meetings with you preventing them from getting work done.

David and David: What do you see ahead? How do you think the pandemic will change the workplace over the long-term?

Bruce: A lot of us wanted to work from the freedom of our homes and now we’re finding that we long for the community, company, and discourse of the office. If we live alone, the lack of a daily burst of energy from other people is starting to feel like something we look forward to enjoying again. If we live with children, the escape of domestic responsibility and the desire to get something done aches inside of us. At the same time, there’s no doubt that finance directors at many firms will start questioning whether their physical location needs such a large footprint in the future. I expect city center offices might start looking a little more modest as workers are invited to work from home for several days a week. I spent a lot of time in Eat Sleep Work Repeat working out how to make remote work feel satisfying, and the evidence suggests that we need to be very intentional about the way we create remote teams. We need to make our teams feel connected to each other, and that is not achieved by having them sit silently in Google Hangouts.

David and David: How do leaders need to course-correct? What is their “bigger boat” so to speak?

Bruce: When we are anxious or pressed for time, we all revert to a task-oriented focus. Our desire to achieve goals becomes a preoccupation, and what silently gets missed is the focus on creating teams or developing individuals. The bigger boat right now is the need for leaders to think about teams holistically - what can they do to make sure everyone feels part of something bigger than themselves? It’s incredibly difficult to do when people are remote, but it’s far from impossible. The secret is making sure people have an achievable goal that they can accomplish, and then helping them recognize how that fits into the team’s wider objective. This might mean we use this time to think about the long-term projects that we never get around to, but which will allow us to bounce back with better offerings when markets return.

David and David: What will get in the way of leaders driving these changes?

Bruce: If there’s one thing that gets people’s backs up about work, it’s their managers. One recent US study asked workers about the worst part of their jobs, and three quarters of respondents named their boss. Right now, of course, any manager is in an unenviable situation. Things aren’t going well and they can’t see the people who work for them. The order books are emptying and there seems to be very little that anyone can do to fix it. So it’s natural to want to control things yourself. We’ve all been guilty of thinking “if I was doing this, I would get it done.” But that mentality is a mistake that prevents us from thinking about how we can delegate and empower those around us. Take a breath. Think about how you can give clear, achievable jobs to people in your team, and then leave them alone to do it. Make sure that there are lots of human check-ins, and set up a social meeting once a week where people just talk about books they’re reading, shows they’re watching or wine they’re drinking.

David and David: What are some of the most interesting things you learned about work culture while producing your podcast and writing your book?

Bruce: I worked in tech companies for a long time, and outsiders would often ask me “what technology do you think will most transform work?” I remain convinced that the fundamental technology of work is humans. And the more we can engineer work for humans to do their best, the more we will make our jobs feel productive and rewarding. Over the last 15 years, our mobile devices have contributed to the average working day increasing from 7.5 hours a day to 9.5 hours a day. This has taken a toll on us. Those who clock up to 9.5 hours a day have significantly higher stress levels, and that activates the fear system of the brain. And as Emory University’s Gregory Berns has noted, “the most concrete thing that neuroscience tells us is that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off.” If we were clear that stress existed in opposition to us being creative, we would no doubt rethink the way we work.

David and David: Do you have any other advice you can offer? Parting words?

Bruce: Right now, it’s vital that we all find time to laugh. While researching my book, I was fascinated to learn that laughter is one of the most powerful ways for us to reset our resilience, and to feel connected to the people around us. Teams that laugh today feel more connected to each other, and adults who find time to laugh feel more anchored in life.

Original article posted on Forbes on May 4, 2020

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