Tag Archives: Work Smarter

From overcoming burnout to finding new opportunities

As a first-generation Vietnamese American raised by a single mother and a first-generation college graduate entering the workforce, I battled Imposter Syndrome when I was hired at Google right after graduating college. Despite an inclusive culture and welcoming peers, I worried that if I showed any signs of weakness, I would be “outed” as an imposter. 

I took on more and more work to constantly prove my worth. While trying to prove I  “belonged” at Google, I took on extra responsibilities and projects at the expense of my hobbies, family relationships and my physical and mental health. Despite promotions to more senior sales leadership roles, I never felt accomplished. 

I was also affected by childhood traumas: I struggled with depression and anxiety stemming from anti-gay bullying, and despite years of therapy, I carried this into adulthood. All of this led me to feeling emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. I was experiencing burnout. 

So many people feel burned out, whether for personal or professionals reasons — or, like in my case, a combination of both. I was fortunate enough to have the tools at my disposal to work my way through my burnout, and even found new opportunities in the process. 

Recognizing the burnout

The first step for me was realizing and acknowledging that something was wrong. People formerly described me as charismatic and energetic, but I was becoming defined by exhaustion, stress, and lack of creativity. Activities I enjoyed — exercising, meeting with friends and mentoring others — no longer interested me. I slept less, felt more anxious and suffered a host of physical symptoms associated with underlying health issues. 

Don't be afraid to speak up

I knew I needed help and reluctantly decided to take a paid medical leave, a benefit offered by Google, for my health. This was a difficult decision, but my manager and team reassured me that everything would be alright. While I saw myself as weak for taking leave, my team saw me as strong and resilient for prioritizing my health and well-being. 

While on leave, I sought treatment for my pre-existing mental health issues and went through a program that taught me how to cope with stress, process my childhood traumas, and ultimately equip me with the tools to manage burnout. I rediscovered who I was and was reminded of my strength and passion for helping others. It was at this point I decided to pursue a career that focused on helping others also realize their greatness as well as how to avoid burnout.

Utilize your resources

My manager and colleagues were incredibly supportive of my career change. I was able to take advantage of "20% projects" at Google, an initiative that allows employees to work  on business related assignments that might have value to the company. I took courses on learning design and program management, offered by Google, and was able to transfer to a leadership role in Sales Enablement Learning & Development. 

The burnout and exhaustion I’d felt was replaced by inspiration, excitement and purpose. My success in building learning programs for employees to learn and grow led to a promotion, and now I’m leading a team while mentoring and coaching Google employees across the globe. I also decided to take advantage of Google's education reimbursement and student loan repayment programs to concurrently enroll in a doctoral program in workplace education and organizational change. Even though I spend more time studying and working than before, I have more energy than ever because I’m passionate about what I’m spending my time on. 

Prioritize yourself  

Shawn Sieu, standing in front of the android statue park on the Google campus.

Going through personal and workplace burnout and deciding to make time and space for my mental health taught me the importance of prioritizing my wellbeing. Not only did I do what was right for my health, I reassessed my priorities and passions. So if you’re experiencing all or some of these things, don’t give up. Prioritize yourself, because you will have nothing left to give if you don’t. 


Tips from Google’s resilience expert on avoiding burnout

A college soccer player, Lauren Whitt was sidelined by two knee injuries that took her off the field during her sophomore and junior year. This was incredibly frustrating — she'd played soccer most of her life and had even won a Pan-American gold medal with the U.S. Youth National Soccer team. She realized she was going to need to find a way to cope. 

“I began to study the idea of resilience more,” Lauren says. “How it changes your body and your life. It sort of became my personal mission.” A few years later, it became the subject for her doctoral dissertation — today, it’s the focus of her work. 

Lauren is the head of global resilience at Google, a job that’s been crucial this last year. Even as vaccines become available, so many stressors remain: Searches for the term “pandemic fatigue” increased more than 300% during the past month in the U.S., and “job burnout quiz” was a breakout search over the past three months. These things are exactly what Lauren hopes to alleviate through her programs that help Googlers build resilience, deal with stress and develop skills to tackle new challenges. 

But resilience isn’t only about helping people cope with the negative; it’s also about giving them more room to experience the positive. Lauren wants to help Googlers feel creative and productive so they can thrive at work. “I’m so passionate about this work because I think that while I’m not personally making something that launches us all into the future, I can help the people at Google who are doing that be their best.”

First, though, it’s important to know what resilience truly means. Lauren describes it as the capacity to bounce back. “Resilience is the ability to respond and recover from stress. To feel successful it's important to be able to take on intense challenges, and then pause to reflect on what went well and what didn't, so we can go into the next project,” she explains. 

Being resilient on the job doesn’t mean working nonstop, but working smarter. She says it’s not a matter of endurance, but of focusing on a task and then taking a break to tackle the next challenge in your best physical and mental shape. “All of us are constantly in a position where we can cultivate resilience and strive to be mentally stronger, especially during those moments when we have to perform at our best, like a big work presentation or a sensitive meeting,” Lauren adds. “Showing up and being present is a challenge for everyone, so by cultivating resilience we get new tools, behaviors and mindsets to take on challenges in different ways.” 

At Google, Lauren says we’ve even seen that people with higher resilience have lower possibilities of burnout. Fortunately, resilience is something anyone can develop. Here are six tips Lauren uses in her work here at Google:

1. Establish a morning routine.Starting the day consistently grounds you and gives you certainty and security.“Whether you're working from home or from an office, it’s that consistent routine of how you start your day that prepares you for what’s to come,” Lauren says.

2. Take mental recovery breaks throughout the day.Choose moments to reset instead of jumping to the next task or issue immediately. “Whether it’s ending a meeting five minutes early or taking a 10-minute walk, these intentional breaks are important to help you reconnect and recover,” Lauren says.  

3. Stick to a sleep schedule. Sleep isn’t just about recharging, but also gives you consistency every night. “Our sleep routines are the best opportunity to reach into our minds and be able to recover from any of the stressors of the day.”

4. Be intentional with the stories you tell yourself. “Consider what you tell yourself and the meaning you give to your activities. Stop listening to things that aren’t intentional, because our thoughts are not always helpful or true. Instead, start talking to yourself with thoughts of positivity, optimism, hope or gratitude.”

Illustration explaining the "T.E.A." check-in.

5. Plan ahead.“Plan that things are going to go well, but have contingency plans in place in case they don't,” Lauren says. Instead of being surprised by a problem, thinking about things that could go wrong helps manage stress better if you need to react.

6. T.E.A. Check.At Google we use a daily exercise to be aware of our thoughts, energy and attention. Notice how your resilience is changing over the course of the day, and turn your focus where it needs to be.

A recipe for productivity

Dr. Kapil Parakh is a Medical Lead for Google Fit and a practicing cardiologist at the VA in Washington, D.C. During the week he splits his time between seeing patients, developing technology that improves wellbeing and staying active with his family. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s even picked up a new hobby to cope during quarantine: baking baguettes. 


Every day, Kapil draws on his unique background to help people live longer and healthier lives. Before coming to Google, he completed medical school in Zambia, trained at Johns Hopkins in cardiology, public health and epidemiology, and served as a White House Fellow.


His long list of roles and responsibilities makes me wonder how he finds time for it all — so I asked him. Kapil says it boils down to what he considers his ingredients for success: get the most out of everything you work on, use the rule of thirds and have a rock-solid support system. 

Maximize the output of your work. 

Kapil’s consistent advice to others is to find a way to take what you’re working on and expand it into something bigger — with minimal extra effort. A few years ago, Kapil helped develop Heart Points for Google Fit, an activity goal based on recommendations shown to impact health. He then used that body of work to help educate personal trainers, cardiologists and people working in general medicine. It was the same context, repurposed for different groups. 


Similarly, before joining the Fit team, Kapil worked on Google Search for three years. In his day-to-day work he thought a lot about how people searched for health-related content online and how Google could surface helpful information in return. As a result of his team's work, you can see health knowledge panels, information boxes on search results pages that help you quickly find medically accurate information about common symptoms and conditions.


That work could have ended when Kapil left the Search team. Instead, he took what he observed and turned it into something more: a book about how to find and use medical information online. That book, Searching for Health, was just published today. 


“We all have limited time,” Kapil says. “We need to try and maximize our output.” To do so, he suggests taking a single project that you’re working on, and consider how you can turn it into more formats for more people. 

Remember the rule of thirds.

Of course, this can’t apply to all of your work, all of the time. You aren’t going to be able to publish a book based on every work project. This is where Kapil’s rule of thirds comes into play. Roughly speaking, work can be broken down into three buckets: short-term work (like requests from others that pop up in your inbox or administrative tasks that require immediate action), mid-term projects (like creating a training or presenting your work at a conference) and long-term projects (like publishing a book). Those last two buckets are where maximizing your output comes into play.


“It’s a matter of being cognizant of all the things you’re working on and how they fit together toward your goals,” Kapil says. “It’s kind of like rock climbing, you have to be aware of the footholds. The way up isn’t straight up like a ladder, it’s more amorphous.”

Find support — whether it’s in relationships or a bag of flour. 

While Kapil’s advice is all about finding patterns and connecting dots, he doesn’t hesitate to take on completely new things — like baking bread. Last year Kapil was grieving the loss of his father in the midst of the pandemic. To help him cope, his wife handed him a recipe for baguettes. If nothing else, she thought it would be a good distraction. The result was both delicious and therapeutic — and Kapil is still churning out bread from his kitchen. Most importantly, it was a reminder to Kapil of how important his support system is. 

A loaf of bread shaped like a heart.

“It’s this type of support that allows me to balance so many hats,” he says. “As an immigrant and a person of color, I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without the tremendous support of my family and mentors.”

More from this Series

Work Smarter

How Google tools can help you work smarter, and advice from Googlers on how they get it done.

View more from Work Smarter

A recipe for productivity

Dr. Kapil Parakh is a Medical Lead for Google Fit and a practicing cardiologist at the VA in Washington, D.C. During the week he splits his time between seeing patients, developing technology that improves wellbeing and staying active with his family. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s even picked up a new hobby to cope during quarantine: baking baguettes. 


Every day, Kapil draws on his unique background to help people live longer and healthier lives. Before coming to Google, he completed medical school in Zambia, trained at Johns Hopkins in cardiology, public health and epidemiology, and served as a White House Fellow.


His long list of roles and responsibilities makes me wonder how he finds time for it all — so I asked him. Kapil says it boils down to what he considers his ingredients for success: get the most out of everything you work on, use the rule of thirds and have a rock-solid support system. 

Maximize the output of your work. 

Kapil’s consistent advice to others is to find a way to take what you’re working on and expand it into something bigger — with minimal extra effort. A few years ago, Kapil helped develop Heart Points for Google Fit, an activity goal based on recommendations shown to impact health. He then used that body of work to help educate personal trainers, cardiologists and people working in general medicine. It was the same context, repurposed for different groups. 


Similarly, before joining the Fit team, Kapil worked on Google Search for three years. In his day-to-day work he thought a lot about how people searched for health-related content online and how Google could surface helpful information in return. As a result of his team's work, you can see health knowledge panels, information boxes on search results pages that help you quickly find medically accurate information about common symptoms and conditions.


That work could have ended when Kapil left the Search team. Instead, he took what he observed and turned it into something more: a book about how to find and use medical information online. That book, Searching for Health, was just published today. 


“We all have limited time,” Kapil says. “We need to try and maximize our output.” To do so, he suggests taking a single project that you’re working on, and consider how you can turn it into more formats for more people. 

Remember the rule of thirds.

Of course, this can’t apply to all of your work, all of the time. You aren’t going to be able to publish a book based on every work project. This is where Kapil’s rule of thirds comes into play. Roughly speaking, work can be broken down into three buckets: short-term work (like requests from others that pop up in your inbox or administrative tasks that require immediate action), mid-term projects (like creating a training or presenting your work at a conference) and long-term projects (like publishing a book). Those last two buckets are where maximizing your output comes into play.


“It’s a matter of being cognizant of all the things you’re working on and how they fit together toward your goals,” Kapil says. “It’s kind of like rock climbing, you have to be aware of the footholds. The way up isn’t straight up like a ladder, it’s more amorphous.”

Find support — whether it’s in relationships or a bag of flour. 

While Kapil’s advice is all about finding patterns and connecting dots, he doesn’t hesitate to take on completely new things — like baking bread. Last year Kapil was grieving the loss of his father in the midst of the pandemic. To help him cope, his wife handed him a recipe for baguettes. If nothing else, she thought it would be a good distraction. The result was both delicious and therapeutic — and Kapil is still churning out bread from his kitchen. Most importantly, it was a reminder to Kapil of how important his support system is. 

A loaf of bread shaped like a heart.

“It’s this type of support that allows me to balance so many hats,” he says. “As an immigrant and a person of color, I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without the tremendous support of my family and mentors.”

More from this Series

Work Smarter

How Google tools can help you work smarter, and advice from Googlers on how they get it done.

View more from Work Smarter

A mini kudos gives a major boost to motivation

When it comes to feedback, Cambridge-based software engineer Jeff Gaston wishes real life was a little more like video games.


“They give fast, clear feedback about your performance,” he says. “If I could compute a score for how my life is going, I think it would be helpful to keep me focused on impactful things.” This idea inspired Jeff to develop a mobile app for himself that measures his efficiency in completing daily tasks. These efficiency estimates are shared in graphs with encouraging words and helpful suggestions for the future. Through using this little app he discovered that a single instance of feedback in his app gave him about 60 minutes of motivation. 


Jeff took that learning and started offering something similar to his coworkers to motivate them: sharing same-day, meaningful feedback. At the end of every work day, he identifies his favorite thing that happened since the previous day and sends a thank you email to the person responsible. He calls this practice “mini kudos.”


For example, Jeff’s team recently noticed some of their builds were getting slower. Ivan Gavrilovic, who works on an adjacent team, looked into it. He reviewed performance metrics, identified potential causes, and reached out to other Googlers who could help come up with solutions to fix it. “It probably would have taken me a while to identify what was going on,” Jeff says. “So I was super happy for the help and emailed Ivan my mini kudos for that day.”


Ivan was grateful for the message. "Jeff's email really made my day," he says. "I get satisfaction from helping others, across locations and teams, but this sign of appreciation makes it even better."


Over the past few years, Jeff has sent these emails to fellow Googlers for suggesting improvements to his code, sharing entertaining stories, listening, giving him the opportunity to be helpful, sharing impactful information, and much more. These kudos are even more motivating as teams work from home, and by Jeff’s estimates each mini kudos email provides a short-term boost of motivation. 


Jeff hopes sending these emails makes his teammates happier and keeps them informed about what behaviors are helpful to him. “I also hope it helps people find meaning and motivation in their work,” he says. “And that it inspires others to send daily kudos! If each person sends an average of one kudos per day, then each person should receive an average of one kudos per day too. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

More from this Series

Work Smarter

How Google tools can help you work smarter, and advice from Googlers on how they get it done.

View more from Work Smarter

A mini kudos gives a major boost to motivation

When it comes to feedback, Cambridge-based software engineer Jeff Gaston wishes real life was a little more like video games.


“They give fast, clear feedback about your performance,” he says. “If I could compute a score for how my life is going, I think it would be helpful to keep me focused on impactful things.” This idea inspired Jeff to develop a mobile app for himself that measures his efficiency in completing daily tasks. These efficiency estimates are shared in graphs with encouraging words and helpful suggestions for the future. Through using this little app he discovered that a single instance of feedback in his app gave him about 60 minutes of motivation. 


Jeff took that learning and started offering something similar to his coworkers to motivate them: sharing same-day, meaningful feedback. At the end of every work day, he identifies his favorite thing that happened since the previous day and sends a thank you email to the person responsible. He calls this practice “mini kudos.”


For example, Jeff’s team recently noticed some of their builds were getting slower. Ivan Gavrilovic, who works on an adjacent team, looked into it. He reviewed performance metrics, identified potential causes, and reached out to other Googlers who could help come up with solutions to fix it. “It probably would have taken me a while to identify what was going on,” Jeff says. “So I was super happy for the help and emailed Ivan my mini kudos for that day.”


Ivan was grateful for the message. "Jeff's email really made my day," he says. "I get satisfaction from helping others, across locations and teams, but this sign of appreciation makes it even better."


Over the past few years, Jeff has sent these emails to fellow Googlers for suggesting improvements to his code, sharing entertaining stories, listening, giving him the opportunity to be helpful, sharing impactful information, and much more. These kudos are even more motivating as teams work from home, and by Jeff’s estimates each mini kudos email provides a short-term boost of motivation. 


Jeff hopes sending these emails makes his teammates happier and keeps them informed about what behaviors are helpful to him. “I also hope it helps people find meaning and motivation in their work,” he says. “And that it inspires others to send daily kudos! If each person sends an average of one kudos per day, then each person should receive an average of one kudos per day too. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

More from this Series

Work Smarter

How Google tools can help you work smarter, and advice from Googlers on how they get it done.

View more from Work Smarter

Why is paper still so magical?

As a researcher on the Artificial Intelligence User Experience team (AIUX) at Google, I spend a lot of time thinking about technology’s role in creativity. Over the past year, I've been interviewing folks about creativity, idea generation and the technology they use, and one little comment always made it into every conversation: “I prefer paper.” And honestly, I feel the same way. Looking across my desk, I see a carefully curated grid of sticky notes arranged to signify their priority and layered to reduce redundancy. They’re a physical manifestation of my thoughts, ideas and tasks for the next several weeks. 

It’s my job to dig into this and understand why we feel this way. Here are some insights I found that helped me better understand the power of paper.

Paper is fast...and slow

When my colleagues and I began our research, we asked people a simple question: “When you have a good idea, what do you do next?” In nearly every case, paper was part of the first step. But people often offered two conflicting stories about why. 

The first reason had to do with speed. Paper provides instantaneous feedback where people can capture an idea and begin to instantaneously work with it. Research shows human behavior largely revolves around these fast and automatic responses. Drawing and writing on paper takes little effort and may provide an immediate reward. 

The other reason interviewees mentioned also had to do with speed — or rather, the lack thereof. People said they appreciate that the act of writing requires them to think about their ideas. Research shows that individuals who take longhand notes, compared to laptop notetakers, performed better on a follow-up test with conceptual questions. Interestingly, people who took notes on their laptop tended to transcribe information verbatim whereas those taking notes on paper processed the information and reframed it in their own words. 

The challenge here for digital solutions is that this speed paradox is a win-win scenario for paper - it can be fast while allowing us to think slowly. 

Paper is rewarding 

Personally, I prefer the lack of commitment that using paper and pen brings to a brainstorming session. The ability to move, tear and eventually throw paper in the recycle bin as each idea or task is addressed is a physical action that makes us feel  a task was completed (or decided against!). When we take in information on paper compared to seeing the same information on a screen, our brains produce more activity in areas associated with spatial (e.g., location in space) and visual information processing. This suggests that physical materials like paper, compared to digital notes, might be more “real” to our brains because they have a real world location and visual appearance. 

Research shows when we are presented with both physical and digital options, the physical ones tend to elicit more neural activity associated with reward processing. Basically, the same areas of the brain that respond when you win a contest or when a friend congratulates you on a recent milestone respond more to physical materials versus digital ones. This might be one of the reasons why recycling a piece of paper after completing a task just somehow feels more rewarding than clicking a box on my to-do list. 

Animated GIF showing am illustrated handing holding a pencil and writing out scribbles.

Paper transforms our thoughts

Research suggests that the world around us, in particular the tools we use for thinking, play a powerful role in influencing and transforming the way we think. My colleague Jess Holbrook offered that one of the ways that sticky notes are incredibly helpful tools for thought is that they transform the stream of continuous thoughts we have running in our minds into a physical format, and that we can then move them around and allow their location to create a deeper meaning and context. 

For instance, throughout the day I might have ideas about a new project. If I write my thoughts on sticky notes and leave them on my desk in one stack, I know that not only are these thoughts related, but I don’t have to worry about them until I’m ready to explore what’s next in the project. In this three-dimensional sticky note world, the layout itself (in addition to the information on the note) has meaning and value (for example, notes in this pile are about my projects for next quarter). 

So what can we learn from paper? In many ways, paper will never be enough, we still need digital tools, especially while so many people are working remotely; we need platforms that allow us to share ideas instantaneously, across vast distances, and help us feel like we’re together even when we’re not. And yet, there’s something about paper that's...sticky. And that’s the exciting challenge: How can we connect the magic of paper into the tools we rely on today, and into ones to come?

How choosing flexible tools fuels collaboration

During a recent early morning jog, I had a minor epiphany about a project. I slowed down, pulled out my phone, tapped the microphone and left myself a voice reminder in the margins of my document. Later in the day—after dishes, diapers and sweeping the radius around the highchair—I used that note to build out a better presentation. From the folding table in my 7-year-old’s bedroom, I shared the update with my team just before our working session. 

As a UX researcher at Google for the past six years, working on teams across four time zones in the U.S. and Europe has given me a front row seat for the increasingly fluid ways that customers and colleagues work remotely. Despite all that experience, I'm impressed at how rapidly we’ve adapted to change this year. Here are a few things I’ve learned about flexible ways of working and why it's likely to become even more important for many organizations in the future. 

The trend toward choice

First, it’s important to understand just how much remote work increased before the pandemic. Regularly working from home grew 173 percent between 2005 and 2018. Today, 40 percent more U.S. employers offer flexible options than five years ago. In the wake of COVID-19, that number increased even faster.

Having choices about when and where to work was seen as increasingly important to attract and retain talent even before it became essential to keep businesses running. More employee autonomy may even mean higher job satisfaction and performance, another reason why flexible working is likely to outlast COVID.

Demand for app diversity has also grown dramatically, giving professionals an “à la carte” mix of apps to choose from. Companies now use an average of 88 apps, a 21 percent increase from three years ago. If anything, the new challenge may be managing these choices effectively. It's something we think about a lot, and it's a big part of the way we've designed G Suite.

How flexibility helps my team

Today, tools like G Suite make remote teamwork accessible with video calling and content collaboration.

But what flexibility do these trends and tools actually enable? Here’s a typical collaborative workflow on my team: A few days before a meeting, I circulate a doc or slides. Everyone starts to review, raising questions, adding comments to specific snippets of content and tagging teammates who can add relevant context.

Tagging saves time in a few ways. First, it keeps the meeting smaller. Instead of meeting with 20-something people, we collect input before the discussion—getting everyone’s  latest thinking in one place without cluttering calendars (and saving everyone from yet another video call).  

Second, the asynchronous conversation before the meeting gives us a streamlined agenda for our live discussion. Instead of a lengthy meeting to reach consensus on every detail, we prep for 20 minutes and spend 30 minutes talking through a shorter list of topics to clarify. 

Smaller meetings have the added benefit of allowing for more dynamic discussion—a big deal because conversation dynamics are a significant factor in how well groups solve problems and make decisions.

As we get down to business, I send my doc out to everyone on the call chat thread. That way, no one has to hunt for the document and we can dive in quicker. Instead of presenting my whole screen, I show a single Chrome tab. This gives me the flexibility to show the content that helps us get on the same page, while taking messy notes in another document.

This review process emerged organically and allows the whole team to contribute regardless of where they sit. It shows respect for time and attention. It uses our flexible tools for virtual conversation to streamline conversations and speed up decision-making. Attention matters more working from home. Time crunched, my well-intentioned efforts to stay present are tested hourly. I don’t want to be the harried parent at work that you can’t rely on, but I don’t want to reply to emails during toddler bath time either. Teams, and the tools they choose, can help protect attention when you need to focus on work or on home.  

The future is the choices we make today

The pandemic put meetings and remote collaboration under a microscope and gave us an inspiring and instructive silver lining to learn from. Working from home has raised awareness of persistent problems like information overload, reminding us that we can make choices that enable flexible ways of working, protect our attention and streamline collaboration. 

As we look into the future, we can all make deliberate choices that bridge the virtual distance, no matter where your team members are working from.


How to harness the power of inclusivity on remote teams

As a user experience (UX) researcher at Google, I’ve spent the past several years working on distributed teams and helping build remote communication products. I recently wrote about the science behind why video calls feel different from in-person meetings. 

I’ve seen that working from home has sparked genuine introspection about team dynamics. Some colleagues feel isolated, while others can’t get a moment alone. Some are energized while others are struggling. 

Often, when we talk about inclusivity, we’re talking about making sure that people from underrepresented groups have a voice. Feeling included is especially critical as teams strive to do their best work from home. But in addition to visible differences like race and gender, we should also think about inclusivity in terms of cognitive diversity, a critical ingredient in how teams make decisions

Healthy teams use their diversity to tackle new challenges. Higher cognitive diversity on teams—differences in perspective and information processing styles—is significantly correlated with higher performance, and should be leveraged. 

Most of us probably agree that trust is important for fostering diverse viewpoints, but cultivating it as a team can be tricky, especially when we’re distanced. Here are some behaviors I’ve seen work on teams at Google:

Face the friction 

Different perspectives and working styles can create conflict, but according to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, we can harness those differences to achieve “productive friction,” She describes four distinct styles of work that reflect our diverse brain chemistry, and shows how the differences, if left unmanaged, can lead to tensions, misunderstandings and friction. 

  1. Pioneers: curious, seek out new information

  2. Guardians: pragmatic, want to see evidence before making decisions

  3. Drivers: assertive, generate momentum

  4. Integrators: empathetic, rely on intuition to get groups to communicate better

I’ve seen teams make hasty decisions when a Driver bulldozes the cautious warnings of Guardians, or people talk past each other without Integrator-level diplomacy. I’ve felt stuck on teams full of inquisitive Pioneers who needed a Driver to push forward. 

On the flip side, when I’ve felt safe to talk about challenges I’m facing, my colleagues do, too. When a team feels safe—a rare but fundamental factor—it can work together effectively in spite of different styles. With safety as a foundation, we see each other's experience more clearly, and have permission to help improve each other’s work more directly. 

Tip: Get comfortable talking about where you see friction. Carve out time to talk about a recent meeting where the conversation dynamics felt tense or out of balance. Identify what you could’ve done to make them better and how different dynamics might help achieve a better outcome next time. You can also look ahead: As a new project kicks off, ask each collaborator what personal success  looks like—being heard, having expertise recognized—and how it connects to larger team goals.  

Make meetings a safe space 

We build trust by talking to each other. In fact, how well we share the “talking stick” and our sensitivity to the emotional states of others are both significant factors in how well groups solve problems and make decisions. 

Who you invite, how many people you include and the length of the meeting you schedule all impact the outcome. When real dialogue is critical to achieve the goals of your meeting, carefully consider which voices you need in the room and if you’ve budgeted enough time to hear from all of them. Twenty people in a half hour meeting gives everyone 90 seconds to hold the mic, if conversational turns were hypothetically equal. If that’s not enough, you need to add time or subtract people.  

As we look ahead to a new normal—or more like a wildly diverse ecosystem of new normals (plural)—the conversations we’re starting today will pay dividends and may even help make in-person collaboration better than  before. 

Tip: Make it safe for individuals to share their working styles—the superpowers they bring to the team, where they want to grow, where they need help. Create a regular cadence to get your team comfortable showing work in progress and incorporating feedback. 

Let everyone know  this process of shaping each other’s work allows expertise to travel, and helps the group leverage everyone’s unique talents. Model what it looks like to apply your expertise to help someone and to get help from an expert in another area. 

Pair up

The simplest way to start turning diversity into a strength is by pairing up two people, who think differently. 

Last year, I partnered with another researcher in Europe to analyze a small mountain of survey data. We had different working styles and early on, decided to open a dialogue about how we could best complement each other. When things started to go wrong, we’d check in. After seven or eight months of check-ins every few weeks, we’d made a modest breakthrough in understanding cross-product user journeys—because we put in the time to find the places where we could be better together.

Pairs or duos—the most basic unit of teamwork—are the simplest place to start building safety. When two people who think differently join forces and accomplish something they couldn’t have done alone, it sends a signal to other teams. And the outcomes of a diverse partnership can become examples for your entire organization.  

Tip: Form a partnership with someone whose work you can complement. Set aside time to be ultra-clear about roles, responsibilities and nuanced topics. Be extra diligent about a tentative new agreement.  

You can also choose one working relationship and commit to over-communicating about what you need from that person and what they need from you to make things work better. 


Respect your team’s attention like it’s your own 

The channels we use to communicate matter. Throughout the day, we reach for different tools to get different things done for a reason. Groups work better when we use tools that fit with our communication goals and that match the preferences of our teammates. For example, I use chat messages as a quick way to share updates or request information or track down files. But some of my colleagues prefer email because it’s a more familiar way for them to keep track of things. 

Oftentimes, and especially because we’re working from home, we rely on text-based tools. But when a teammate asks, “should we jump on a call to clarify?” they’re suggesting a live conversation can resolve an ambiguous topic better than text-based tools. 

If your meeting schedule looks anything like mine, trying to navigate that ambiguity over email might seem easier, but it’s a mistake. Making time for a quick call allows you to hear nuance, adjust to new information in real time, build trust and can often get you to clarity faster than more emails could. 

Tip: Develop strategies for managing your energy and attention. Share them with your team and trade best practices. Maintain an ongoing dialogue about which communication tools are best for different scenarios. 

Hopefully, these insights and tips can help you and your team use your different strengths to your advantage, and everyone can benefit from a more inclusive workplace--even from home.

Make “work from home” work for you

In my job at Google, I advise people on how to use their time as efficiently as possible. When working from home, my productivity strategies are even more important because I don’t have the ordinary structure of a day at the office, like commuting to work, walking to meetings, or running into coworkers. When your house becomes your office, you need to learn a whole new routine. 

Getting work done when your teammates aren’t physically with you has been the norm at Google for a while (in fact 39 percent of meetings at Google involve employees from two or more cities). But it might not be for everyone, and many people around the world are now finding themselves in new work situations. So I put together some of my go-to productivity tips—no matter where you’re working—and a few things I’ve learned about how to get it all done from home.

Designate your “spot” where you work (and where you don’t)

It’s easy to pull your computer up to your kitchen table or plop on the couch and start working. But a consistent room, spot, desk or chair that you “go to” every day to work helps your brain associate that spot (smells, sights and sounds) with getting work done. Put up some things you had at your desk, like pictures of your friends or family. Get a new mousepad you love. Stock your go-to snacks on a little shelf. And just as important as creating your "work spot" is determining the areas where you don’t work. Maybe you never bring your computer upstairs or into your bedroom. This helps create mental distance and allows you to relax often even though your work is at home with you.

Use Hangouts Meet like a pro. 

You’ll probably be spending more time on video chat—in our case, Hangouts Meet. Here are a few tricks for Meet at home: lower your video quality when you’re experiencing bandwidth restrictions or delays, dial into a video call but get audio through your phone, andcaption your meetings to make sure everyone can follow. If you’re needing some (virtual) human interaction, set up an agenda-less video chat with your team or friends in the office—it’s not a formal meeting, just time to chat and check in with each other.

Practice “one tab working.” 

If you don’t have a large monitor or your usual screen setup at home, it’s even more important to focus on one Chrome tab at a time. If you’re on a video call from your laptop, minimize all other tabs and focus on the conversation—just like you would put away your phone or close your laptop in a meeting to stay engaged.

Act the part. 

Resist the urge to wake up and start working in bed—it doesn’t help your brain get in the “mood” of being productive. Stick to your usual routines like waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, then “commuting” to your new work space. Staying in your pajamas, while comfortable, will make you feel less like it’s a regular workday and make it harder to get things done.

Play around with your schedule and energy.

The good news about working from home? No commute. Think of this as a time to experiment with alternate schedules and finding your “biological prime time.” If you’re a morning person, try waking up and working on something for a bit, then taking a break mid-morning. If you’re a night owl who prefers to sleep a little later, shift your schedule to get more work done in the later afternoon when you may have been commuting home. Productivity is not just about what you’re doing, but more importantly when you’re doing it.

Working from home does not mean working all the time. 

One of the hardest things about working from home is setting boundaries. Leave your computer in your workspace and only work when you’re in that spot. Pick a time when you’re “done for the day” by setting working hours in Google Calendar to remind people when you’re available. Take mental breaks the way you would in the office—instead of walking to a meeting, walk outside or call a friend.

Create your daily to-do list the day before. 

Part of staying on track and setting a work schedule at home is listing out what you have to do in a day. I created a daily plan template (you can use it too!) that helps me create an hour-by-hour plan of what I intend to do. If you fill it out the night before,  you’ll wake up in the mindset of what you need to do that day.

Finish that one thing you’ve been meaning to do.  

Working in the office can be go-go-go and rarely leaves alone time or downtime to get things done. Working from home is a chance to catch up on some of your individual to-do’s—-finish those expenses, brainstorm that long term project or read the article you bookmarked forever ago. Set up an ongoing list in Google Keep and refer back to it when you have pockets of downtime. 

Cut yourself (and others) some slack

Some people only have a one bedroom studio and are spending their days there. Some people have spouses who are working from home, kids at home, or dogs at home (I have all three!). Connectivity might be slower and there might be some barking in the background, but just remember everyone is doing their best to make working from home work for them.