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Adapt and Thrive in a New Normal: Improv Tips from Blair Heidenreich

Blair Cohen

The new normal we are facing is—let’s just say it—weird. Driven to remote work by the COVID-19 crisis, I can’t turn over my shoulder and quickly ask a colleague for her input or grab coffee with a friend.

I actually miss the meetings that could have been emails.

Despite the weirdness, many of us are adapting to this change—which, for some, has no end in sight—and eyeing new and even more productive ways to work. Several Relativity community members shared how they are adjusting to remote working and how the community has banded together in this crisis. 

It’s not always easy; jokes aren‘t hitting as well on Zoom as they may in person. But I have taken a page out of my improv playbook to learn how to help my teammates and me adapt to this new environment. Check out this video (recorded pre-pandemic) for insights on how improv influences my everyday work, and tips for how to creatively adapt to today’s circumstances below.

Tip #1: Know the Difference Between Hearing and Listening

How many of us suppress a cringe when we start talking over a colleague on a video call, then both say “No, you go ahead”—and then both start talking again in the same second? Listening is one of the major tenets in improv and a key to success for teams in a corporate environment. It’s become even more crucial as the timeline for working from home increases. We can’t rely on someone’s body language or the energy in the room. When we lose some of these key indicators that we use to receive and interpret messages, we need to lean on listening more than ever.

There’s a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is the biological function of sound going into your ear canal. Listening is the brain making the conscious effort to make sense of what is heard. While we’re working remotely, we need to shift to listening to understand rather than listening to respond. When we listen to our team members, we establish trust and understanding, and we avoid miscommunications. And, if we’re truly listening, it’s really hard to create a cringe-worthy Zoom meeting moment.

Tip #2: Don’t Forget Your Tribe

During this time working from home, you may feel isolated while acclimating to your new routine. Or you may be living your best life in quarantine, like my husband is. We’re all processing this time differently. No matter which end of the spectrum you find yourself on, or if you’re somewhere in the middle, it’s essential that we stay connected with our teams.

We’re part of a bigger team, but we’re also individuals. Balancing these relationships can be difficult in “real life,” let alone virtual life. For my part, I aim to have an e-coffee with each of my teammates every week. During these calls, I’m just catching up. I’m not focusing on deliverables as much as I’m focusing on the person. 

On our team, we’re checking in daily. Though we follow up on the progression of our events and project planning, it’s natural and okay that sometimes we spend 10 minutes chatting about how much we love our dogs. Cooler talk builds team connection, and it’s so important that we don’t lose these bonds remotely.

Tip #3: Help Your Colleagues When You Can ­

Most of us are completely new to this, and we‘re learning and discovering things as we go. Welcome to improv comedy! We go on stage, get a word, and have absolutely no idea what is going to come of it. The first thing that comes out our teammates mouths is what we go with—we start building a scene, a world, from that one word. All of our preconceived notions of how a scene or show was going to go have to go out the window to make us successful. We say “Yes, and …” to our teammates’ ideas and throw ourselves into supporting and building upon them.

Right now, we need to act like we’re on stage with our team in front of an audience (I know this seems crazy under the circumstances, but suspend your disbelief). Be flexible; people have new roles and responsibilities during the quarantine. Market analysts are becoming seventh grade geometry teachers. Solutions specialists are now experts in IT. Strategic partners are suddenly professional dog walkers, all while maintaining their day jobs. Accommodate your teammates and, if there’s a request, try your best to say “Yes, and.”

Here at Relativity, our events team thought Relativity Fest London was going to go according to plan. We had the venue booked, the sessions planned, and I had already planned to get to the airport 5 hours before my flight (I’m a nervous flyer). So when we made the shift to a virtual event three weeks before go-time, our team had to completely “Yes, and” the reality of a virtual shift—not because we didn’t have a choice (even though we didn’t), but because we were up “on stage” and had to deliver. We had to say yes and support each other’s ideas and decisions, or the event wouldn’t have happened. 

This is an uncharted time in history that we‘re living in. We adapt, we fail, and we learn from it. Above all, we keep going. Be well, stay safe, and remember to laugh.

Meet More of the Stellar Women at Relativity

Blair Cohen is a brand program manager at Relativity, representing the company with enthusiasm, authenticity, and her flair for humor. When she isn't shining a light on women in tech via Stellar Women or cracking jokes on the main stage at Relativity Fest, you can find her running around Chicago finding the best places to eat with her dog, Goose.