For many of us, our workplace has changed. You and your colleagues are most likely working from home and probably have been for a month or more. The novelty factor has long gone and you may be well and truly settled into your new routine or still trying to find your groove. For those with children at home, you are probably learning to juggle – performing multiple roles at the same time, adding another level of cognitive complexity on top of the workplace change, which is difficult to comprehend for those who don’t have children at home.
The reality is that we are likely to be in this situation for some time yet. In Victoria (Australia) the state of emergency and stage 3 restrictions have been extended to 11th May, which would bring us into the beginning of winter. Right from the start of Australia’s response to COVID-19, experts were concerned with the collision of the pandemic and upcoming winter, which has the potential to significantly increase the risk of more cases, resulting in pressure on our health care system and sadly more deaths. We expect that this will extend our lockdown restrictions, and the change we are trying to adjust to.
From this pandemic, we are facing a new ‘normal’ that’s going to continue to change over the next 12 months, perhaps longer. That new normal is going to be different for each person, each family, each organisation and of course our communities. Adaptation needs to be everyone’s new superpower.
In his article “The Five Levels of Remote Work- And why you’re probably at Level 2”, Steve Glaveski outlines a model for understanding the different levels of sophistication and productivity associated with remote working. He anticipates most organisations are operating at Level 2. At this level, your organisation and team have essentially replicated how they work in the office. They are doing the same work with the same processes, the only difference is, its shifted to a remote working scenario. Give everyone Zoom, Slack/Teams, make sure they have an appropriate workspace set up and everything is sweet. However, for most people that’s a short-term solution and not one that will create a sense of purpose and job satisfaction delivering sustained productivity, and most importantly, play a key role in building resilience.
If you are at Level 2, you are a step above those who have not put any thought into how to navigate the new remote working situation. Though, there is still a lot more you can do to shift to an adaptive way of running your organisation with a dispersed workforce (Levels 3 – 5).
We expect that people are still grieving the old ways of working and possibly holding out for when we ‘go back to normal. It’s sometimes difficult for leaders to see how organisations can survive and thrive through this type of disruption. These are also the weeks where mental health experts are saying we are likely to see an increase in people feeling disconnected, lonely, lacking in energy and motivation, reduced productivity and in some cases depression. There’s also the heart-breaking reality of those forced to spend prolonged time in environments of domestic violence.
So, as leaders there are 4 simple and practical things to do in this moment, to start to shift to a more adaptive way of working;
1. Moments of progress. Based on what we know about the brain, we only have clarity and certainty for today. Break down tasks and expectations of long-term goals and go for wins today. Do this for yourself and for your team.
2. Moments for people to feel supported and to ask for support. Dial up the contact for one-on-ones and do it in a different way to other existing forms of contact. For example, if you’re normally on zoom video calls, pick up the phone and encourage a walk-and-talk, just like you would from the office. Movement is a powerful emotion regulation strategy and also a way to create psychological safety for a conversation. Ask the powerful questions like:
“What’s one thing you can do today to create progress and feel proud of your effort?”
“What are you struggling with, and how can I help?”
“If you could describe how your feeling using a colour, what would it be and why?”
3. Moments of deep connection. In all the ways you can, increase your empathy. Whether it’s listening, noticing what you are seeing, and paying particular attention to your requests and responses. Are they as kind, thoughtful and human as you can possibly make them?
4. Moments of certainty and autonomy.
Choose to create certainty and autonomy. Think about what, and how, you are communicating with your team to create a sense of clarity and empower your team to make decisions. Are you using the same channel (email, zoom) to communicate everything that your team need to know? Could you separate out the different channels. One organisation we are working with has established different channels for different purposes with the intention of clearing the path for important information. They have a Whatsapp group for social communications – jokes, hobbies, etc; A Whatsapp group for all the quick questions you normally ask your manager or team mates to get a quick response and make progress on your work – “should I add this to my powerpoint or is it too much”. This frees up the email channel for the cascade of organisational communications and more formal information, and enables you to reduce the back-to-back zoom video calls, saving these for those moments when you need to build social connection, innovation or see your team’s response to an update.
As a leader each and every moment is an opportunity to be human and kind in order to support our people to be their best selves. When we do that-the productivity takes care of itself.