Life before the lockdown feels an age ago. In fact, it’s just 100 days and so we’ve been reflecting on the changes that leaders have faced as the weeks turned into months. At the beginning, the sudden shock of lockdown was a problem that had to be addressed with urgency, but now as measures ease and we adapt to living with the virus, there is a new on-going but uncertain state of being for society. Leaders are having to build the resilience to operate with this uncertainty, while leading increasingly frustrated and exhausted staff.
The impact and experience of the lockdown has varied for each of us. It states the obvious to say that each person has their own personal lockdown experience. Everyone’s life was fundamentally changed on the 23rd March. Each individual’s situation was frozen on that day, and that’s what each person has then had to deal with over the last 100 days. Suddenly they were working from home with kids off school, worried about shielding vulnerable parents, just moved into a new flat with no place for a laptop or trying to work with poor broadband service – everyone had their own distinct personal challenges. One client described it as like being suddenly discharged from hospital with no occupational health support – you are suddenly required to cope on your own with your own very personal circumstances.
So, how have leaders responded and what have they learned?
- The most effective leaders have responded to the differing impact of the situation on each member of their team, calling them regularly and building a snapshot of the particular demands each person is handling. Some members of staff even report that they are thriving in the lockdown. Of course, this can disguise underlying issues that become evident as time passes, but some people really appreciate the isolation.
- Thoughtful organisations are investing money and time to support their staff with functioning technology and the specific personal support that each person needs. Staff still require the right tools to do their job, but the nature of the tools may have changed, and the type of support should be designed by listening to each individual.
- High functioning teams might have responded well to the demands of the early stages of the lockdown, but there are increasingly tired of video conferences with tight agendas and lots of tasks. They crave informal, unstructured discussion. So, some teams have implemented a regular unstructured hour together without an agenda, and they are finding lots of value from the resulting discussion. It cements relationships, raises issues, encourages collaboration and can even bring some fun back into work interactions.
- In less well-functioning teams, the lack of face to face meetings can exacerbate dysfunction. Communication between individuals in conflict can be avoided and there are few opportunities to resolve issues. Here the leader’s role is to confront and mediate the conflict. Bringing people together in small groups to openly discuss differences of view and using mediation techniques to find resolution. We can’t wait until we are all back in the office to solve problems of team dynamics.
Fundamentally, leaders need to give their teams hope. Pointing out where groups are delivering successfully against the odds and how this protects against future uncertainty, helps motivation and builds resilience. And everyone now needs to plan a holiday break to rest and restore as we all reflect on this new and challenging situation – and this includes the leader!
We too are taking a break from these weekly blog posts but we will be back every month to continue to share wisdom from our clients’ journeys as they navigate the unknown and find new ways to enable their people and their businesses to thrive.