Hello lockdown my old friend. Here we are again.
With many of us entering our third period of national lockdown, it is clear to many that the strains of this pandemic are going to have long term effects, positive and negative for our businesses and societies.
In the initial lockdown there was a sense of urgency, how can we protect jobs, how will furlough work, how can we make remote working a success in practical, business and personal terms? Once we had got beyond that, we established our working procedures. Found new ways for our teams to work, balancing lives and the intrusion of work into their homes. The second phase of the pandemic and its restrictions on movement made us look ahead and plan for how we could take forward the positive changes we had wrought from the pandemic.
Now we find ourselves in a third lockdown and despite our best planning it seems we will continue to work under these difficult conditions for a while longer. What was initially a challenge, then an opportunity, is now becoming a frustration for many. This is equally true for us as leaders as it is for our teams and those we support.
While we can carry forward the coping mechanisms from the previous challenging periods, we also need to be aware of the old adage about holding a glass of water. Pick up a glass of water and it weighs nothing, hold it in your outstretched arm for an hour and you may start to ache. Hold the glass of water for days, weeks, months and the weight becomes unbearable. This is what we must look out for in our colleagues.
The brief respite periods where we put the glass down are important but this does not mean that we should not be alive to the fact that small things, over time, can have a serious cumulative effect. Encourage people to take time to re-energise, to find ways to manage and accentuate the positive use of their time.
If the organisation is able to help with financial compensation, (allowing a percentage of internet or electricity usage to be expensed for example) take time to remind people of this. It may not be a cost they are concerned about but it shows that you and the organisation have thought about their situation and are investing in them. Similarly, opportunities for online training courses can potentially be included where there are reduced hours or workload so that when employees return to full time, they do so with new knowledge and a reinvigorated sense of commitment.
It isn’t for everyone, or every organisation, but if you can support access to mindfulness or meditation apps and programs this can be transformative for locked down workers. The neuroscientific evidence for meditation as a positive is robust, and many modern programmes use forms of meditation that contain no religious doctrine, making them more amenable to all.
Be unafraid to check-in with colleagues and team members, asking them in a casual straightforward manner how they are doing. Remember that some people default to “I’m fine” so you may need to push a little further sometimes. Encourage people to raise concerns they have about their work, or working environment, and where possible continue to be flexible and accommodating to those that have competing needs, such as family care and domestic management.
With all that said, there is of course one additional thing to hold on to, the arrival of vaccination programs. As time goes on, more people will be vaccinated and the world will open up more fully. We will have learned new skills and new ways of working, we will have a better understanding of our limits and better ideas about how we can work. The opportunity for a new, better normal is still there and when it arrives we will be well placed to capitalise on it.
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