Updated: Aug 31
The time it takes the human race to adapt to new landscapes never fails to amaze. In a series of weeks, we have moved through shock, fear and uncertainty. Just as we have started to hear mention of “green shoots” of hopefulness from the medical and scientific communities, there is a similar emergence from the business community – opportunity. Our previous blogs looked at the first two stages of response; the initial reaction and its emotional impact on resilience and personal values and then the plateau and pressure to maintain effectiveness.
In this third blog of our series on resilience during a crisis we look at the opportunities that exist under the two remaining elements of resilience – Interacting Cooperatively and Building Networks. An understanding and mastery of your resilience in these areas can turn the experience of working through COVID-19 from “the time you just about managed” to “the time you flourished and changed forever for the better”.
The R@WS7 model identifies the key elements of interacting cooperatively as openly seeking feedback, being willing to ask for support when you need it and readily providing support to others. Feedback can often be viewed as the workplace equivalent of visiting the dentist – we all agree it is essential but very few people relish the experience. And how much harder has it become via video conferencing rather than the structured face-to-face series of office meetings? It is important to remember that feedback serves two key functions. A large part will be self-improvement as it can highlight your own blind spots, however it can also reduce anxiety when positive feedback is received about an area you lack natural confidence in.
Creating an environment of mutual support is key to generating personal and team resilience. Requesting peer or manager support is not a comfortable experience for many people, with connotations of failure and weakness. However, the impact of not receiving that support and struggling alone is far more detrimental. We now have a further consideration as people managers in a remote working world – how many of the signs of a team needing support were expressed in workplace observations? Perhaps it was negative body language, quick temper with colleagues or had even escalated to absenteeism. If your interaction is now limited to a one-hour video call, how much easier will it be for someone to contain and bury what they are struggling with?
The support street only works when it is two-way. You can be receptive to the support needs of others, and see this as the duty of a leader, however who are you going to for your own help? Our philosophy continually reiterates that everyone is human, and that the “human” leader (as opposed to “superhuman”) is far more relatable and engaging to their teams. We have likely all seen the manager who “can’t do enough for people” but never requests anything themselves. To us, this is not a virtue but a resilience time-bomb, an individual who is not addressing their own needs and in fact masking them by being the go-to supporter of others. More about the resilience double whammy on our website below.
What you can do:
Make feedback part of the new digital conversations – the platform for team and individual communications along with the heightened general anxiety about the world around us can make honest conversations even harder to get on the agenda. Make a point of asking for your own feedback – “what could I be doing differently at this time?” and equally have your teams ask this of each other making clear that no answer is off limits.
Implement a subtle way of asking for help – acknowledging that for those who already struggle to express a need for support, remoteness and a degree of isolation will compound this, perhaps introduce a simple, unspoken, way of raising the hand within your teams. It could be an item on the home office desk, or changing the colour of your e-mail signature, anything that prompts someone to ask you how they can help and provide the “tin-opener”.
Networks of the right people around you, both in your personal and professional life, are unsurprisingly a cornerstone of supporting your own resilience levels. Have these ever been tested more than they are now? How many people have come to rely on the networks within the office (“Susan is like my work sister!”) or the external sounding board provided by networking events or conferences all now wiped from the calendar? However, there is also an opportunity in this new way of working to move beyond the linear restrictions of physical networks if we can in turn re-frame what we understand by digital networks.
When we discuss personal and professional networks the recurring theme is that quality is greater than quantity. This flies in the face of what society has so far created in digital/social networks, where people will have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of “friends” or “connections” but may be challenged to identify the core of people that they would turn to with a work/home problem. There is still a cultural barrier that, although we embrace “acquaintances” online, we reserve our network relationships for the coffee shop or the pub after work. Embracing the cultural shift can open a much wider world of online mentors/coaches/learning experiences as well as maintaining tried and trusted relationships through a virtual medium.
A thread that has run through our pieces on the new working environment is “accepting the blur” between professional and personal, that it is not currently possible to compartmentalise your day using the physical boundaries of home and office. This will similarly affect how you use the networks around you – the source of work advice may come from your home network and vice versa. This can feel awkward at first if you have practised keeping things in boxes, however it again represents an opportunity to expand the range of views you get and introduce fresh perspectives from those not directly involved in the issue you are grappling with.
What you can do:
Network Mapping – put simply, what do you need from a network and who currently fills that role. Where are the gaps? Has the current situation created more gaps? How can you plug the gaps through remote digital services and communications?
Make the Effort – like all relationships, your networks require input and effort but can easily be taken for granted or drop off the radar as a priority during a crisis. Now is the time to check in with the colleague from a competing organisation who you debate ideas with, or the former leader who always gave you good counsel. Be equally proactive with wider networking; don’t wait for the conferences to be rearranged for 2021, seek out the digital equivalents or, even better, host your own!
As we have guided readers through the responses to the COVID-19 crisis, and the associated impacts on personal and professional resilience it has been clear that there are an increasing number of opportunities to innovate, to work and live in a completely different way. Individuals the world over are starting to ask a fundamental question – “when we can go back to normal should we? Do we want to?”.
We have long debated how we would shift, both culturally and technologically, to working from home. It is here. We were unsure how various forms of service delivery that had always been based on personal interaction would operate. They are starting to find a new rhythm all around us. We were concerned with how the planet would survive given the volume of travel. The roads are empty, the planes grounded. The new way is not bad, just different, and different creates opportunity.
However we remain mindful that some elements of resilience have always manifested themselves in an interpersonal form, and while the excitement over new technology or products can sustain us in the short term these elements are vital in the longer term to enable resilient individuals being the best they can be at work and at home. Interacting cooperatively and building networks will be redefined in this new environment but they remain vital.
To help you boost resilience levels for improved motivation and engagement whilst remote working we have put together a series of free virtual learning experiences. The topics that will be covered in each session will enhance your ability to improve your resilience in all 7 of the R@WS7 components. Register below to start your resilience building journey.