Updated: Aug 31
The initial shock may remain, but as is human nature, the process of adaptation has started. As the advice from Government becomes clearer and the timescales for “normality” to return appears as months, not weeks, the resilient leader will start to move from initial crisis response to a period of maintaining what is important whilst supporting any dips in team resilience.
In this second blog of our series on resilience during a crisis we look at maintenance of three key areas for yourself and your teams during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic – these are perspective, mastery of stress and physical health.
We split a person’s ability to maintain perspective into three components:
Focusing on solutions to setbacks/problems
Buffering the negativity of others around you
Everyone has a different natural level of perspective when faced with a setback. One only needs to look at the human behaviour around us at present to see that maintaining perspective is a real skill. At one extreme we have those panic buying from supermarkets out of an unjustified terror, whilst at the other we see people drastically under-reacting and continuing normal behaviour patterns even when it flies in the face of scientific advice.
Perspective is a measured approach and crucial in a leader who is role modelling resilient behaviour. It is informed, calm and based on constantly challenging the “perception-reality gap”.
Remaining optimistic is a test of striking the measured balance between two extremes. It is perhaps common sense that a pessimistic leader will not inspire or improve others, however there is equally caution around being the “blind optimist”, particularly in truly turbulent times. During this current crisis it can be tempting to provide assurance, even when not based on reality – “we will be back in the office before you know it”, “everyone is going to be OK”. Overly optimistic leaders can breed cynicism amongst teams that begin to see them as detached from a reality that others can plainly see.
An essential tool in maintaining perspective is to shift your mindset towards problem-solving. Challenging yourself on what you are able to influence and change introduces the element of control that an informed perspective requires and prevents catastrophising and assuming that the worst case scenario is certain.
At present the term infectious is adopting its scientific meaning, but in our workplace context the most infectious of traits is negativity. The present situation contains almost every trigger for negativity (fear, change, absence of autonomy) and it is inevitable that there will be negative elements within your teams that may only be enhanced by a new style of working coupled with a time of wider crisis.
What you can do:
Identify what is working – Whether it feels morally right to admit it or not, positives will already have emerged from this current scenario. These need to be the foundation for solving the next problem that arrives and the reference point for doubters within the team (“hey, we sorted the IT and it is running perfectly – what is next??!)
Addressing negativity at the right time, in the right way – The principles of addressing negative feelings within teams remain as they did in the office environment. The fact staff are physically distanced from one another does not stop the spread of negativity and it isn’t an excuse to avoid the necessary conversation. Address continual negative comments by re-framing defeatism into opportunity (“We will never be able to answer the same call volume!” – “OK then this is the time to bring forward work on the customer portal!”)
The R@WS7 model defines the principles that underpin mastering stress as having good self-care routines, actively managing time and workload, and creating work-life balance. You will likely read that and immediately think “like that wasn’t hard enough before, let alone now!”
We lean towards the proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” – and a more challenging environment can bring with it the opportunity to innovate even if this comes from being backed into a corner. In fact, when it comes to the mental self-care routines that can combat stress, being away from the office environment presents a great opportunity (even with kids or your dog running around!) Establishing a new routine is key. Dedicate a slot at the start or end of each day to reflect on what is ahead in the next and what you can directly influence. Live in the moment, whether that is work, family or being number 33,000 in the on-line shopping queue, rather than dwell on what has been or what may come.
Time management and balancing workload with home life can be more of a struggle when working remotely. All of a sudden there is no clear dividing line between your office and home life. Most people have at least some desire for separation and neatness and when this becomes blurred it is easy to refer to it as chaos. However, it again brings opportunities such as seeing your children grow up firsthand, playing a part in their education or just putting up the pictures from that box under the bed. The key is allowing yourself flexibility and agreeing it within your remote teams.
What you can do:
Recognise the early signs of overload – self care habits (whether it is meditation, music or your ONE permitted walk per day) are best deployed when mental overload is approaching. Leave it too late and the horse will have bolted. These indicators will vary from anxiety type feelings to the irritability that will likely come to many of us when confined to smaller spaces.
Accept limitations – There will be a temptation to over-commit at this point. No one wants others to think their version of working from home is sunbathing and watching This Morning, so teams may naturally agree to tight deadlines and put themselves under pressure. You and your team are not going to be at your desks for 8 hours a day. Accept this early and take the pressure off. Agree outcomes to be produced by the end of the week/month and allow flexibility on how these are delivered.
In this model we talk of staying healthy in the physical sense of exercise, diet and sleep hygiene. The idea that these elements promote effectiveness and happiness both at work and home are far from new. However, they are often the part of the routine that falters during periods of low resilience and change and are further threatened by restrictions on using gyms and the availability of fresh food.
We entirely subscribe to the view that you can maximise your home and personal outside space to keep active, and the presence of children with energy to burn off will only give you greater urgency to make this part of your day.
The key consideration in challenging times is to ensure that good habits don’t go backwards. Perhaps it isn’t the ideal time to take on a new health initiative, or to decide to cook elaborate healthy meals for your family. But it is important to maintain the basics and not to self-sabotage; ensure you get fresh air when you can, stick to sleep routines etc.
What you can do:
Ask yourself “how close can I get to my normal routines?” – rather than assume the current restrictions will wipe out all hope of you remaining physically active and eating healthily, move into problem solving mode. Outline your normal exercise, food and sleep routines and challenge yourself to get as close to it as you can in the current situation. Then prioritise it within your day.
Make health a key part of your check in with teams – if something is worrying you then it is likely to be worrying your teams as well (we are all human!), so don’t be afraid to check in with them on it. It is neither paternalistic or patronising to enquire about the well-being of your staff. Share tips that you may have and give explicit permission for staff to build their own routines for health into their remote working arrangements.
In a lot of ways, the maintenance phase can be the most challenging part of adapting. The initial shock brings adrenaline, a fight or flight mentality that can give a false, short-lived feeling of momentum. All hands to the pump is often exciting and can bring fantastic camaraderie within teams as people band together to achieve urgent goals. Asking people to then sit tight in the new world for potentially months is an anti-climactic feeling that can bring on fatigue and dips in resilience. This is where leaders need to dig even deeper themselves to role model resilient behaviours to their dispersed staff for maintained success.
As promised our series of online resilience boosting sessions are now live. In all of these sessions you will receive 'Hacks for busy people' in the field of working with resilience. These sessions are aimed at Leaders, L&D & HR professionals responsible for remote workers during this difficult time. To express your interest in any of the sessions please visit our page below.