Five weeks into the UK lockdown I’m checking in with clients about what’s different compared to when they first began to work from home, following the coronavirus restrictions announced mid- March.
After a period of not knowing which end was up, trying to work and juggle home-schooling perhaps or struggling with how to use Zoom, most of my clients have settled into a routine of sorts with some days being more productive and less stressful than others.
But what I’m noticing is a rising anxiety about staying visible and not being invisible with senior teams and managers: of the pressing need to keep demonstrating value so that behind the scenes their managers know that they are pressing ahead with work and providing value for the business.
And so a legal client is doing long hours into the night, making sure that she exceeds chargeable hours targets even though their pay has been cut by 20% and they have been told they can reduce their hours accordingly.
A communications client is doggedly reporting back to his senior management team about how well the company website is doing or coming up with strategies for what the company might do after coronavirus anxious – in case this isn’t enough.
The need for all of us to know that we are seen and heard is normal.
Whereas in the office, it is more obvious what we are working on and informal updates by way of walking round to a manager’s desk is easy, in lockdown, communication is by email or by scheduled videoconferencing calls, is simply exhausting and can be disconnecting. (Zoom fatigue is a thing – we’re recognizing that when we can be seen in our homes, there is an unconscious need to perform which we don’t feel so much when in face to face meetings and when meetings are back to back, we feel a gnawing sense that we have no time to get on “with our real work”).
But here’s the thing. Coronavirus and its demands for working from home (for those of us who can) is forcing us all to re-examine our routines and new ways of communicating. It is likely that in the new normal, many more of us will be working from home more often.
- If our day was book-ended with a commute, why are we using that time to work? At least some of us used that time to listen to podcasts or Headspace, read or simply people-watch on the train.Let’s reintroduce the ways we transitioned from home to work and work to home. It’s healthy for us. We need this time for ourselves.
- If we had watercooler moments where we shared our animated opinions on Killing Eve, can we replace these? Not with yet more Skype or Zoom calls, but on a relaxing phone conversation from a balcony or a comfy chair instead of sitting to attention at a desk?
- If we had ways of sharing updates of what we are working on before, how about a simple email bulleting what we worked on last week and what we plan to do next week every Friday to stay visible? And let’s relax about whether we are “adding enough value” to get that career development or promotion when lockdown is over. Please indulge me for a moment in a little rant about how I see “adding value” right now.
Given that most organisations (and most people in them) are still in survival mode suggesting another initiative might not be adding value at all. Even five weeks in, getting through the day (and not losing your rag at the kids) is a great outcome for millions up and down the country. Perhaps a simple reach out by phone or text of “how are you doing, really?” and extending empathy and care to one another has the highest value of all. Some of us got quite good at doing this at the start but don’t assume everyone’s good still.
Connection, emotional capital, relationship – THIS is what adds true value and every successful business knows. How we make others feel (seen, heard, appreciated, understood, cared for to list a few) isn’t fluffy. It is the currency that makes for happy workplaces, and delighted and loyal customers… which in turn will drive revenue and the ultimate success in terms of the market share of that business. So please, a call to the ambitious amongst you, let’s remind ourselves of the value of kindness and being genuinely interested in the wellbeing of others.
And please if you haven’t already, take a step back, focus on what really matters in your work and life, and give yourself a break.
P.S. If you are a manager reading this, notice if you might be inadvertently adding to this sense of pressure with the examples you are setting. Are you emailing late in the day? Notice if you send out tens of emails a day, or if you fill your employees days with one to ones, daily huddles and long team meetings. This is the time to trust your team that they are committed and doing the best they can. Keep meetings to 30 mins max, check in with your team as to whether they need this many meetings and top-line what you truly need to be updated.
Here’s why. As a career coach I am witnessing first hand that where managers are checking up on their staff too much, trust is fast disappearing and staff are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and underappreciated. Without a change in your behaviour, they’re likely to leave you as soon as the economy recovers but until then they’re resenting you. The old maxim people leave managers not companies, holds as true now as it ever did.
If this article is challenging you to create routines that are more sustainable for you or ways of connecting that can restore the office buzz that you are now missing, let’s talk (and it can be on the phone!).
Similarly, if you are a manager and you are conscious that you are struggling to trust your team, frustrated that they are not taking ownership or being visible enough with you, it’s time to have an honest conversation. A coach can be your rear mirror and support you to make changes to help you feel both productive and cared for.