We need to examine our achievements of the last few months to accept change more easily, says James Flanagan.
Some things have changed. Some things have stayed the same. We have changed. We as leaders may, however, need to change some more so we can lead and manage what has changed and will stay the same.
For some, the change may have been experienced as loss. For others, the change may have been a new experience. That new experience? Working from home. Home working can also include loss. Loss may mean the loss of the daily morning rituals.
Rituals, important in the demarcation between home life and work life, for example, deciding what to wear and personal grooming. The journey to and from work. How we fulfil our dietary requirements. Not seeing people and having our face-to-face interactions with people at work. How we now manage ourselves, our teams and our relationships.
The unmanaged mind has the ability to magnify loss or new experiences, so they become overwhelming and cause us to ignore important personal insights and achievements.
The purpose of this and subsequent articles is to encourage you to reflect and recognise what you have achieved and are still achieving during the crisis:
- Identify possible changes you may need to consider irrespective of whether we continue to work from home or return to our offices.
- Recognise what will stay the same about our work.
- Suggest some communications tools and techniques to help you adapt to the changes and experiences whether we return to the office or continue to work from home.
Returning to the office
Over the last several months, each of us has experienced something different. Each of us has responded as best we can. Our experiences and responses have changed us and made us different and we will return to the office different people. It is important to take time to reflect on how we are now and how we are different.
To avoid disappointment, take some time to reflect on how you are and how your time away has changed you and what you have achieved. Encourage members of your team to do likewise
We have endured events and achieved things that back in early March we would never have thought possible.
Going back to the office might be compared to returning home after a long absence or adventure. When we arrive home, it is not how we remember it. We feel disappointment and unease. These feelings stem from failing to recognise how our time away has changed us and how we are now different.
Similarly, looking to the future, when we go back to the office, when or wherever that may be, we will do so different people. People who, without going anywhere, have been on an adventure, emboldened by events and experiences. People who have risen to a challenge while doing important work.
People who have struggled and experienced alarm without their usual support. To avoid disappointment, take some time to reflect on how you are and how your time away has changed you and what you have achieved. Encourage members of your team to do likewise.
What will stay the same
The work any of us does falls into three spheres – people, processes and tools. The ‘people’ sphere includes the organisation, the structure, the manager, colleagues and the location. ‘Process’ refers to what we do and how we do it. ‘Tools’ refers to the software and systems.
To reduce overwhelm and minimise the impact of the change on ourselves, our teams and those we need to interact with we need to put into perspective what has changed and its magnitude.
We can do this by remembering for those of us fortunate to have been retained in employment and working from home we still work for the same organisation, and probably the structure is more or less the same.
While our manager and colleagues are the same people, we need to be aware of what the impact has been and is on them. As we are working from home, we need to understand the conditions in which they are now working.
The work we are doing is probably still the same or broadly similar. What is different is how we do it. Time has taken on a different dimension, things take longer, we can no longer ask someone a question, we need to phone or email. People need to fit their work around other factors e.g. childcare or home schooling.
Distractions have to be managed. As a colleague put it, ‘is this working from home, or living at work?’
For those of us working in industries where working from home has not been possible, there may be new protocols to be managed: a different approach to customers or clients, fewer staff, one-way systems and social distances to be maintained, track-and-trace data to be collected.
Managers have a new role in addition to their original management role, policing those protocols and adhering to ever-changing guidance, mask or not.
We are using and adapting our software and systems more. This may have an impact on people who would prefer not to have to rely on software so much. Software can help manage the change if customers need to use it but we all need to learn its use.
Identifying possible changes
The fundamental tools of communications still apply. The challenges the current crisis has brought to leaders and managers because of its impact on the three spheres is the need to communicate with a deeper emotional bond with their teams.
The current crisis has created uncertainty that has led to people experiencing stress and anxiety. In crises, people need transparency, guidance and help to make sense out of what has and is happening.
The appropriate words and actions of leaders and managers can do several important things: They can help people feel safe. Help them to adjust and cope mentally, physically and emotionally. They can help people put their experiences into context and draw meaning from it.
People are tired, sore, wounded and on alert; they are grieving and need support. As we go through grief, we remember the words and acts of kindness expressed to us. Similarly, now, whatever leaders and managers do or say will be remembered.
Leaders and managers need to ensure their actions support their words. People will see the inconsistency.
We therefore need to ensure our words and actions comfort people in the present and help them to restore faith in the future.
We are different people to who we were in March. We are in different situations and have different needs to when we were in our offices. Leaders and managers need to ask so people what they need, when and how.
We need to communicate clearly, simply and as often as was agreed. We need to listen to our communications from the perspective of our teams. In a crisis, people’s capacity to absorb information can be limited.
As people are on alert, we need the communication to be sincere and honest. Honesty builds trust. Trust is important in a crisis. Leaders and managers need to ensure their actions support their words. People will see the inconsistency.
We need to build ‘Intelligent Resilience.” Intelligent resilience involves reflection, checking to see what is working, acknowledging what we need to stop doing or change and what we need to continue to do. We need to encourage people to adapt habits and practices appropriate to the situation.
Demonstrating tangible support, giving sincere, specific, selective feedback, recognising achievements and encouraging gratitude strengthens emotional bonds.
We need deeper and stronger emotional bonds. In an office, we can look and gain insight. Working from home means this is no longer possible. Now we need to be able to be more open with people and encourage them to be more open with us.
We need to create the conditions so we can step into their world and then create the ambience to gain the necessary insight about their lives.
Leaders and managers have also been impacted by recent events. They too may be running on near empty. Yet we are calling on them to be and do more. Over the coming weeks I will be offering suggestions on how we can use the pillars of emotional intelligence to build Intelligence Resilience to allow them to be and do more.
About the author
James Flanagan is HR and OD business partner at NHS Resolution.