As a departure from my usual posts, I wanted to share my thoughts on coping during the biggest change to our professional life: COVID-19. Social distancing rules have meant that a lot more of us are having less social contact with our colleagues, family and friends. This leads to stress and anxiety, exhibited in numerous ways, and if not tackled, depression.
Further, our professional interactions are very different. Those workshops to thrash out issues are no longer. Getting the time with key stakeholders who are fire-fighting the effects on the business of COVID-19 rules is hard. We have to learn to work in different ways, particularly as I think this will be a marathon. Ensuring you are approaching these trying times with the correct mental attitude is key to your success.
I admit, in a previous life, I had clinically diagnosed depression. My life was routine: Commute, Work, Commute, Dinner, TV. This led to thoughts in my mind around how I was perceived at work and at home. Nothing I did was acceptable, nothing anyone else did was good enough. I struggled to think about anyone apart from myself. My family were hit hardest, with mood swings, erratic behaviour and shouting. For that, I apologise to my family, friends and colleagues.
I want to just highlight a few points that are helping me rationalise my health these days and understand how we can help others with our interactions. In my view, the way to evaluate a community or group is to look at how they treat and support the weakest in their group. At this time, we should take this to mean how we support everyone in these unusual times.
Your routine has changed - Keep the separation
When we all used to commute to work, we had an hour in our own thoughts. We had a separation from work and home. This was time for our brains to consider the day and switch between the 2 main characters in our life: Work and Home.
As this changes to walking to your kitchen table, that time disappears. Your two personas can merge, but more importantly, your brain doesn’t have time to digest.
Give yourself time to differentiate between home and work. Take 20 minutes, read a book, go for a walk or listen to Spotify album at the end of your day to separate the two.
Socialise at work
When I am in the office, I get interrupted at least twice an hour, people asking questions or overhearing conversations. Mostly work-related and is the reason why project teams work best when they are in the same location. Not only do you have more understanding of what is happening in your project that is not part of your focus area, but you also get to know your colleagues, understand they are having a bad day or that they have a hangover (you know who you are). This time breaks the day, disrupts your flow and sometimes clarifies the picture.
Try starting each call with a chat, rather than getting straight to business. There are always latecomers to a call, so use this time to gossip, talk about the latest Netflix docudrama or check if someone has enough toilet roll.
Also, force it. We have had great success in taking the last hour of the workday twice a week and forcing a chat. No agenda, no pressure to join, but a check-in point for everyone. This needs to have management buy-in, but not led by management. We try and not talk shop, but it is inevitable. Those banter moments you had in the office should surface here too - comedy is the best way to elevate the mood.
Socialise at home
My involvement in the community over the last year has meant that I was going out more, interacting more and chatting more than ever before. This shouldn’t stop just because we are not allowed to go to a pub or meet for a user group.
Chris Huntingford has made this an art form by creating the Bespoke Badger, a regular pub night which he hosts where anarchy ensues. This can be a little wild and usually includes alcohol. As you can see, the great and the good of our community are in full force.
The point is, arrange some interaction with your friends. Poker nights, book (wine) club, curry night, they all can still happen. Zoom is free, up to 40 minutes, but redialing in straight away works just fine. Don’t forget your family and not just the ones you talk to daily but remember Great Aunt Maude. Calling her will make her day! Do realise that you may take 30 of the 40 minutes getting Aunt Maude up and running though.
Don’t expect the same pace
I am lucky, I have two teenage boys. On a typical day, they don’t require my attention for long, if at all. To be honest, as long as the fridge is full and the WiFi works, they are good for weeks.
Other members of my team will have young children, juggling keeping them entertained with holding down their role. Be lenient with them, expect interruptions, expect those meetings to be cancelled last minute.
Also, a lot of businesses, if not all, are under such different pressures since the start of social distancing: keeping helpdesks open with little staff, creating products suitable for a different way to do business, working with their other partners to ensure their service is still available. Gone are the days when you can thrash out a solution by bringing in stakeholders across the country for a 1/2 day workshop.
Time with your business owners will be sacrosanct. Ensure your meetings are essential and have a list of decisions to be made. We have to adapt as consultants and help our customers through these difficult times. This will generally be doing a lot more thinking for them, creating options rather than expecting them to come up with a solution.
I know, I am not the perfect role-model for fitness, but getting out in the world is a great way of clearing your head. That call you are on, do you need to see a screen? Could you walk while you listen in? Concentration is key on a call, listening and walking is easy.
What about that decorating you have been putting off? You may struggle to get wallpaper but preparing for a day when you can is a great way of getting away from work. Getting out in the garden, preparing for the future summer with friends and family really gives hope for a time when we can laugh at this situation.