Posted by: bluesyemre | March 31, 2020

#Thoughtfulness in a #Pandemic

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Credit: Song_about_summer / © 2020

We are living in a pandemic. Our expectations will need to shift as people adjust to remote work and try to cope with current events.

I’ve lost count of how many emails, chat discussions, and social media posts I have seen lately about working from home: top tips for working from home, how to lead a virtual team, remote productivity, and more. While all of these messages have been well intended, let me be clear: we are not working from home during a pandemic, we are working in a pandemic. Everyone is surrounded by, and gripped by, a pandemic—and many people happen to be working at the same time.

Like most other higher education institutions this week, mine—the University of Colorado System—sent out a message that all employees who did not need to be on site should stay at home. As a manager and leader in my organization, I have been thinking a lot about what this means. I have read many comments from peers, across the country, who are hopeful that this transition will allow companies to see the value of remote work to employees and to increased productivity. I believe, however, that pandemic work is unlikely to play out that way.

This is an extraordinary situation that changes with each day and each hour, placing people under stress and unusual conditions. People are concerned about their own health, as well as the health of loved ones—perhaps loved ones who are in high-risk groups. They are concerned about resources and the potential for resource shortages, resulting in shopping trips that often become vast searches. They may have younger children who are home from school and need attention, care, and education. They may have older children who are trying to find a way home from college. Their partner may have been laid off. They are wondering about the stability of their jobs and the resiliency of the companies where they work. They are uneasy and worried. The phrase of the day is no longer “work-life balance”; it is “pandemic security.” Do people feel secure in their health, their families, their resources and their jobs?

Many folks (in all types of roles) are being pulled into working from home for the first time, and it’s going to be bumpy. Many aren’t prepared to work as a member of a virtual team or to manage people from afar. Some will fit naturally into remote work, and others will be uncomfortable. Some may have home environments that are not conducive to work. Many will miss the direct interactions and rituals of a workplace.

Let’s not forget all of the people who are remaining in their on-site roles—most of this applies to them as well. They work in critical services like health care, law enforcement, utilities, grocery stores, and supply chains. They hold on-site roles within organizations like facilities maintenance, security, and cleaning services. Never before have I had companies flood me with emails about the cleaning procedures of their facilities, but now I know exactly how often they disinfect surfaces.

What does all of this mean for those of us who are leaders and managers? Empathy and compassion become our most critical skills. We must seek to understand how each team member is reacting to the situation. Formerly stoic people may be worried about aging parents. Those who were previously drifting may find new focus. What people needed on January 1, 2020, is not what they need today. We must listen and adapt. Listening through social distance takes more intent and effort. We need to create opportunities to listen—opportunities that may have occurred incidentally before.

One of my close colleagues has a quotation that is displayed in the office and that I think about regularly: “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” With so many mounting distractions and worries, work life needs to be clear. Remove uncertainties, clarify roles and responsibilities, and focus on top priorities. Personal lives are enveloped in a situation we cannot control, but we can do our best to keep work lives from getting out of control. Ask people about their priorities, and make yours clear.

In an ideal world, working from home can increase employees’ happiness and productivity. But we are living in a pandemic. Our expectations will need to shift as people adjust to remote work and try to cope with current events. We should expect some timelines to extend, and we should anticipate the need to abandon some work. Even staff who are not sick may have many more burdens (both physical and mental) than they did just weeks ago. Reevaluate expectations, and reallocate work as needed.

So what are the top tips for working in a pandemic? I’m certainly no expert, and we are fortunate to be living in a period of time when we’ve needed very few experts on this topic. However, the world has experienced many experts on the topic of how to be good to each other:

Be attentive—listen to others.

Be thoughtful—consider what you have heard.

Be kind—put thoughtfulness into action.

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