We all feel a big shift with the COVID-19 wave descending on us. While we’ve wanted to work from home in the past, the current situation isn’t landing well. There are health fears, economic fears, worries about resource scarcity, and whatnot. What is the nature of working from home during such a pandemic? Let’s take a look:
- Managing the feeling of isolation. Under normal circumstances, you go to the gym or catch up with a friend to meet your social needs of belonging. But, we’re now in quarantine – minimal in-person social contact. And that can make it hard to manage the already existing stress of the pandemic. It can cause sadness, loss of sleep, and higher stress response.
Says Lily Zheng, Director of Microsoft in China, “Supporting others is the best way to stay positive and energized. We use our online tools for more than just work, sharing photos of family and pets and checking in with each other throughout the day. Cheering each other up is not just good for maintaining morale, it also helps keep our team together when we work apart.”
- Establishing rituals. Uncertainty is at its peak. And working from home could dilute the boundaries between when we are ‘on’ and when we take a break. Or even where we work and relax, especially if family members are at home. We could just get lost in a flurry of emails or ‘pings’.
To mitigate this, researchers Barbara Larson, Susan Vroman, and Erin Makarius suggest setting up structured check-ins. “It could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls, if your employees work more independently from each other, or a team call, if their work is highly collaborative. The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable, and that employees know they can consult with you, and their concerns will be heard.” This also speaks to driving team culture – celebrating milestones, video calls instead of audio, fixed timings, an online pizza party et al. Any form of structure creates much-needed safety.
- Keeping things moving. The slowdown is causing insecurity. It’s a sudden, drastic shift in our lifestyle. But as they say, the show must go on. Do what it takes to keep progressing on the goals. Take small steps, steadily. Get creative. Schools that have shut down are having online classes. How can you use your imagination to redefine your work? “Go all in,” says Zheng. “It can be tempting to put things off while working remotely. But teams that thrive remotely find ways to do just about everything online.”
The circumstances are trying, but we cannot leave it to someone else to be on their best behavior and slack on our own. Called the ‘Trickle Down Effect’ by Daniel Goleman, the impact of one person’s behavior cascades to the ones s/he interacts with. So, who do you want to be, as we brave COVID-19?