Corona Therapy #3: “Weird but less intense”

This is a brief note of my reflections from yesterday’s Corona Therapy hangout: an open session, passing around the group to share how we are feeling, coping, struggling and crucially, what is working (or working for now, at least). The themes are from my recollection and scratchy notes – neither reportage nor social science and I will lapse into editorial embellishment.

We had a really interesting mix of voices in the hangout again (as we do every week, of course and those who couldn’t make it are not excluded from that – we love you all, of course). It was another reminder that, whilst we have such fundamental circumstances in common, we also have very different experiences of them and respond in different ways. Those responses continue to vary by the day, week and sometimes hour. The intensity might have ebbed slightly but the weirdness and unfamiliarity remain. There remains a lot to worry about.

Reality continues to bite…The shift we have observed from intellectual understanding of a new world into personal, lived experience continues. In a small group, we have seen a stalled recovery from the virus and a family bereavement. I am uncertain that this ‘new normal’ phrase quite hits the mark.

And economic impacts continue, of course…There are more stories of evaporating work, the sting being sharpest for smaller businesses and sole traders. A few weeks into whatever this is has shortened the survival horizon for some. A bad month might be a final month. There are some signals of new opportunity from creative approaches but there needs to be a clear view of these. Clarity of thought is vital and yet can be really difficult as anxiety crowds out lucid moments. We do need some time for thought, reflection and maybe just staring out of the window.

Being busy has a number of funky new flavours as well. In food retail, it is all hands to the pump but the pumps have changed and safety, always important, is crucial in new ways. For vendors of platforms and technology services, some clients are flat out busy and under unforeseen pressures whilst others are in suspended animation. These are very different customer conversations to have and planning resources needs new assumptions. In some cases, there is a strange new phenomenon of time with the audience as some, particularly sales, roles are effectively paused and time to learn is taken seriously. 

Teams adapt to and adopt new tools at different paces as well. This partly about usability and support but also about confidence and readiness to apply these tools all day every day with no build up. When one team member races ahead as the monarch of MS Teams, a new fraught peasantry can emerge and leaving some people not feeling that they can’t meaningfully participate. (And please, this is not an age problem).

Although there is much advice about home working tools and kit, the real challenge is keeping in touch and communicating in useful ways. Broadcast signals don’t seem to help in fact they are growing more annoying. Some organisations have found a supportive and human tone for comms whilst others are struggling to strike the right note for the new employee experience. At the worst, some don’t seem to have quite understood what workin life has become and are deaf to the anxiety backdrop in their organisation. (My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that helpful, human and direct communication is a management capability at a premium and those who can demonstrate it regardless of tools and physical context will thrive. Good luck to the rest.).

Working from home is a perennial issue. And before there are any more “it’s easy, you just do your work but from home” tweets, the challenges are less about the mechanics and the activity more about definitions of “work” and “ home” and what they conjure for us. When there is a challenge it might be caused by living where you work, not working where you live. Life encroaches on work in the form of a call from a frail relative, the needs of a 20 month old baby and the timing of your one daily outing with multiple kids. Bring all three into one WFH morning and focus is hard to come by. Let’s manage our expectations of each other and ourselves.

The group also shared some frustrations with the L&D industry and commentariat from the last few weeks. These are useful reminders for those of us who may take to social media and sound off every now and again (we know who we are). The reactions and positions some commentators and vendors have taken have missed their intended mark in helpfulness and relevance. They are becoming annoying. Some paraphrased cautionary notes:

  • “I don’t need any more courses on Wellbeing or Remote working, I have a folder full of offers and I don’t need any of them”
  • “Don’t tell me what I should do. You don’t know me. You don’t know my life. Do one!”
  • “Industry bashing is really making me sick. I turned my phone off over the weekend.”
  • “Vendors need to listen and think about what’s helpful. Who is reading this or answering this call? What’s on their mind.”

(IMHO: beware of anyone offering any form of certainty about our current circumstances. They don’t know what they are saying).

The “what to do about it” hints from the group this week: 

  • Ask for help – coping mechanisms are being discovered whilst more systematic solutions will need more time
  • Ask what others are doing –  coping mechanisms are being discovered whilst more systematic solutions will need more time
  • “Stick with what seems solid and go from there”
  • “Looking for new work is really tough so look after the work you have”
  • And finally, helpfulness still wins – it’s what we are all looking for and most of us are also happy to offer it

Same time, same place next week: Tuesday the 14th @ 4pm. It’s an open invite, so feel free to join us.

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