Open doors during lockdown – part 1

This is not business as usual.

Your staff haven’t simply moved offices. This is not working remotely by choice. This is trying to work from home whilst the world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis, with unpredictable outcomes. Your staff, their families, your suppliers and clients will not react as they ‘normally’ would. In fact, you yourself may not have it as together as you would like others to think…

And there will, in all likelihood, be no returning to ‘business as usual’ as how we conduct business and the business environment has already changed. Our staff and customers have to adapt and deal with losses – if not their own, then in terms of those close to them.

In this series of articles we want to support you – the business owner, the department head, the supervisor, the service provider, the worker. If, as an entrepreneur, you find these useful and would like to explore these themes further in terms of your business environment, consider contacting Northwood Financial Services cc for coaching sessions. Your first consultation, as with all our services, are free.

Purpose, plan, pathway

In this series, we will start off with discussing the here and now – adjusting to the new reality and how best to rally your staff, clients and suppliers around you. Then, we will look at the supports available to help your business survive and how to go about accessing these. We will spend some time making sure you evaluate your company health, identify your growth areas and consolidate the good things you are already doing. After that, we will look at systems and protocols to help you get your mojo back and plan a new path into the unknown. After all, for many of us, the fourth industrial revolution we thought of as a future challenge has dropped by a lot sooner, whether we were prepared for it or not!

The mechanics of lockdown shock

If you have noticed that you are feeling exceedingly jumpy at sudden noises, you are not alone! If you are finding it harder than usual to get started and concentrate on basic tasks, you are not alone! If you suddenly find yourself losing it about the empty milk carton left in the fridge (especially if your teenage son does this all the time), you are not alone!

Our brains are wired like that

Our brains have been trained through the eons to identify the immediate threats that surround us. It used to be simple. They used to be called things like ‘lion’ or ‘fire’. Now, however, we are individually and collectively waiting for the other shoe to drop. In some places around the globe, the Coronavirus crisis has struck and health systems can no longer cope with the sheer numbers of sick people. Worldwide the numbers are still climbing. Here, in our corner of the world we are still waiting for the inevitable. We are told that lockdown will only buy us time to prepare. Exponential infection rates cannot be avoided.

The thing is … we don’t quite know what it will look like. Here. For you and I.  

It is too much for one’s brain to comprehend, so, in an attempt to be useful, it looks for simpler explanations. Things we have control over. It then unleashes the full might of its fight, flight or freeze defense mechanisms on these wrongly attributed targets.

 Your staff feels all of it, too (and possibly more than you realise)

As a manager of people, in whatever format you might find yourself, there are things you can do to help, without having to be a trauma counsellor.

  1. Show and advocate for flexibility

Not everybody has a natural aptitude for, or enjoys, working remotely. Some really struggle to set routines and adjust to new technologies and conduct effective problem-solving on their lonesome ownsome.

Not everybody faces the same environmental stressors such as lack of fibre or data, limited physical resources, cramped living spaces, unsupervised children, or screaming hadedas during Zoom meetings. Some really struggle with isolation from colleagues. Especially if they live alone.

  1. Communicate clearly

It is pretty hard to focus on anything else, when you can’t quite shake the sense that you are under constant threat. Instructions that may seem easy to follow ‘normally’ may be challenging in the present. Adjust your expectations and emotional temperature settings!

Set clear expectations and revisit the communication flow chart of your organisation – make sure that everyone knows who can ask what from whom, when and how. Remind yourself and your staff that this is uncharted territory and that you may have to adjust as you go along.

Remember that you are most likely using different technologies from the usual (often more than one at that). This can hinder people’s ability to see your facial expressions, gestures and general body language – this makes up a huge part of communication and can lead to major misunderstandings and misinterpretations. It often also captures only some of the context and because you might write more directly than you may speak, your points may come across as ‘sharp’. Some staff may feel more intimidated by writing down their thoughts, whilst others who are not great talkers may write essays.   

As a manager, consider drawing up a regular check-in roster to connect with all stakeholders individually – clients, staff and service providers. This will help with the following point as well!

  1. Establish routine and predictability

Whilst understanding the different environmental and social factors that your staff face is important, it is also vital that you establish a routine that works for everybody. Regularity, number of hours and outputs expected as well as definite ‘on’ and ‘off’ times are more important than clocking in at precisely 8am and knocking off not a minute after 5pm.  

The traumatized brain responds best to routine and predictability. This includes regular feedback on performance that looks at both hard and soft skills. Frame things in positive terms, where possible. People are more sensitive at this time, which also means that they are more likely to take your positive input and run with it!

  1. Plan and implement health and wellness initiatives with staff

We all know that the promise of a pay check is important, but that it isn’t what captures the heart of your employee. Productivity rises and loyalty sticks when your employees share your vision, feel appreciated and cared for and believe you see them as people, not just a means to an end.

This can be the best of times, or it can be the worst of times. Now is the time for ‘in-reach’. Find out what your staff need most. It may not be something you can provide yourself, nor are you expected to do so. There may be a community resource or information that you can direct them to. Time spent getting to know your staff and asking after their wellbeing could well make many positive ripples into the future.

Consider building communal sharing of survival tips into your daily group interactions. Do stretch or breathing exercises over Zoom before your staff check-in. Trying yoga may be taking it too far.

Get reciprocal caring going. Establish or re-establish rituals, like greeting each other individually in the morning. Individuals could be tasked to remind everyone to drink water once a day, or to announce that it’s time for lunch. Encourage team-building exercises. Share useful resource lists, such as where and how to access food parcels or UIF. It may not be of value to your staff per se, but they may have family or friends who need it.

It is better to build these actions into the daily routine so that you can prevent smaller or individual concerns or challenges from blowing up into major disruptions and time off work. It will give the staff legitimate times to chat and blow off steam, so that this is not carried over (as much) into work hours.  You will also be better able to gauge the level of fatigue, burn-out and frustration that may lead to a sudden drop in productivity.

  1. Show your true colours

Do things ethically – follow the rules. Then go beyond that.

Lead by example and encourage your staff to find meaningful ways to contribute to those less fortunate than themselves. This can make a huge difference in staff morale and resilience. We all need to make sense of this difficult time. Let COVID 19 crisis help us distill what is important to ourselves and our businesses.

At a practical level, how you treat your customers, your suppliers and your staff will go much further in promoting your business than any marketing campaign could. Trust is earned. Here’s your chance to prove it. Increasingly, potential customers scrutinize the social responsibility programmes and initiatives of businesses. Value is measured not only in product satisfaction, but also based on the impact the company has on the social and physical environment.

With growing movements like Cape Town Together, where CAN (Community Action Network) groups from different sides of the have/have not divide have come together for the common good of those who are most vulnerable, your contributions will not only help those in need, it will also be good for your business in future.

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