COVID-19: Is Your Team Physically or Socially Distancing?

Wow 2020 - We didn’t see this coming and hasn’t it caused some problems!

It seems there is no mistaking or escaping the paradigm shift currently sweeping the globe, as people physically distance themselves from one another. I prefer to think of us physically, rather than socially distancing and make a clear distinction between the two. Although physically distant, it is important to remember we can still be social, at a distance! This will be key in ensuring teams remain focused, motivated and effective throughout this crisis.

As the dust settles from the construction of remote offices and work-spaces across the country, we can begin to take stock of the situation and try to understand some of the challenges we are and will continue to face as this situation unfolds. Most would say enough is enough. The reality, it is likely we will be feeling the ripples of this for some time to come. So, we need to consider and address the issues and concerns facing our teams, so they are remotely effective.

Looking at the general situation, there have been a number of impacts and outcomes in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, but generally speaking we know:

  • Projects are on hold.
  • There have been widespread job losses and layoffs so people are feeling threatened and stressed.
  • The movement of people has reduced.
  • Some products and materials are more difficult to acquire.
  • Where possible people are working remotely and the rest are trying to avoid being in close proximity to each other.
  • People are practising physical distancing and some are at risk of becoming socially distanced.

The time scale for this outbreak is currently unknown and although “there is nothing more certain and unchanging than uncertainty and change” – JFK, people find change and uncertainty, unsettling and stressful which can causes us to become angry and fearful. It is therefore important we adapt quickly, so the change becomes the new norm; hope for the best, but prepare for the worst and above all, don’t panic!

So What Now?

Unquestionably this microscopic virus is going to leave a lasting impression on the world and the way we do business, but as we scramble to adapt, we must ask ourselves two questions. Do we want things to go back to exactly the way they were before? What have we, can we and will we learn and gain from these experiences? Already we are finding:

  • Remarkable improvements in air and water quality around the globe.
  • Working from home means less time and energy are spent commuting.
  • We have time to develop and explore new skills and interests.
  • Rapid development in technology for home working, will undoubtedly benefit our future ability to maintain a healthy work : life balance.
  • There has been an unprecedented out-flowing of human expression, as we find new ways to interact, have fun, share ideas, communicate, stay connected and express ourselves.

It is all well and good saying be positive, use this opportunity to grow and evolve, but how do we do it?  There are many people and organisations in difficult, confusing situations, facing serious challenges with some turbulent times ahead. Maintaining team motivation and morale is going to be essential in ensuring they stay focused, productive, happy and healthy in these extraordinary times.

Businesses obviously have, and will continue to have difficult financial and operational decisions to make, but these need to be balanced with the needs of their staff.

Easier said than done, but here are a few things to consider:

  • Communication is king
    • Ask questions and try to be as direct as possible. What problems are employees, colleagues and customers facing? What solutions have been tried, if any? What help do they need, if any?
    • Managers will need to monitor teams effectively. Maintain a regular work focused dialogue involving the entire team, but keeping it short and relevant.
    • Maintain a social aspect to the team conversations; happy hour, virtually bring your partner to work days, fancy dress Friday, team guess who using disguises or childhood photos.
  • Be aware of the five common dysfunctions of a team, as falling victim to one can often lead to a cascade failure.
    • A lack of trust.
    • Team members stop challenging each other.
    • A lack of commitment to collective decisions
      Do or do not; there is not try!” – Yoda
    • A lack/share of credit for team successes & accountability for failures.
    • A lack of focus of on the team’s goals and objectives.
  • In a rapidly changing environment, it often pays to take an agile approach to team management. Those who adapt quickly and effectively, with minimal effort will survive.
  • If possible, maintain regular contact with all employees, including those you have had to lay-off. When you’re able to continue “normal” operations you are going to need the people you know and more importantly who know you, your clients and your products. Take care of them, so they can take care of business, now and in the future.

So, are you and your team physically or socially distant? How are you communicating? What are you communicating and why? Often office communication is NOT work related, it is more importantly about human interaction and how we relate to one another.

When asked, the HR Director for one of the highest performing Fortune 500 companies said, “One of the primary ways we maintaining team working and morale is by all meeting, throughout the entire organisation, at 4.00pm on a Friday for a social drink to share thoughts and ideas, celebrate our successes and learn from our failures. Then at 4.30 we go back to work!

Although optimism is key, a healthy dose of realism is required, so here are three tried and tested games you can play with you teams for fun and to inject some energy into you week.

  • Tic-Tac-Toe using the conference call windows as the board.
  • Trick Prospective Photography.
  • A Virtual Mexican Wave.

As this crisis continues it is important to remember there are pros and cons to any crisis; identify and resolve the current critical survival issues and then focus on redevelopment. All those things you wanted to do, but never had the time; well NOW IS THE TIME! “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional” – Haruki Murakami.

Take care, stay safe and stay in touch; but don’t touch – very confusing!

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