In March, I was horrified to hear about a friend of a friend who - when she asked her manager if she could work from home just before lockdown fully kicked in - was effectively sent to Coventry for two weeks, with her boss refusing to speak to her. OK, so this is an extreme example, but others we’ve spoken to have reported feeling “judged” in some way for what they are and are not able to do whilst working from home.
A particular challenge for all managers will be managing the array of emotions emerging as lockdown eases. For some people, a return to work will spark joy, elation, excitement. For others it will bring on guilt – at spending less time with children, sending them back to daycare and not being able to look after vulnerable relatives. Or a mix of both. Some will experience fear, resentment, even anger. We may see more recklessness and risk-taking which will need to be managed. Others may respond by being even more cautious and risk-averse.
To managers, some of these emotional responses will seem irrational and at odds with their own feelings. We’ve talked about the importance of emotional intelligence before, but it will become even more critical in the weeks and months to come. Managers need to be able to recognise, understand and manage their own affect, whilst concurrently identify and empathise with the different emotional states of others. And then there’s the added challenge of managing ‘survivor syndrome’. Not an easy task….
Managers will need to behave differently: a key area being trust. The good news is that most have had a lot of practice at being more trusting recently. The importance of goal-setting, clarity with regards to objectives, expectations and deliverables have been underlined during our enforced period of remote working. Affording people the autonomy and latitude to determine the working patterns that suit them, reinforcing that they are responsible for their own output and how they go about delivering against their objectives is something that we should seek to do better, or more of, when back in the office and other workplaces. Managers who are inclined towards micro-management will need to take a step back and shift their mind set; just because you have people in your line of sight again doesn’t mean that they are suddenly less capable of working without close supervision.
And we would all benefit – once we’re back in shared workspaces again – from asking ourselves “How can I be more human, a better human being?” What could I do to make my colleagues’ day more pleasant, easier, better?” There have been so many stories about acts of kindness in our communities, and we should all consider how we can be kinder at work in the wake of this crisis.
At the risk of sounding like a movie musicals bore (and yes, it is completely the wrong time of year for this, but at least it was The Muppets’ version), in A Christmas Carol, Marley (and Marley) warn Scrooge that without kindness and compassion he is doomed to walk among his fellow men after death, “to witness what he cannot share, but might have shared and turned to happiness”. At the end, all chorus “CHANGE!”. Which is what we all need to do, to ensure that ‘coming back better’ is an enduring phenomenon and that modern-day Marleyism is a thing of the past.