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Unprecedented times. Reflections on dealing with an unprecedented crisis

The Coronavirus crisis has brought the world to a standstill.

Stock markets crashing, countries on lockdown, schools closed, people having to work from home. Never in my lifetime have I seen this sort of thing and for many of us, these are really unchartered waters.

As a mother, a HR professional, someone with a large network of family and friends living in all corners of the globe, I am worried. I am concerned for my older relatives, I am even concerned for my lovely next door neighbours who are over 70 years old; we have been checking on them.

However, my faith keeps me going. So many thoughts have gone through my mind. The situation feels like some sort of Old Testament plague and at times, I have wondered whether it is God’s way of telling us something, a stark reminder that we are not in control of the universe – He is in control.

Working in HR where we are used to having answers to questions based on Employment Legislation, we find ourselves having to use some unprecedented measures to deal with work issues. We finally had to bring the human into HR. That is a good thing and one of the positives …”Every cloud….”

For example, the lockdown has driven employers to make contingency plans to allow staff to work from home to ensure business continuity. I am sure those who had been the most reluctant to do so have been forced to, and from now on, may never be able to say it is not possible to work remotely. Of course there are still roles that cannot be performed remotely, but I have seen the most ingenious practices in the past few weeks.

We have now embraced all things digital and the virtual world as a way of survival. Where in the past we had been encouraged to reduce ‘screen time’, we find that we are now plugged in more than ever.

So many aspects of our lives have changed in such a short space of time. Only a month ago, I was out socialising with my loved ones to celebrate my birthday. Now I find myself limiting the time I can spend outside.

I always say change is a process, not a one-time event. For the most adaptable among us, change is difficult. Change management experts are familiar with this as illustrated by the Kubler-Ross change curve. So if you are finding it hard to accept the new normal, you are not alone.

There are many challenges with this new normal – both psychological and technological.

The psychological

Working from home, contact with other people and coping with a lot of information

One cannot just be expected to switch and do everything that was done face to face online. Getting up every day and pretending to be going to work ‘at home’ feels peculiar. I am accustomed to working from home once or twice a week however this everyday business needs some adjustment. It may be ok if you live alone, but what if you have a family, older relatives or perhaps younger children to look after as schools are closed – how do you juggle caring responsibilities with fulltime work at home? The lines get blurred.

Even those who run their own businesses often have a dedicated home office or they go out and work in libraries or workspaces which goes to show that it is somewhat difficult to combine work with home.

Productivity therefore becomes a challenge. As I wrote in the remote working guide I produced for employees and managers, go easy on yourself, as adapting to this sudden change won’t be the easiest. Managers should be patient and understanding with their teams too. They should be particularly sensitive to people who have caring responsibilities as well as those whose home lives are not conducive to this new way of being. Now more than ever, people need support and need to be treated with the utmost care and respect.

In addition to this, we all handle things differently according to our personality profiles.

One of my favourite personality profiles is Belbin. My Belbin profile is Resource Investigator and Shaper suggesting that I don’t like being isolated when doing tasks. So you can imagine how hard it was for me during the first week of self-isolation. In addition to that I have to take care of my family, support friends who are anxious, HR – huge responsibility as colleagues and I work tirelessly to support our organisations.

By the end of the first week I felt really drained so at the weekend I decided to unplug by switching off from social media, the constant deluge of WhatsApp messages, and such like. It felt overwhelming. Too much information. I prefer to keep updated via reputable sources only.

The technological

Online courses, webinars, virtual meetings, virtual coffee breaks

Aghh. People mean well but not everyone is an expert at delivering online. It takes a certain level of expertise. I have attended some webinars that have not been fun or engaging at all. At a time like this when one needs light relief, attending boring webinars is not fun.

IT systems too need to be set up properly to accommodate the volume of people working from home, or to handle meetings or courses delivered online.

When one is already having to cope with the stresses of the crisis, IT issues really add to the frustration.

In spite of the challenges, I must not forget the most crucial aspect in this whole episode: people’s lives.

To quote Virgil the Roman poet “The greatest wealth is health.”

My heart goes out to the families of those who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus. I like many, am praying for a swift end to this crisis but in order to get through this mentally, I have to find a way of remaining positive. I do this by thinking of some of the positives that I am seeing already.

  • The earth has paused. This is a time to reflect, let the earth heal itself. Reports have already confirmed that pollution is down so at least the environment will benefit somewhat.
  • Families being at home can be stressful but some people are already learning how to bond with one another. I played board games with my sons for the first time in a long time.
  • The scarcity of food means we are having to be resourceful when preparing meals and this will reduce food waste.
  • We will save money from buying items we don’t really need, as the lockdown has forced non-essential shops to shut up shop for now; some sites have crashed and next day deliveries have stalled, including Amazon Prime. In addition to this, some non-essential items are sold out in most places, a welcome sight for our bank accounts.
  • Kindness – humanity has kicked in. People are appreciating our key workers and pulling together to help one another, checking on our elderly neighbours etc. Community spirit is back. Everyone should remember that people will never forget how you treat them especially in times of crisis.
  • Some people are using the time to read, learn, catch up on all those things on our to-do list, even cleaning out the kitchen cupboards/garage/loft/do some gardening.
  • There is plenty of information online with guides for everything from remote working to various courses to fitness videos on YouTube (I have started doing online yoga) so there is enough to keep us busy.

You can of course decide to do nothing, and just be.

This poem by Kitty O’Meara sums it up:

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

This too shall pass. Sending love and light to everyone.