School’s out for (what seems like..) forever right now. It shouldn’t be that time of year again… This calendar month is not the one where we are supposed to be winding down into the Summer holidays: a time when ‘juggling’ skills become paramount as parents across the land dread balancing their work deliverables with the fact that their kids have 6 weeks plus holiday stretching out in front of them. But yet here we are. In May. Finding ourselves weaving in our work and home life on a scale never seen before.
For many in your teams, initially working from home may have been a joy to remove from the commute and a time to show how productive one can be without the daily “ do you want another coffee?”. Yet for 7.9 million households where workers have dependent children (and particularly those with under tens who will remember this time as a very ‘special’ time indeed….), the challenges presented by working from home when your kids are off school/ nursery can test even those with the patience of Job.
Indeed many years ago when mine were much younger, I experienced my first very own ‘BBC’ moment when a newly acquired client called up to discuss a very sensitive situation with their team. Thinking both sons were napping, I took the call, put on my most professional voice, only for my son to start hollering about his nappy activities. He’s always been articulate (and did I mention loud?), so there was no doubt whatsoever about the cause of his complaint, although said client did his best to be British in the situation and completely ignore that this was happening …..
It’s been a few years since then and between us at TheHRhub now, we now have a bevvy of children aged between 1 and 15. But whilst the experience of working flexibly over time has given us some insight into how to do this, managing your work and your children 24/7 without external childcare, presents even greater challenges than we’ve seen before. So we’ve pulled together our own tips about managing to keep on top of things, without losing your cool:
- Plan to Fail: Turn ordinary planning on it’s head and assume that whatever you plan for will not stick. Instead, plan for alternatives. Yes, you may have your day mapped out on a visual planner, colour coded and brimming with unicorns so that all know what is going on and the kids can look forward to the fun times as well as see when you have your less ‘fun’ (i.e work!) plans too. But it’s 100% guaranteed that your kids will have other plans about how they want to spend the day…. So plan what alternatives you have when the ‘schedule’ backfires: activities, doing the more thought intensive work with them on your lap or in front of the telly ( yes, we all have those things we can do with one eye on things). I’m also a big fan of bribery at these times & would propose the liberal use of star charts to nudge along.
- Be elastic with your team: There’s not a person on Zoom/ Skype/ Hangouts who hasn’t been interrupted at some point by a chatty/ screaming child or voices in the background. This is life at the moment and unless you have the unlikely scenario of a fleet of nannies waiting in your cupboard, there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it. So not only tell your team you are relaxed but show them too, by inviting in your own family to come and say Hi if they’re about.
- Show trust and reasonableness in timings: If there’s a hard deadline for something then make someone aware of this in advance ( and not on the day). But make sure that your team knows you are not going to be checking in every five minutes and are comfortable in trusting all to manage themselves and their time: this way if they need to take the kids out to the park before frustration and fight levels reach DEFCON Five, then they can do so as they feel the need to feel guilt about it because it’s in ‘work time’.
- Working Time Extended: Not in an effort to make people work for longer each day. But to give people the opportunity to start later, intersperse their days with breaks to focus on their kids and manage all that they need to do in the best way possible. In the words of my own teenager: 9-5 is sooooo dead….
- One Size (Doesn’t) Fit All: It’s unlikely what’s going to work for someone with a two and three year old is going to be the same for a twelve year old at home, so recognise that there’s no one-size fits all approach and talk to your team about what might work best for them.
- Be prepared to offer/ take ‘holiday’: we may not be able to escape at the moment to that gorgeous villa in the sun or the yearned for city break in Barcelona, but by taking some of our annual leave and not focussing on work, could help many out by reducing stress levels in order to focus on just one area.
Fancy a chat? We don’t need to Zoom ( yes, we’re getting sick of it now too!!). Give us a bell on 0203 627 7048 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get right back to you.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash
There will be good days and bad days for all of you at the moment as you navigate what the impact of Covid-19 means to your colleagues, your teams and your business. And although you will of course be considerate and supportive of the wider team, we know that this situation is likely to be just as tough for you, as it is for them. Often more so, as you also might be feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders in leading at a time when the business pressures are unlike any most have ever seen and many of the answers are unknown.
A Black Swan event is largely described as an unexpected one that has a disproportionate and disastrous effect on our economic world: think Dot Com crash in 2001 and Financial crisis of 2008. The biggies that we all know and remember. Brexit may have been deemed one of them until recently, when the ‘C’ word has well and truly knocked it out of the park.
During such periods of disruption and change that accompany these events, people respond at different levels of intensity and speed, but my experience is that we are pretty predictable in following the Kubler-Ross ‘change’ curve, the model used to describe an individual reaction to grief and death, but which can often be applied to general responses to circumstances and which has also become known simply as the ‘Change Curve’ in the decades since the first research was undertaken.
As a leader of your business, the ‘Change Curve’ is a useful model to understand: for now, and planning for the future. Not just with regards to understanding the reactions which your team may be having and behaviour being displayed, but because it can also help to understand, navigate and adapt your own feelings and behaviour. The last 3 weeks have brought shock and panic to most, followed by confusion and possibly anger as many realised how fast the impact of this would make on their businesses and then themselves (for many business owners of course, this is one and the same).
Self doubt often accompanies these stages and at its worst, it develops into a form of depression: Why couldn’t I see this coming? Why didn’t I plan something different? What am I going to do now? During this stage, productivity starts to drop and the focus on self takes over. However the good news is that – provided you don’t languish in those darker stages for too long – the next few weeks have the potential to offer something much brighter for you, as the fighter in you adapts and develops to seek new opportunities.
You wouldn’t think that breadmaking as an activity was synonymous with energy, but it appears to be an unlikely, yet splendid, example of individuals taking actions to move themselves forward along this curve. This weekend, as images flood social media and family whatsapp groups of various batches, explanations I’ve read of our current obsession, talk of people doing this to tap into their unconscious feelings to retain a sense of control. Something we all need as a basis for moving forward.
Bread not your ‘thing’? From a business perspective – and assuming you’re not a bakery that is – what else can you do to gain this control and propel yourself forward to the ‘Acceptance’ side of the curve:
- Keep talking to yourself: No, really… Start with the positives each day: what are you grateful for; what have you enjoyed the day before. I promise it will help.
- Keep talking to others: other members of your leadership team or (if you don’t have one of those) your networking groups or advisors (we’ve been in conversations with most of our clients in the last couple of weeks and please be assured that our conversation extends way beyond HR if you’re free & keen!)
- Stick with some of your routines: team meetings are good as they form consistent conversations and adapt to what you are doing already. It’s likely that you have increased these in the last few weeks, however as we settle into the ‘new’ norms, be careful not to overload them or have them so frequently that you put pressure on yourself to be able to come up with answers you don’t yet have or that people won’t have actually managed to do anything agreed since the last one… For a bit of a refresher on how to get the most out of working from home generally, read (or re-read) our own general guidance here
- And increase the frequency of others: most will agree that you need to be on top of your finances more than ever right now, making sure you scenario plan for different forecasts.
- Allow yourself time: by all means have a brief pity party for yourself – it’s an acknowledgement of the impact of this and shouldn’t be glossed over – but use the time you have to think of as many different ideas as you can think of for your business. Most business owners I know are not short of these, and many have come up with some of the best ideas they’ve had whilst on holiday. Whilst I’m not pretending this is a holiday for anyone, there may be times you have (gardening this Easter break at all?) when you can tap into your own innovation and start to imagine a post-Covid world and how this might look different. On your own – be it in your head or doodling – you can rip up the rule book all you want and the world really is your oyster. This in itself is motivating and helps provide a lift to most.
- Decisions, decisions….: Most of you will have made some tough decisions already ( furlough, redundancy and cost cutting to name a few) and there are a few ones which will come from external forces, but the decisions I refer to here are the ones which you can take yourself which will take you mentally forward once you’ve evaluated some of your ideas. Want to develop new products or services? Double down on your purpose or client group? Or change it completely? These are the ones which I see as the opportunity for the next few weeks. Most of you will have a strong degree of impatience at your core and won’t be content to sit and wait ‘and see what happens’ , so can use the next few weeks to crystallize your decision making about the direction of your business.
In the words of the late, great David Bowie: turn and face the strange 🙂
We definitely can’t predict when this will end, but we can definitely be here to support you through it. For any help you need – or even if it’s just a chat you’re after – drop us a line via email@example.com or call 0207 627 7048.