Back to the Workplace
Over the last year and a half there is no doubt that your workforce has gone through a rollercoaster of emotions trying to deal with all that a world stuck in the middle of a pandemic has thrown at them. Some will have sailed through it and loved the freedom that working from home has allowed them, but others will have struggled and are still struggling and really can’t see an end to it all, even if the plan is for us to start going back soon.
Take Nadiya and Arjun who are both working parents. Their normal work/life routine has been thrown into a spin once again. Not only trying to work from home with just a kitchen table for a desk, but also from the added stress and additional work that happens when they suddenly find themselves home schooling again because they’re kids have been sent home as their bubble needs to isolate. There’s the guilt that comes with trying to juggle the attention that they need to give to their children, along with wanting to be available for their colleagues or meeting a deadline. It was hard enough in both Lockdowns, but the novelty has worn off now for them and their colleagues.
Then there’s the worry that Sarah or Eddie, who both don’t have children, might think that Nadiya is skiving because she’s not picking up the team messages as soon as they have come in. However, that’s because Nadiya is dealing with an eight year old’s melt down over not being able to work out the bus top method in maths. What Sarah and Eddie are completely unaware of is that Nadiya is sitting at her laptop at 6am in the morning and Arjun works until midnight as they both try to cram a few hours of work in before and after their house wakes up or goes to sleep and their attention is pulled in all directions. As for worrying about their own relationships, well there really isn’t a spare minute in the day to think about that.
However, if Nadiya or Arjun actually spoke to Sarah or Eddie they’d find that their life isn’t so great either. Sarah and Eddie are normally the sociable people in their offices, always up for a quick chat in the office kitchen and stopping by your desk with the latest gossip or joke. They are the life and soul of team meetings and always out in the pub after work with anyone that wants to join them. Now their world was turned upside down last March, particularly for Sarah as she lives on her own in a tiny studio flat and went quite mad in both lockdowns being on her own without the daily chatter of the office since the world started remote working. That’s why she doesn’t stop talking in the team meetings as she doesn’t want them to end. She’s even missed the grumpy guy that she buys her coffee from each morning and vows to make him smile next time she goes back.
Eddie’s not too bad as he had his flat mate David to chat to, but David spends most of his spare time with his girlfriend, so it’s definitely not the same as hanging out with his colleagues in the bar after work. That’s why he is always messaging you as he’s desperate for the daily conversation. Suddenly the world that provided them with their daily routine and acted as a big safety blanket was taken away from them and their workdays just seemed endless, as they still haven’t learnt to switch off at the end of the day, as they no longer have the commute to and from work that provides a physical and emotional start and the end of their day. Who’d have thought that being crammed in behind smelly backpack guy on the 08.05 from Chelmsford would seem so appealing.
Also, don’t forget Julie, Ben, Margaret, and Phil who were all furloughed. Luckily, they still have their jobs, but that didn’t stop the spin cycle of emotions that they went through with their self confidence slowly been chipped away, as the self doubt snuck in under the door. Plus, there is absolutely no doubt that the niggling little voice in their head that feeds their insecurities needled away at them “Why did they pick me? Why was I put on furlough and the other half of the team were kept on?”, “Is it because I’m not very good at my job? “, “Does my boss not like me?”, “Will I remember how to do my job when I go back?”, “Will I be good enough?”, “What if they still make me redundant, what will I do next?” or “Do I actually want to be back, maybe now is the time for me to finally take that leap and retrain?” Those thoughts will probably never quite go away and will always be there waiting to bite again as soon as something else happens in the office.
Cynthia actually caught COVID-19, and although she wasn’t hospitalised was really ill and very scared. She had to isolate herself from the whole family spending long days and nights panicking that she was finding it hard to breath and worried that if she went to sleep, she might not wake up. The noise of her family’s life carrying on in the surrounding rooms and the worried hello’s and chats from outside her door to see if she was OK are what kept her sane and fighting. She has been through a trauma and although she has come out of it on the other side, she has spent a lot of time in her own thoughts and is still wondering whether she is on the right path in life and if she really does want to work in HR for the rest of her life.
Sadly, Bradley has had it worse of all, as one of his closest friends died of COVID-19 and he still doesn’t think that life is going to be the same again. His friend was only 45! They went through university together, were each other’s best men and have always cheered each other on in life and in work. He is missing his go to guy, the one he talks to when he’s got problems at work and needs a sounding board? He hasn’t got anyone to compete with to see who can get a seat on the board first? Bradley is still feeling lost and alone now in his work journey and doesn’t quite know what to do about it.
Nearly everyone in the workplace is going to have been affected one way or another from the last year and a half. Some of your teams will be feeling apprehensive, wondering how safe their jobs are. Others will be fretful and doubting their ability to do their job as they are not getting that daily encouragement from being in the office and worrying about what their work nemesis has been up to while they are all hidden away.
There is no doubt that everyone’s view of their old working ways will have changed. Some will definitely have developed an appreciation of it, but others will be reassessing
it. It would be of benefit to everyone to explore this and ask for help or offer it as a way to recharge everyone’s commitment and productivity perhaps through one to one or group coaching. Nadiya might not have been performing at her best whilst at home, but she’s normally your top salesperson. Cynthia is the best HR person you’ve had and keeps all the teams functioning at their best. Eddie might be the office joker, but he’s really good at bringing the team together. Just like repositioning that picture frame in your hall that is slightly off kilter, it is always good to do the same for ourselves. To realign mindsets and help them to rediscover their original drive and commitment.