The U.K.’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, delivers his Budget on Wednesday. (Photo by … [+]
Most attention during the pandemic has — understandably — focused on the death toll and hospitalizations of those hit by the virus. News outlets have also detailed the economic cost, which in the U.K. will likely be laid bare in the Budget on Wednesday, stemming to a large extent from supporting those who have been unable to work from home.
However, it needs to be remembered that — while not entirely immune from the effects of the disease — people forced to work from home have had problems of their own. True, these may pale besides sickness and a lack of money. But they are real all the same. As Tom Lavin, director of marketing operations in the London office of the global law firm White & Case, pointed out, people “were, if anything, busier” than before the pandemic. Being thrown into a way of working that many were not familiar with had led some to become frustrated that they were not performing at their best. The firm already had mental well-being programs in place, but when Lavin heard London Business School professor Lynda Gratton talking on the radio about resilience and productivity it was, he told a recent webinar hosted by Gratton’s Hot Spots Movement, “a light-bulb moment.”
What particularly struck Lavin was the importance of transitions — the shifts between people’s working and personal lives that, prior to the pandemic, typically just happened on the commute between home and office. Working from home and having to juggle a multitude of activities, ranging from home schooling children to carrying out household chores, meant that the number of transitions had multiplied, with resulting strains on the individuals concerned.
It is a problem familiar to Beatriz Sanz Saiz, Madrid-based data and analytics leader at EY Global Consulting. A single mother of three, she said she had to learn to manage her time so that she could lead her team effectively and still have the thinking time on which the success of her role depended. Admitting that at the start she tried to do everything, as it became clear that the restrictions would not go away quickly she learned to get help, through hiring somebody to school the children and creating time in her schedule for herself. “I got rid of all the internal stuff,” she says of the back-to-basics approach she took to establishing a new agenda with her personal assistant.
This need for a balance between energy-draining activities, such as solo work and Zoom meetings (which participants almost uniformly regard as more tiring than their face-to-face counterparts), and energy-building activities like team-building workshops and creative work is another important theme that the Hot Spots Movement has identified as a means for boosting resilience. A third theme is the need to maintain networks — both within and outside the organisation — that have been threatened by the pandemic and the trend towards isolation.
There is also general agreement that reaction to the restrictions associated with the pandemic differ according to individuals’ personalities and the type of work they do. Sanz Saiz says that the lockdown has been especially difficult for people in professional services firms since they typically enjoy moving between tasks and clients and do not like routine. “We need to stay curious and creative and we have to be more open-minded,” she adds.
At White & Case, Lavin’s colleague, Matthew Fuller, head of business development for the Americas and EMEA, adds that one of the key aspects of the pandemic has been the need to adapt to different phases — from the initial shock and crisis, though taking stock, looking to recovery only to be pushed back by the second wave and taking stock again and looking ahead to what the “new normal” might look like. In a global firm, different offices have been in different phases and that has had to be acknowledged.
Now, as the vaccination roll-out gathers pace, the return to office work is likely to take place at different rates, with people’s enthusiasm for going back to old routines dependent on their own circumstances. The result is that leaders have many more challenges ahead as they work out what the hybrid workplace will look like for organisations and individuals alike. Resilience will continue to be key.
I am a U.K.-based journalist with a longstanding interest in management. In a career dating back to the days before newsroom computers I have covered everything from