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Individual and Organisational Response in Times of Crisis – Talking about the COVID-19 Pandemic

I learnt while working in Health and Safety that in times of crisis great leaders advise to maintain business as usual practices. This is to keep some sense of normalcy. This means people don’t panic or suffer from undue stress – as we know this can decrease resilience and immunity.

There are big social changes in the world at the moment, such as no more call-to-prayer or public gatherings in Middle Eastern countries, closure of schools, longer delivery times for online groceries, more toys and electronic equipment being bought online worldwide to entertain the parents and kids, and more online communities now available for those in quarantine, including school and yoga classes. Our social media platforms have advertised a huge plethora of online courses that we can access while in isolation. We are relying on media to inform and keep us entertained while we watch as the world deals with the pressure of a pandemic. The media also has a big hand to play in the reaction we experience during these times, and so it’s important to understand what we are focusing on and paying attention to – things that make us panic, or things that fill us up.

At work there are more measures in place around working at home policies, and communications on the training and travel restrictions. There is preparation of personnel lists, and business continuity plans being tested. At the same time organisations are mindful of their external stakeholder and client’s reactions to the pandemic while keeping an eye on production. They are mindful of what needs to be done to align with shareholders. This is a time for more strategy, planning and policy development work that typically gets done during quieter times. So this can be a busy time. 

Of importance is what your leaders in the organization are communicating currently, and how you, as a leader, are dealing with the pandemic in your community. CEO’s and senior leaders with welfare for the employees at the heart of what they do indicates care for others, and really supports in showing people up as individuals with human struggles. Human resources can also be leveraged significantly (as business partners) at this time.

Within buildings there may be more nurse or healthcare facilities available which support in focusing individuals on their (and their families) health, and further develops the culture that health and wellness (including mental health) is extremely important. There is information available on what to do, what information to be aware of, and who to contact in times of crisis. These things really help align and build community and care. The information and technology teams are busy working on access for people at home and connecting teams virtually. It’s cool to experience how far we’ve come.

What else will organisations be forced to consider during this time, and what messages can they re-iterate during stressful times? What will be necessary in the aftermath for people to understand about themselves and the organization? It may have to be the message from leaders about people’s capacity to continue and endure difficulty at this time, and an appreciation for their commitment to the organization and the people around them, their vigilance and support.

There may also be more people around you that need someone to listen to and understand their concerns. I have experienced team members that need more phone calls and check-ins to reduce their worry and help them feel supported. It’s amazing our human need for connection with others. This is one of the reasons people are motivated to still come to work, for the comradery and spirit that all of us fundamentally need. I’m sure you’ve seen Italian communities singing from their balconies during times of crisis now, evident of the need to connect and uplift one another. It’s interesting to watch what an external force (like the virus) can do to people when faced with a common and life-threatening force. It seems to have enhanced the feelings of support that we feel we need and can give to others, and receive from others. It reminds me of the movie Arrival in which reaction to external and unfamiliar threats can lead to panic or demonstrate that our humanity (care and understanding) are what counts.

In our teams still at work (those in the building) there is far more of a community-minded feel, and people are showing a lot of humor (of the dark kind sometimes!) but are pulling together around the stories of strange-behaviours we hear, and care and concern for one another’s families or personal circumstances. “Cough cough’ jokes someone in the corner and smiles. And we all giggle. Humour is common when dealing with stress.

I hope that we all think more carefully about the needs of ourselves and others and extend our kindness and support. This really helps build communities and raise our consciousness as a race.

I’ve noted some key questions we can be asking as leaders and teams now. These are:

(for the business and work tasks)

What else (all eventualities) can I, and we plan for? 

How do we maintain focus on our performance as an organization? Who (of my stakeholders) do we need to be communicating to now more than ever to be in alignment with?

What items need to be fed to the leaders in an organization to understand? 

What aspects of work have we forgotten that we have time to plan and strategize for now?

What resources, departments and teams can be useful in supporting individuals at this time and how?

(for leaders heading teams)

What will truly allow people to feel supported?

What other show of support can we implement for individuals (at a local/team level) at this time?

When and how can I (and my team) display visible leadership?

What messages do people need to hear? And how can I (and my team) communicate these messages?

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