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Let’s be realistic about working life in lockdown

As Sydney plunges into its two-week lockdown, and other regions around Australia nervously wonder if they may be next, plans are busily being reshuffled and for those of us who had returned to the office, WFH outfits are being dusted off.

But many will also be feeling that all-too-familiar sense of stress and anxiety creeping back.

How can we possibly meet pressing work deadlines, tune into the inevitable stream of zoom meetings, and generally juggle the demands of the working day while simultaneously supervising housebound young children?

Others may be worrying about looking after elderly family members or feeling the loss of their usual support networks or fearing for their business – or their jobs.

For many this will not be our first lockdown and familiarity may bring some confidence that we just need to push through, and all will be ok again soon.

But it is unsettling nevertheless and that’s why we need to remember some important lessons learnt during past lockdowns, and why all workplace leaders need to be realistic about life in lockdown. 

Lockdown lessons for leaders: 

  1. Staff are your greatest asset. Yes, there are deadlines to be met and targets to hit, but lockdowns are not business as usual. Remember that a lockdown may only last (hopefully) two weeks, but the mental health, fatigue and stress impacts can last much longer. Be realistic, listen and ensure you have the right support networks in place for your employees. 
  2. Some extra flexibility is needed right now – and that doesn’t just mean WFH. Empower your staff to work the way that works for them in their own unique situations, rather than whether they are 100 per cent online and present during set office hours.  
  3. Believe in your employees. Trust that they will continue to deliver to the best of their abilities. 
  4. Workplace culture must come to the fore. Encouraging a supportive, positive workplace culture is so important during uncertain times, helping unite and inspire your staff.  

But it’s important for managers to role model the culture they are trying to set. If you are working 12 hours a day during lockdown, your staff will wonder if that’s what they need to do too, and endless supportive and informative all-staff emails will not assure them otherwise. And sometimes it’s the small things that can make a big difference – consider whether you really need to set up zoom team ‘drinks’ at 5pm when your staff probably just want to sign off and tend to their children or go get their outdoor exercise before the sun sets.

Indeed, Governance Institute feels so strongly on the issue of culture, and how culture powers an organisation’s purpose, that we have set it as the overarching theme of our National Conference this year. This latest lockdown has served as a firm reminder about the importance of culture.

Let’s get through this lockdown with a realistic mindset. Let’s be kind to our staff – and ourselves. And if a giggling child with cabin fever – who would otherwise be at school holiday camp or at a friend’s house – suddenly bursts into your home office during an important zoom meeting – well, that’s all ok too.

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