resilience real-time podcast: episode 02
Working from home during COVID-19 – is it business as usual?
resilience real-time podcast: episode 02
Working from home during COVID-19 – is it business as usual?
COVID-19 has many of us grappling with high levels of doubt, rapid change in environments, conflicting advice and unpredictable outbreaks – all whilst working from home. Peta Sigley uncovers the reality of working from home as we adapt to a new normal.
Featuring: Peta Sigley
Host: Simon Cook
Production: Claire Taylor
Music: Josh Jones
A Springfox production. This is resilience real-time with Peta Sigley.
Hi, I am Simon Cook and welcome to resilience real-time with Peta Sigley.
In our first podcast we discussed what resilience is, and that even though some people see more resilient than others, everyone could learn how to be more resilient. As part of our podcast series, as well as a number of specific conversations around resilience, we will be looking at some of the direct impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on resilience.
In today's podcast, I'm going to be exploring with Peta one of those impacts and the challenges it brings for those working from home.
Hi Peta, thanks for joining me in this particularly current conversation.
Hi Simon. Great to be back
So, Peta, I suppose the first obvious question to ask you is, How have people's resilience levels been impacted by COVID-19?
So, I think it's really important to say, that resilience levels are the skills that we’ve built up, due to previous adversity and previous challenge. So people are drawing on the skills that they've had over time and been able to build up. And so we do know that people's responses will vary according to the experiences that they've had. What we also know, is that really resilient people – people who have been able to navigate lots of challenges, a degree of adversity, but who also proactively build skill around their own resilience, still have feelings of uncertainty. There’s high levels of doubt, particularly when the platform, the environment that we're living in, is changing so quickly. The advice is changing. There are continued outbreaks, all be it small or larger outbreaks. And with that comes a level of anxiety. So it's not that we actually have these thoughts, in terms of self-doubt or worry or anxiety. What we know is that resilient people are able to really quickly pivot and change the way that they're thinking, so this concept of bouncing back.
Ah, that’s really interesting. What I am hearing though, is that people feel like they got so much more work to do, but don't feel like there anywhere near as productive as they've been in the past. Would you say that that's a normal reaction to this circumstance?
Good question. What we do know from our own research, is that the COVID environment has seen workloads for many, many people actually increase, and quite significantly.
If you look at our teachers. They have had to rewrite a curriculum to be able to deliver into a digital format, digital platform and to be able to achieve learning outcomes for the students in their care. So not only is it about looking at different ways of presenting and facilitating that learning, but they're also coming up to speed with the technology itself. And it’s not the only industry that’s done that. For a lot of the industries they’ve had to pivot the focus of their work for their client. So in terms of financial services, there’s now a lot of businesses under financial pressure. Some of them won’t recover from that. And so that advisory service - the accounting frameworks that people have been operating on in terms of successful businesses, and where their advice might have been, that’s certainly shifted as well.
So COVID has certainly brought with it a huge level of workload, and with that an associated level of stress. But interestingly enough, the thing that really comes out in the research, is that whilst the workload is increased, productivity hasn't necessarily done so. Which is really interesting. And so we hear that people are filling their days with busyness, and the hours that they are working has increased, but they're not actually feeling as though they're getting things completed, or getting to the level of detail, or the amount of work done, in what they would have done previously pre-COVID. I think is a good way to look at it.
So that’s true and the productivity isn’t quite where it was before?
Productivity is not there. And there’s lots of reasons why that's happening. Most of us have now certainly heard the term of Zoom fatigue. What we find, is that a lot of people still don't understand why that is happening. And part of it is the timing of those meetings. People going back to back to back, without very much recovery at all. The sheer amount of time spent in front of a camera, is actually quite depleting. So, in terms of the cognitive load on an individual, what we know is that we're trying to read subconsciously, lots and lots of nonverbal cues coming at us. So all those little micro expressions. And typically in our day we focus on one individual. Now we are looking at screens with some 20 faces or more. And we are trying still, from a human perspective, to process all those non-verbal cues and that is really depleting. So that’s a high glucose burn activity, in terms of processing stuff, and so we know that that also leads to fatigue. So there's a couple of things happening - our physiological response, the sheer timing of events and the volume of events, and also the fact that we're not getting the level of connection that we would normally get in a working environment. So people are also being compromised, I suppose, in terms of productivity around not having those constant rewards coming through.
Interestingly, there's a little green light on the camera, but I can't help it looking at the eyes of the person who's speaking. So I’m never quite sure where I'm supposed to look. The other thing, I feel is, I'm being at home, and I know I feel like my days are starting to merge into one, and I'm feeling like I'm on the clock all the time. Is that also a common reaction to working from home Peta?
Yes it is. And as with any event or something like a pandemic, or any new development. And as language develops, we start to get new terms and coin new phrases. And one of the ones that has come out of COVID-19, is this concept of “blur days”, and what we hear in the research not only in terms of our own research, but the research of many other great researchers and organisations who are focusing on COVID-19, is this lack of distinction between work at home. So people are feeling like they're always on, and there's no clear distinction as to when work starts and when work finishes. And we are losing some of the anchor points in our day that guide us through, in terms of routine as to where we're up to. In terms of, OK, I'm now in this space, and this is how I react and this is how I behave and these are the expectations around what's required of me. I was just on a call yesterday with a client, and out of the background I hear this pleading, “mummy, mummy I’m begging you.” And this lady is still trying to have a business conversation. And I said, “Oh, you’re being begged for something.” And she said, “Yes, it’s my phone.”
So being able to pivot from a very serious business conversation, and being still in that very corporate mode of the way that we operate, and the expectation that people have of us, the expectation that we have of ourselves. And having to pivot so quickly to a home environment and to the needs of a small child who doesn't care whether you're talking to the CEO of an organisation, or a high powered client, or their grand-mother for that matter. It’s all one in the same. That pressing need, needs to be felt and addressed for that particular individual. So that blurring happens all the time, within the COVID environment.
We also know that part of that blurring is coming from, a disconnect from what leaders think is around connecting, and letting staff know that they're interested, that the open door policy is still there, and that this checking in is around well-being. Some staff are interpreting that as scrutiny, and that they need to be ever present near the computer, to be seen to be doing something, just in case that boss checks in.
Now that's really interesting. Peta thinking about the prolonged period of lock down in Victoria. I wonder what you think people are feeling and even what they should be feeling? How do you feel that is impacting individuals’ resilience?
When it comes to emotions, it's the one topic that we don’t tend to do a lot of work on. There are specialists in the fields around emotions, but for everyday people, it's not something that we talk about, particularly in the professional context. And we don't even tend to really accurately, or broadly name our own emotions, and sit with those and process those. So, the first thing I would say, it is really important to acknowledge that all emotions are valid. The concept of “how we should feel”, or “how we must feel”, I really like us to step away from that a little bit. And just to acknowledge that our emotions are data points for what's going on for us, within our environment. So, we have seen a range of emotions, and we have noticed that in the research, that's the levels of the worrying and anxiety shift very quickly for some individuals, yet become more heightened as time goes on. So it is really quite common, to see that people who would normally be upbeat, seeing periods of sadness - they may even find themselves weeping, for no apparent reason that they can articulate. They understand what's happening, they understand the procedures around keeping safe, and the protocols, and are doing all that, and know that we will still come out of this. Yet they are still experiencing sadness, worry, doubt. And that can be triggered from any number of things. The latest figures being reported, particularly if they're going up and not coming down, as one would hope and expect. We also see that when Iockdown periods are continuing to be extended. Hearing that maybe the borders won't be open until Christmas. We are starting to trigger emotions and responses, that talk to different aspects of life. So not only is my day looking different - I'm not working the way that I would normally like to work, or I’m not seeing the people that I normally like to spend time with. Even the occasional catch up for coffee with a work colleague. We’re now starting to talk about the impacts on family life. Not being able to spend time with extended family over Christmas. Or that summer holiday with a group of friends that you normally would spend time with. And as time goes on, things are happening in peoples’ lives. Things like the birth of a child, someone passing away. The real prospect that maybe a parent will be spending Christmas on their own for the first time, in 60, 70, 80 years and really worrying what that would look like? So emotions are going to be quite different, and at times intense, or even volatile for individuals as we go through this period.
I think that’s a really great point. I guess that not everyone's living in Victoria either Peta. And although different states are in different and possibly even better places, they’re still having to work really hard at containing the virus and looking at those news headlines. Do you think the feeling are consistent and the impact will be the same in those states, or will people be feeling something different?
Look, it is an interesting concept, and I'm wondering whether you're asking me that sitting in beautiful Queensland?
I might be – yes.
I think it is important to acknowledge that it is a level of awareness, empathy, concern, for what's happening in Victoria. Also, probably a little bit of fear as we hear about cases transcending across borders, despite lockdown. And I think there can also be a little bit of guilt associated with that. People I know don't want to talk about the holiday that they’re about to have, going camping and being able to move around freely. Or there’s sort of an uncertain or an uneasy laugh, that goes with that conversation. Or people actually avoid that conversation. And then of course there is a level of distance to that. So again there’s probably no one real response to that. But I would think, and from what I know from our interactions, with lots of peoples and lots of different levels, is that there is certainly a healthy level of empathy and concern. Genuine concern for what's going on. And not only for what is happening in Victoria, but within their home states as well.
Yeah, certainly I feel a certain amount of those feelings when I'm having conversations with my interstate colleagues, around my freedom of movement. But again, as you say, there's a bit of guilt and a bit of fear mixed in to that too. I think what I heard from that, around feelings, is that you take whatever feelings you are having, and they're real. As long as you don't really get stuck in them. So, to extend that then, your feelings and soft skills, I'm interested in your views of a soft skills and how you can maintain creativity, collaboration and teamwork. Because we’re all working from home mostly now. So what is that like in a remote working environment?
So probably the first thing to really acknowledge. And I don’t know whether this has been done consistently, because it's certainly not what I'm hearing when I'm working with people? Is not to think that business is normal - we just continue the way we did in the office. And to acknowledge that we need to pivot and pivot quickly. I think initially there was some acknowledgement and recognition of that. But I think the reality of working remotely has lost a little bit of its focus. So, you know - building in recovery. Not having those meetings back to back, as I spoke about earlier. Acknowledging the fact that even a slight delay in our communication via a zoom meeting or Google Hangouts or MSTeams, regardless of the platform. Interestingly enough, the brain will start to interpret that people aren’t interested, people are distracted, maybe I’m boring, I’m not important. And whilst we don’t necessarily consciously think that, subconsciously that’s some of the stuff that we're going through. Because the brain loves drama and in terms of survival mechanisms we always look for what is wrong.
So, working collaboratively and in terms of team work, it’s really about mixing things up. Acknowledging the fact that at times we need to turn the screen off. People need to disconnect from the sheer volume of stimulus coming at them. We need to look at working across teams so that we are getting an understanding of the difficulties, but also the strengths that teams are bringing to our current situation. And really starting to think of new ways of doing things, so that creatively we are thinking about what else is possible.
I certainly buy into, “the brain loves drama” - mine certainly does. There’s a lot to think about isn’t there. I mean, I guess the one final question, as we bring this podcast to a close would be. What would be your one piece of advice for all of us during these challenging times?
If I really had to sum it up in a sentence, I think it really needs to be around a couple of keys concepts. Go gently. And when I say that I mean be kind to yourself. Stop hanging to expectations that you had pre-COVID. Also the expectations of what other people are doing, and therefore that's what you should be doing. So remembering that, this is not going to be the end. That we will be continuing to move forward. It may take some time and that marking time for some of us, is going to be difficult. But being able to pivot, to reframe, to keep looking forward and thinking really again in terms of that creative space – what else is possible. And what else? And what else? So hopefully, if we give ourselves permission to just be, that will help us move through this a little bit more gently.
Thanks, Peta. That's fantastic advice. And I've certainly taking a lot out the information you’ve shared today. I think knowing that whatever you're feeling, is not only normal, but there are real actions that you can take to invest in your resilience. And being gentle with yourself and stepping gently, to navigate through these challenging times, is brilliant.
Thanks so much Simon. I really appreciated the time talking.
Well, I look forward to our next podcast, where Peta will be discussing the concept of bounce. Until then keep well.
This is a Springfox production. Hosted by me Simon Cook. Edited by Claire Taylor. Music written, composed and produced by Josh Jones. Tune in next time wherever you find your podcasts. Or check out our website Springfox.com. Don't forget to like and subscribe to help others find this podcast.