Look after yourself and others by focusing on head, heart and health.
This is by far the most important thing we can do, turning the challenge of surviving a global health scare into a more positive opportunity. All of us need to look after our “head”, meaning our mood and psychological health; our “heart”, which is our emotional intelligence, relationships and wider connections, as well as our sense of wellbeing and security; and also our physical health more generally.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Head. It should be relatively easy to read, learn, and organise your time (if it isn’t, then now is the time to practice). Set targets and goals and plan your day. Perhaps more significantly work at being positive: people are social creatures and not having others around can bring a sombre gloom that is hard to lift. So, speak with others via Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, telephone, or – in my case – by opening the window and hollering out to a neighbour.
- Heart. Crucially, helping others, accepting the limits of isolation and social distancing, improves mood, strengthens connection, develops energy and sustains a positive equilibrium. So, make sure you have helped at least one person today (and they don’t necessarily need to know, just do it).
A great emotion at this time is gratitude and it can help to reflect on three things:
- What three things am I grateful for today?
- What have I done to help someone else (that you didn’t have to do)?
- What has someone else done to help me?
- Health. This is personal and depends on age, aspiration and general health. So, here’s what an unfit 55-year old can do: ab crunches and sit-ups twice daily, table tennis at the kitchen table against the wall, hourly stretches, and a decent walk in the park or countryside (three miles is good) at least once a day. If you are younger than 55 then I think you can do more. Oh yes, drink water and avoid too many visits to the fridge.
Succeed as part of a virtual team
Virtual teamworking is a vital aspect of current work life and it will be here long after the pesky virus. Some tips to ensure success:
- Take time to check in with people. How are they feeling, where are they, what have they been doing that’s different? Don’t rush this at the start: it is important to take a little extra time to build a connection when working virtually.
- Be inclusive, results-oriented and set the agenda. It would be ironic indeed, though entirely plausible, if greater compassion, thoughtfulness, connection and respect – shown, for example, by more inclusive behaviour – were an outcome of isolation and virtual working resulting from a global pandemic.
- Create structured opportunities for people to engage early on. Do something that helps participants understand the problem you want them to solve – facts, data, an anecdote or story can help.
- Assign participants to a small group (two or three people) and ask them to take on a highly structured and brief task. This might be a question to resolve, a decision to make, an issue to address. The most effective virtual teams typically have fewer than 8 people.
- Enable people to communicate (Slack and Zoom are effective and popular) and ask teams to report back after 5 – 10 minutes.
- Build on the work that has been done, for example, take it further, integrate the work of different teams, or develop an action plan with assigned responsibilities as well as a clear vision and idea of success clearly in mind.
- Check that everyone is engaged with the task and has a sense of meaningful involvement. If not, participants will retreat into an observer role.
- Allow everyone to speak and check in regularly with team members – that’s the benefit of smaller teams.
- Be fair, reasonable and open, and remember to apply the drivers of trust. These are: Courage, Unselfishness, Fairness, Openness, Compassion, Respect, Dependability, Empathy, Visionary, Supportiveness.
Develop and challenge yourself
There has never been a better time to work on something you want to improve. A language, a relationship, a skill, or simply a broader perspective. I am a huge fan of the Aspen Institute’s Five Best Ideas a Day, a free email sent to subscribers at 12pm EST – see https://www.aspeninstitute.org/ideas/. It’s also turning out to be a great time to indulge in hobbies and wider interests – undiscovered and useful apps and websites, for example, as well as connecting with friends with whom I have fallen out of touch.
Organisation is the key to getting things done but new routines and unfamiliar working environments and conditions can be a challenge. They key is to hone the skill of organisation. Be methodical and organise your week, your day, yourself and your priorities and goals, team and colleagues, working environment (both physical and virtual / online).
Working from home, an environment that is comforting and familiar, can be a great opportunity to reflect on longer term issues and future priorities, and also to process, understand and learn from past events. Questions are a great help when reflecting, for example: what do you want to achieve in the short-term and longer term? What would you like to improve?
I may be wrong about this but I suspect that a few long-term outcomes will result from virtual working, notably: 1) a baby boom in 2021 (all those people working from home…), 2) career changes over the second part of 2020, 3) subtle shifts in the way we relate to each other, friends, family and foreigners, as well as work colleagues.
Have a buddy – someone you connect with regularly
I have two people that I speak with at least twice each day and more frequently on Slack and WhatsApp. One is a good personal friend, the other is a work colleague and friend, and together they manage to keep me amused, energised, productive, happy and healthy. This highlights two points: first, friends are essential when entering any form of isolation or dislocation from the normal way of working, and second, find out what works best for you.
These are my tips for working from home; your comments, additions and suggestions are very welcome!