The year 2020 has been a lot of things.
It’s a Leap Year in the Gregorian Calendar.
It’s the Year of the Rat in the Chinese Calendar.
It’s the only year you’ll probably live through where the first two digits of the year match the last two digits (unless you are born this year and live until you are 101. Here’s hoping!)
For most, 2020 has been the Year of the Crisis.
Just a few examples:
The worst pandemic in 100 years has infected tens of millions of people and killed hundreds of thousands worldwide.
Healthcare workers are being tested like never before with droves of sick straining systems to the breaking point.
The worldwide economy has been brought to its knees with unemployment at its highest mark since The Great Depression of the 1930s.
The worst wildfires on record rage across North America while the strongest hurricanes on record pound seaboards and gulf coasts.
Children are learning from home or entering schools with trepidation as the pandemic rages with no cure yet available.
Teachers and school staff, afraid for their health, are reluctant to return to the classroom.
Entire seasons of amateur and professional sports are being canceled.
So much of everyday life is in crisis in 2020 it is hard to know where to begin, so let’s start with the word itself:
cri·sis | \ ˈkrī-səs \
plural crises\ ˈkrī-ˌsēz
1a: the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever
b: a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function
c: an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person's life, ie: a midlife crisis
Does this sound like the year we are experiencing? Okay--let's get into the solution:
Societal crises are often perfect metaphors for trouble within a business or an organization. Oftentimes they are related. There are different phases of a crisis, so let's break it down.
HERO PHASE: You don’t know how you’ll react to a crisis until it hits, and we are always moved by the first responders, those who instinctively jump in to help and protect people. There are always heroes in a crisis, many more than our cynical selves would have predicted, and our faith in human nature is restored. For example: the organizational heroes who went to work transitioning entire school districts, organizations, and workforces to a remote environment. This was a huge push but the job got done by droves of technicians working tirelessly and, yes, heroically.
THE HONEYMOON: Adrenalin is running high. The world feels different. People unite during this phase of the crisis, a feeling of “we’re in this together” emerges and a feeling of “something good has to come of this” prevails.
DISILLUSIONMENT: Adrenalin is on the wane in this phase. Delays to solutions set in. Disagreements on how to proceed arise. “We’re in this together” begins to morph into “you don’t know what you’re talking about” and “every person for themself!” Then your wifi goes down. Your neighbor schedules a major house renovation. You’re in back to back Zoom meetings for ten hours until you don’t know where your butt ends and your chair begins. In one meeting your son saunters into the room shirtless and wearing boxers while you are presenting quarterly numbers. At the end of the day, you just want things back to the way they were!
RECONSTRUCTION: The steps to healing and recovery have been implemented. The “new-normal” begins to take shape. There have been winners and losers along the way. Discord is still in play. But our innate resilient human nature has again shown its true colors; we are getting the job done -- at home, on-line, in a mask, or other protective gear. We have risen to the occasion. But what about the emotional health of the individual, the family, the team? Has this aspect been neglected? Has the old way of living and working been mourned and properly put away or have you just been thrust blindly into the brave new world? Has isolation set in? Is anyone feeling lost or lonely as a result of the crisis? Has anyone been directly affected by sickness or death? The answer, most likely, is yes. Even organizational leaders who feel compelled to put on a stiff upper lip during a crisis are in turmoil due to downsizing, furloughs, and even the threat of going under—not to mention the stress of their own everyday lives.
Stories of pandemic hardship and suffering are turning up everywhere, across generations and cultures.
Kids are struggling. Distance learning is “boring.” The chances of getting distracted and falling behind are high. Technology problems are common. Feelings of isolation set in. Kids need each other.
Teachers are struggling. As of April 1, 2020, 1.6 billion children worldwide, 80% of all students, were suddenly not allowed to return to school. The task of teaching them remotely fell instantly to overwhelmed faculties and staff.
Parents and working adults are struggling. Working remotely has many of the same problems as distance learning, including learning how to prioritize on your own, working too much, feeling “out of the loop” and lonely, and managing personal anxiety about an uncertain future.
Seniors, the most vulnerable age group, have had to make pandemic related lifestyle changes. Those in nursing facilities and assisted living are suddenly isolated, trapped, unable to hug or be hugged by visiting family members communicating through the glass, often, sadly, dying alone.
Big companies are going bankrupt at a record pace. Small businesses, which account for more than half of international economic activity, are disappearing by the thousands. Of those still in operation, the rhythms of work-life, day in and day out, have been mostly lost, activities like: Casual conversations at a lunchroom table.
- Happy hour with the team after work.
- Birthday acknowledgments, baby showers, sporting pools.
- Walking with someone in to work or out to their car at the end of the day.
- The jokes and good-natured teasing.
- The in-person conferencing where you can actually read a person’s body language.
- A friendly smile when crossing paths.
- A handshake, a fist pump, a hug.
Are these things trivial? No, they are essential to social beings and that’s what we are. Without this personal connection, a hole exists in our lives. It needs to be filled in creative ways.
We’re in a time of crisis, the likes of which many of us have not seen in our lifetimes. In the United States, The National Alliance on Mental Illness Help-Line has seen a 65 percent increase in calls and emails since March 2020. Suicide rates have reached their highest levels in the past three decades.
But for every story of devastating hardship, there are examples of courage and fortitude. Times like these are when true Leadershift is needed.
True leaders understand that Leadershift is more than just getting the team together remotely. It’s more than talking through the crisis from everyone’s virtual office. Disruptive shifts require new actions and skills. Bear in mind that the sense of being part of something bigger than yourself, a sense of community, is one of the most important aspects of our lives. It’s a major component of happiness. It sounds cliché but it’s true: people need people. There is a good chance this sense of community has been lost to many and needs to be rebuilt. This is where leaders step up. Maybe you understand this but don’t know how or where to begin rebuilding the community.
Here are just a few social/emotional reconstruction ideas to get you started:
Virtual stretches and workouts
Question of the day
Group Chats (create separate breakout rooms for different topics!)
Themed dress days
Brainstorm with your team if it seems appropriate (expect a little pushback, change is hard).
Do not short shrift the team’s social and emotional needs. It’s one of the most important qualities of Leadershift, especially in a crisis! Your team needs it. We look to our leaders in times of crisis. Attention to the emotional needs of your team will pay dividends long afterward.
RENAISSANCE: Here is a simple tenet of human existence: sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. Crisis brings about change. The bigger the crisis, the greater the change. The year 2020 is our tipping point. It will go down in history as the beginning of a transformation. This is the only way forward, to embrace change. To transform. Aspects of our lives have been radically changed, never to return. Many people now working remotely will never return to a brick and mortar location. This is just one example. Nine-to-five workdays might be on their way to becoming quaint. Gridlock traffic as we’ve known it during “rush hour” may be a thing of the past. Other changes, safeguards, and cures to our current societal challenges will emerge, as well as technological advances that continue at breakneck speed. What lessons can businesses and organizations take away from today’s big challenges?
There is a lot to study in this year of crisis and much to discuss. It feels frightening and uncomfortable. In some instances, it has been tragic. The only way to deal with a crisis is to accept it. Embrace it. Lean into it. Know that there is, ultimately, an upside: the opportunity to change and grow. We’ll be a stronger society one day.
You’ll be a stronger organization.
Your new set of Remote Leadershift skills will make you a better leader.
True transformation is never easy, always worth it. It’s the only way forward.
Stay safe and thrive.