Eileen Dooley is a principal and executive coach in the leadership practice of Odgers Berndtson, global executive search and leadership advisory firm.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us a lot about behaviours in a time of crisis. Whether in your organization, your community, nationally or globally, there are some key lessons emerging about how we treat one another when under stress.
In our communities, we’ve seen extremes of both bad and good.
The bad is the apparent instinct by some to hoard key supplies – like toilet paper or cleaning products – instead of making sure others can share the available supply. Images of overflowing shopping carts at your local bulk supply store have been shocking but aren’t unique to the current crisis. Think of other natural disasters that have occurred at home and abroad, and we’ll have seen the same sorts of things.
Those doing the hoarding (or worse, the marked-up reselling of supplies at extreme rates) should be ashamed, and it’s natural (and highly appropriate) that many retailers are now putting limits on such purchases.
The good, on the other hand, has been the relatively prompt response of people to adopt necessary social distancing, even at the expense of their immediate livelihoods. Not everyone works for a big company with the resources to try and weather the immediate storm, or the capacity to switch employees to remote working almost overnight. Other smaller offices and local businesses are needing to close, with inevitable impacts on employees who can’t work from home, or whose work has no “virtual” form.
Others are hopefully discovering that setting up employees for remote work really isn’t magic. There are so many affordable online collaboration tools available right now that it hopefully is a wiser decision to invest in technology and stay productive in a different way than to lay people off or suspend operations. Crises like this are often the source of great creativity and resilience.
We’ve also seen community spirit come to the forefront, with people singing to one another from balconies in Italy to keep up morale and social connections, for example. Or, here in places like Calgary, we’ve seen dedicated volunteers and organizations continuing to maintain contact with those who are vulnerable and can’t get out to stores to get their own supplies.
Corporate and community volunteers are, even as I write this, out delivering meals or groceries and making sure that vulnerable people have the support they need.
Within many of our companies, I’m heartened to see people making sure to stay connected. On St. Patrick’s Day, more than a few held small gatherings online to tip a pint in remote celebration, and I know of several more who are planning to have a social hour once a week online to just connect as colleagues.
As more emergency measures come into effect to enforce social distancing, such human efforts to connect and share perspectives seem even more important than ever.
Although it’s stressful for anyone with children school-aged or younger to suddenly be thrust into the conflicting roles of full-time remote worker and part-time caregiver or home school teacher (there have been a few detentions imposed over the past couple days, I’m sure), I likewise see many people rising to the challenges with humour and resilience.
Everyone is coping with the occasional interruptions into conference calls by needy children or barking dogs. It’s becoming a shared experience to check in on the other things we’re finding to do beyond streaming video and worrying about circumstances in isolation. Board games (even some played virtually with neighbours and friends), family walks and other healthy fresh-air exercise (with the right social distancing) are all ways to adapt and overcome.
A key behaviour to watch in this time is how leaders show up at all levels, both in companies and across wider society. We’re already seeing some leaders taking pay cuts to help ensure their employees stay employed, and many are spending countless hours figuring out how to do more with less while all of us try to ride out the current ambiguity of the crisis.
Helping employees stay hopeful and focused on the work at hand are all ways I’m seeing great leaders show up right now.
Above all, remember that our collective behaviours in a time of crisis define the quality of our generation. As one of the popular internet memes says, our grandparents had to survive a world war. We can survive a period of social distancing and a pandemic that will pass, and prove that we’re equally resilient.
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