Cultural change – an unexpected side-effect of Covid-19

Working from home. 

Photo by Maya Maceka on Unsplash (Jewish News)
Working from home. Photo by Maya Maceka on Unsplash (Jewish News)

Who would have thought we could culturally move individual and organisational practice and behaviour 5 years in just 5 days?  In my leadership development work I’m often talking to organisations and people about their aspirations, visions for how people might ‘behave’ and work together as a way of achieving goals and this can often feel like the hardest element to make real progress on.

We hear often that change is hard, that people are resistant, that they move slowly, rebel and put barriers in our way.  I have seen individuals, teams and organisations work incredibly hard at change around me over the last week. 

From the smallest communal organisation to our incredible NHS, we have adopted new ways of working and adapted our behaviours. 

We have been agile in the fullest sense of the word.  So many organisations I know are meeting in smarter more focused ways.  One of my current favourite memes with the phrase “I guess now we’ll find out which meeting could have been an email” is really ringing true for me right now!  Teams are checking in, working cohesively to sharply focused smart goals, being really agile and creative in ways we haven’t seen before.

This unexpected side-effect of a global pandemic is something we can possibly be hopeful about.  I’m not going to expect us to only see the good in this and focus on what might be positive outcomes of a dreadfully tragic global issue but as individuals and teams we can have courage in not being afraid to see some good in our actions.

This sudden shift in behaviour and ways of working will come with its own health warning though.  This new behaviour is a skill.  Like all new skills, it can be tiring. 

We need to use different parts of our brain and bodies to work harder, things take longer to do initially. 

We go through stages of competence when adjusting our way of working.  From consciously doing to unconsciously doing. 

These significant changes in work and organisational/business plans can bring the opportunity for learning, development and ambition beyond any goals we could set ourselves.

They also bring pressure and exhaustion.  They bring uncertainty and worry.  None of us have experienced this before. 

None of us know what is ahead.  We’re all doing the best we can.  We should be confident in asking for help, in saying we don’t know how to do something.  Whether it’s setting up a zoom call or organising a crisis management plan.  Very few of us will have expected to deal with this in our working, let alone personal lives.  We’re all learning, let’s learn together. 

One initiative I’m proud to be part of is a JLC and Board of Deputies forum created to connect professional leaders in sharing, collaborating and learning to navigate challenges together at this time.  Working as a wider communal team pooling our resources brings skill and expertise beyond the reach of an individual organisation for the benefit of so many.

We also need to learn not just to manage our new skills but to filter our lives differently.  We need to manage the incoming media, offerings and balance of demands on us. 

Whether it’s having to go to 7 different shops just to fill a basic shopping list for those we love who are unwell, juggling the care, learning and development of our children whilst still carrying out our work, or isolating ourselves from those we love and care for to deliver vital services for the good of others as some of our heroic care workers and medical staff have. 

We need to be able to create our own boundaries in this new living environment.  To allow time for ourselves, our friends and our families that is actual time well spent. 

For many of us, our homes have become our entire world overnight. 

There isn’t necessarily our journey to or from school or work to process and unpack.  There’s less space, less time out.  We’re being contacted all the time, offered virtual this or that, being asked questions, being messaged or emailed during this time of flexible working beyond anything imaginable even a few weeks ago. 

Very little separation of spaces to define our roles. 

Very little boundaries in our living. 

This together with the emotional pressures we are all under could create a pressure cooker, a perfect recipe for implosion or explosion.

Let’s be kind to ourselves and those around us.  Let’s learn together how to manage this new way of living. 

One day at a time. 

Be considerate of the fact that we are all learning, all navigating and all unsure. 

Be proactive in our boundaries with those we work and live with for our own health and wellbeing.  This isn’t a 24 hour bug we have, it’s something that will have symptoms we will feel long after we recover from the initial period of adjustment. 

It’s something that will change us individually and collectively for the rest of our lives. 

Let’s pace ourselves and be ready to pass our batons on and receive batons from each other in this marathon.

About the Author
Michelle Janes is the Executive Director of Lead, a division of the Jewish Leadership Council.
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