Since the pandemic, we have all become very familiar with the acronym PPE, known as the personal protective equipment, used by our healthcare workers, first responders, and anybody else in contact with the general public. I invite you to look at that same acronym through a different lens. When I think about how the number of virtual workers has expanded due to the global health pandemic, I can’t help but to frame PPE as our psychological, physical, and emotional well-being. In short, PPE through this lens becomes our life preserver.
We’ve been battling a global pandemic since March. Think about that for a minute–for the last eight months our lives have been upended in such a way, no one can blame you for being tired. Here are five questions to ask as a check-in and check-up for you and your team.
- How is your tired showing up?
- Are the challenges of your role feeling even heavier lately?
- Do you simply daydream about giving up and moving to a remote island?
- Are you still swimming with no end in sight?
- Do you know where your life preserver is if you find yourself going under?
Virtual work conditions are ever changing–fluid. Sometimes it may seem we have lost the collaborative and empathetic edge we experience when we are in the same room with each other, like the human connection is not as strong. By now, you can probably attest the creeping effects of virtual work. Presenteeism syndrome has replaced the behavior of leaving the “office” after the boss. Our virtual “office doors” seem to never close. Many employees feel the obligation to be online and available as much as possible to prove they are working during the pandemic. What is really concerning, for some this includes Saturdays and Sundays. Although you may think you are getting a lot done, you are in fact less productive and are compromising your PPE, psychological, physical, and emotional well-being. How do you stay afloat?
Take Dip in a Swimming Pool
Life right now looks a lot like a community swimming pool where the lap lanes have been removed to allow for freedom of movement. We need this freedom to accompany work, family, and life happening in small spaces. The ability to have lunch with your family during the virtual school lunch break is nice. Maybe you’ve had to care for a loved one. Having them near, allowing you to continue to work while fitting in therapy and medications, is something your grateful for. I get it, but let’s be real, deep inside, you’re kind of missing the lunch group from the office. You haven’t gotten your hair cut in months because you usually slipped away to see your stylist between meetings. Now as a form of escaping your home life that has found a solid footing in your work life, you close the door, or put on headphones as a sign of you on a call and you keep grinding away later and later every day.
If you are like me and get your energy from others or just like the idea of connecting with real live humans, you are probably tired of the free form life too. I can’t tell you when you will be able to get back to the office environment that is not the kitchen table, but keep hope alive, that day is coming. In the meantime, while we wait for that day, let’s put those lane markers back in the pool. This will help bring back order and structure to your life, so you and those you’re working with, in and outside the home, know what to expect.
- Prioritize and revisit the necessity for meetings. When one must be done help manage expectations on content and availability.
- Create a fitness or mindfulness routine and stick to it. Let’s face it, we would all probably prefer to spend our money on travel than buying a brand-new post-pandemic wardrobe because nothing buttons up anymore.
- Trade your sweatpants or shorts for something with buttons: jeans, khakis, or dress pants.
- Establish, or reestablish, a self-care routine. It is a great way to check into yourself mentally.
It is important to take care of the inside and the outside of yourself. Doing this will help you mentally divide work, life, and self and bring respect to each of these areas. Everyone deserves disengagement time. Let the boundaries give you a sense of security knowing what is expected and the time you must do it in. You want to be ready when the pandemic is over. Leverage structure to maintain a more holistic you.
Let Go of the Lane
Maybe your work has remained consistently structured through the pandemic to the point of being untenable. Do you feel anxious having to navigate the lanes with each seeming to need you all at the same time? News stories are talking about people and teams who are doing better in the pandemic—why can’t that be you? What is keeping you from removing a couple of the barriers that are creating stress? There are a lot of reasons for this. So, ask yourself, is your PPE fitted properly. Is your psychological, physical, and emotional well-being aligned? You can give yourself an honest look when you consider the following:
- Is too much being expected of you?
- Are you expecting too much of your team?
- Has communication between team members changed during quarantine?
- Are third parties making communication about projects more challenging?
- Is the cohesion of your team slipping after months of not being in person?
It is entirely fair to have a “let’s get real candid” meeting with your team or individual team members to find out their needs. Empower them to openly communicate expectations with you, their coworkers, and outside partners so that they can get their work done. Reinserting the human connection into this virtual world is a great way to see where people are and to review your leadership effectiveness in a mostly virtual work environment. This is a great time to be show empathy for the new working condition by:
- Becoming adaptive to the intersection of works lives with home lives.
- Reducing the number of meetings and leverage collaborative spaces to keep a project moving or to gain inspiration from a different idea.
- Working with HR to create unique ways to help restore job satisfaction.
These are great ways to ensure you are transparent and intentional and willing to be step out of the box while operating with and through the challenges of virtual work.
Do You Need a Lake? How about an Ocean?
My wife introduced me to a saying, “You can’t boil the ocean!”. Every chance I get I share its sentiment. When you try to boil the ocean, you are essentially trying to do so much work that it has a negative effect on teams, clients, and outcomes. If you don’t take a step back and refocus, things are only going to get worse. Occasionally taking a step back means, focus on you first. This is a great time to reevaluate what is important to you. Where are you finding your joy? Are you being mindful, working to maintain the human connection, but you still aren’t feeling it—or maybe you enjoy these new waters (virtual work or more attention to other projects at home) more than you thought you would—is it time to consider changing your environment?
When looking at your needs, you may come to the realization that you need to get out of the pool all together. This is not an easy idea to grasp. You’ve spent a career, maybe a lifetime, working to be where you are. So many people are counting on you which can give you pause about this new awareness. Choosing to go in another direction does not have to mean closing doors. In fact, you may need the network you’re in now to launch yourself into your next steps!
Last year many of us would have embraced working from home or with a hybrid office schedule with open arms. Wish granted, many of us are finding we’re not as satisfied as we thought we’d be. When your guest bedroom and is covered with glitter, glue, and construction paper from the at-home classroom and is also your home office, it’s difficult to see the boundaries. Remote teams who are forced to collaborate differently, are feeling the frustration, too. As a leader, you are looked to for direction, like the light that illuminates a dark hallway. If, however, you’re not feeling up to the challenge, you are not going to be able to do your best. You deserve to enjoy your work. Leaders who like their work are usually the leaders who can inspire and influence great outcomes!
It is more important than ever that you are aware of your PPE, psychological, physical and emotional well-being. It’s your life preserver in these unchartered waters. Be mindful to identify the barriers of virtual work. Your leadership will be rewarded. And, most of all, you and your team will, ultimately, remain afloat.
- People need more fluidity in work and life to remain productive and whole.
- Psychological, physical, and emotional well-being are the life-preserving PPE of virtual work.
- Prioritize and revisit necessity. Consider out-of-the-box ideas and embrace changes that may mean big changes.
Do you need help aligning your PPE? Connect with me about coaching.