From the perspective of ecosystems, biodiversity, and resilience, Covid-19 is a gift that no one expected. We have once in a century opportunity for creative leadership.
This camera trap photo at dam in the Timbavati (Greater Kruger), overlays the action. A leopard with two cubs, hyena bloated with an evening feast, porcupine, dwarf mongoose, baboons and spurfowl.
World-wide, the consuming monster of humanity has retreated. As 4.5 billion humans are restrained, nature is flourishing and demonstrating incredible resilience. Many have advocated, suffered, and prayed for this reality.
In our gardens, birdlife is noisy. Swans, dolphins, fish and birds are returning to our waterways. Sea-life is on the brink of a massiverecovery. The skies are clear, pollution has dropped to levels that are saving millions of lives – countless billions if we consider our fellow species.
While human leadership presses for consumption and economic growth, we have been granted a precious opportunity to pause, reflect and respond with wisdom.
The biological resilience on full display around us, is good for us too. Our suburbs are quiet and clean. Traffic jams, manic flying and endless meetings have dropped away. We have precious time with loved ones. We can read, reflect and initiate a more contemplative path.
Yes, many are frustrated, lonely and afraid. What a good time to learn about and practice the innumerable resilience skills that we have not found time for – walk, breathe, stretch, sleep, read and debate. Rather than wailing and gnashing about mental health, perhaps we can appreciate, relax and allow recovery to take place. The very insanity you long for, is the cause of most suffering.
Environmentalists, biologists and physicians have begged the world for exactly what this media-hyped pandemic has delivered. Where have their voices gone? We should be celebrating, sharing and redoubling our resolve to lean into more sustainable solutions.
The Covid-19 pandemic is challenging us, but in comparison to the annual cost of preventable deaths, it does not rank in the top 20 for this year.
We will save and enrich many more lives, by grasping this opportunity to bring restraint, wisdom and deliberate stewardship to our planet.
Re-imagine your life
Relax, look around, be curious, and apply creative optimism
Take this opportunity to become a better version of yourself
Treasure your loved ones and make time to deepen connections
Celebrate and support the resilience of nature
Re-imagine your lifestyle
Get rid of a gas-guzzling car or switch to an electric vehicle
Maybe you might consider solar power
Do you really need all that junk-food, drunkenness and revelry?
Commit to and lock-down your new daily practices
Re-imagine your career or work
Could you work from home more often?
What about testing the calling you feel?
How could you collaborate more widely through digital?
What might you do more actively in your local community?
Is this an opportunity for a family business?
As always, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) times call for leadership. We know that pandemics, economies, politics and society are complex systems that will interact in unpredictable and chaotic ways. Leadership is already severely tested. Few political systems have the balance of authority, responsibility and freedom to ride this black swan.
Thus, we find ourselves in dogmatic short-term manoeuvring and grand-standing. For the real leaders, this is the opportunity of the century.
Congratulations to Macron for suggesting that we call a global ceasefire. The world could unite against the greed-fuelled violence that always punishes the poor. If the major powers agree to stop supplying, funding and stoking conflict, developing economies may recover.
Leaders and political systems get rich on weapons manufacture. Let’s call it. Enough!
If ever, leaders were to nudge our transition to clean power it is now. Oil demand has collapsed. High tech, clean energy is ripe to mature and replace fossil fuels. We could tax fossil fuels and incentivise clean power.
Leaders and political systems thrive on oil. Enough!
We are on the threshold of smart work and intelligent lifestyles. Virtual platforms and real-time global transactions could massively reduce travel. We know and can track the key lifestyle factors that help us thrive. Cars, late nights, flights, substance abuse and sloth could be constrained. Home-based offices and community centric work and recreation will expand. Smarter life at lower cost is already in play.
Leaders and political systems do thrive on excess and impulse. Enough!
We must protect the planet from ourselves. Some regions respect and treasure nature. Most exploit whatever they can. This Covid-19 pause is the perfect opportunity to stop waging war on nature. Might we co-operate to protect critical ecosystems and crush the scourge of forest burning, water pollution, wild-life trade and over-fishing. Ecotourism is the perfect opportunity for biodiversity, climate hedging and economic activity.
Rise up young leaders. Enough of pale and male dinosaurs. Where are the young people? Where are the female leaders? Where is your voice Greta? Jacinda? Erna? Katrin? Sanna? Reader?
If you fail to take this opportunity to re-imagine our world and our lives, you are abdicating to a century of regret.
Step up and lead. Many of us are ready to help you.
The stark reality of Covid-19 and its economic consequences are sinking in. This week, most opinions predict, will be hard. The health and life impact flashes red on our screens daily. Little evidence of containment is detectable. The world economy has slowed. Unemployment is soaring. Our lives have lost rhythm. Uncertainty and fear will rise. Anger and depression will surface. Rapid, skilled bounce is required.
Part 1laid out the basics of caring for yourself and your loved ones.Part 2urged for calm engagement and decisiveness. We must acknowledge and master freeze (sad/withdrawal), anger (fight) and fear (flight) reactions.
Here, I want to focus on bounce. McKinsey & Co (2020) advocate fiveleadership phases: resolve, resilience, return, reimagination and reform. It is the first two that are in focus here. In summary:
It is normal and natural for resilience to fail
Mental health challenges have already tested society
Crises can accelerate and compound resilience failure
Bounce is normal and natural – it will happen
Shock, denial, bargaining and anger slow the bounce response
Bounce accelerates when we confront reality with honesty and humility
Bounce can be a deliberate and disciplined process of action
Bounce Practice 1: Know how resilience fails
Confront reality, acknowledge concerns and feelings. Recovery starts with you. If you are calm and engaged, you will be able to support others.
Bounce Practice 2: Enforce routine/daily disciplines
Working virtually with leaders through last week, one common experience presented. Testing their daily routines, it became abundantly clear that their routines were chaotic. Working from home, you might expect we have more control. Not true.
Sleep timing was disrupted. Exercise routines were dropped. Meditation and prayer (not all) had stopped. Meal times were irregular. Webinars and team calls had become continuous. Many hunched over calls in the early morning and night. There was scant rejuvenation time between calls.
If you have not already redesigned your daily routines, do it now. This is the perfect time to reflect deeply on what you need to do each day to be the best version of yourself.
Sleep well: at least 7 hours, regular wake up and sleep time, good quality
Exercise every day: secure at least 20 minutes aerobic activity out in nature if possible
Stretch, practice yoga and breathe deliberately every morning
Agree regular meal times; eat well and connect with loved ones
Lock in recovery after every call/webinar; minimum 10 minutes
Make time to relax, read and enjoy a movie
Bounce Practice 3: Maintain your presence
Reality check your physical presence. Notice the stubble, the grey (or dark) roots emerging, neglected hair, dirty t-shirt or slumped shoulders. Without the daily trek into social circuits, you may neglect yourself. At very least, do what you can to present yourself to your mirror each morning. Your family will notice. Your colleagues will see it on webinars. Sit upright and alert or stand through calls and webinars. Most importantly, you will feel better.
Bounce Practice 4: Establish connection rhythms
Prepare well for each connection. Be calm, respectful and gently optimistic. If you are part of a team, try to connect daily by phone or visually. Remember your friends. We have started a regular evening connection with close friends on various platforms. Consider a daily walk with a loved one. Take time to treasure the rebound of nature. Our bird-bath has become a daily joy.
Bounce Practice 5: Work structure and discipline
While many are stretched, others are searching for things to do. Take a good, hard look at your work structure. Use your diary and schedule carefully. Discipline mindless media surfing. Be firm with meeting times. Diarise preparation and recovery time around calls. When you engage in a call, proposal or communication do it with 100% focus for a defined period. Drive for finished product or outcomes. Acknowledge and celebrate them.
Over the next two weeks, your Bounce must be your primary concern. Economic reality will sink in and we will all be impacted. The slowdown will continue and the challenges of restarting businesses, services, jobs and income will come into focus.
Remember there is no ‘bounce back’, only ‘bounce forward’. Post traumatic growth is more common than post traumatic stress (77% of cases). Bounce draws on creativity, resolve and new meaning. Expect and prepare for a new reality. It might be a significant improvement.
Use the Bounce framework to assess yourself daily. Commit to deliberate daily practices as above.
Over the past decade, flexible working arrangements have become standard practice around the world. Indeed, some distributed teams and freelancers of the gig economy may never actually meet their colleagues in person. For many organisations, it makes sense to allow office staff to telecommute. The arrangement saves money, reduces transit time and carbon footprint, increasesmillennial engagementand supports diversity. Gallup revealed that54% of office workerssay they’d leave their job for one that offers flexible work time.
Working from home – but not by choice
Flexible working may once have been considered a perk but the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in what some have labelled theworld’s biggest work from home experiment, forcing thousands of employees to work remotely if their job allows for it. Immediately after the outbreak, an estimated 60 million Chinese workers were placed under full or partial lockdown. As COVID-19 spread, organisations across South East Asia, then Italy and the USA implemented emergency remote working arrangements. Some employees are allowed into the office on roster, while others are being asked to work from home until further notice. Companies including Twitter, Google, Amazon and Apple haverestricted employee traveland requested people stay at home where possible.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, is a proponent of remote working and optimistic about the shift.
This may be simple for a tech company with a young workforce, equipped with modern laptops and robust cloud infrastructure. But many organisations have been caught off guard. They have no business continuity plan for a suddenly distributed workforce. Most production lines can’t function without human labour and, as a result, China’s manufacturing production has fallen torecord lows. Global supply chains have been seriously impacted and, with demand waning, the global economy is slowing, possiblytowards a recession.
For security reasons, many jobs can’t be easily shifted to a remote arrangement. Miltary and banking are two obvious areas. Nevertheless, COVID-19 is going to trigger experiments that will test human, technological and organisational resilience and ingenuity.
Remote working to maintain productivity
Countries like Singapore are less vulnerable than many others. Flexible working arrangementsare commonplaceand have made it possible for top talent to deliberately balance their careers with lifestyle. Companies like Dell are also prepared, having initiatedworkplace transformationprograms back in 2009.
Organisations of the future will be looking at these examples of flexible working success and reimagining business continuity. What happens in a future where COVID-19 is but one of many threats, ranging from virus to terror, climate to political unrest? Could your organisation continue operations if the office was shut down? Is your technology infrastructure capable of handling the shift? Can your managers lead remotely? Perhaps, most importantly, are employees equipped to deal with the challenges of being physically isolated, potentially for long periods of time?
Remote working is not a new idea
Opportunities for remote working haveincreased dramaticallysince the advent of the internet. Those with specific skills can live productive – even nomadic – lives equipped with just a laptop and wi-fi.
Working from the bedroom (or beach) is a dream for many but the reality may present a shock. Some people thrive in their own space, operating without the distractions inherent in the modern, open-plan office. AChinese remote working studyshowed that employees were 13% more productive at home, mainly due to the quieter environment. As you may expect, they also requested less sick days. Think about our ancestors: we evolved hunting and gathering in small, close-knit groups. In the evenings the tribe would gather and tell stories around the fire, then rest and repeat at sunrise. Public transport, open-plan offices and densely populated cities are not our natural environment. A home in the suburbs might not be such a bad place to work after all.
In reality, however, most home environments are not optimised for serious productivity. There may be family members present during the day or no suitable area available for work. The dining room table is fine for the occasional email but video conferencing won’t work if there are toddlers crying in the background. The boundaries between work and home can easily blur and many employees will find themselves working late, suffering disrupted sleep routines, experiencing resentment from partners and kids, and feeling lonely.
Companies need to lead the way
Governments are understandably focused on the medical implications of a pandemic like COVID-19. Organisations will need to lead the way in terms of securing productivity and supporting the livelihood of those in their care during turbulent times.
McKinsey’s report,COVID-19: Implications for business, states, “Protect your employees. The COVID-19 crisis has been emotionally challenging for many people, changing day-to-day life in unprecedented ways. For companies, business as usual is not an option. They can start by drawing up and executing a plan to support employees that is consistent with the most conservative guidelines that might apply and has trigger points for policy changes. Some companies are actively benchmarking their efforts against others to determine the right policies and levels of support for their people. Leaders must communicate with employees with the right level of specificity and frequency.”
At the Resilience Institute, we work with organisations around the globe to provide assessment and training – oftendelivered digitally– that equips individuals with action plans to improve their resilience and leaders with insights on how best to look after their people in times of crisis. Reporting on 60 factors of resilience we believe the future lies in providing targeted, relevant support, at the right time, wherever employees might be.
As such, we have prepared the following guide to help organisations equip their teams and leaders for success.
10 Tips for Remote Working Success
1. Set up a dedicated workspace
Employers are probably aware that most employees work from home even if they have not signed a flexible working arrangement. Areport by Fortunereveals that 68% of people check work email before 8 am, 50% check it while in bed, 57% check on family outings, and 38% regularly check at the dinner table.
If we expect employees to be productive in the home environment it is necessary for them to create boundaries, both physical and time. Most organisations will be unable to ship standing desks to every staff member’s home but some simple tips will improve safety and wellbeing.
Considering that staff will primarily be using laptops it is important that they learnoptimal postureand take regular breaks. If budgets allow, companies may choose to ship a laptop stand plus external keyboard and mouse to each employee who is working from home.
To assist with focus in a potentially noisy environment, employees might choose to wear noise-cancelling headphones. For those in sales roles where client interaction will be required it is worthwhile investing in quality USB headsets that transmit and receive clear sound.
Encourage employees to blur their background if necessary during video calls (Skype has a setting for this) and to use an appropriate lighting source if client communication is necessary. A small, clip-onLED ring lightcan provide excellent illumination for a few dollars.
2. Encourage communication
Many employees enjoy the social aspect of work. Being suddenly isolated can result in feelings of loneliness. Motivation may decrease.
Use group conversations to stimulate formal and informal communication. Consider a “virtual watercooler” where employees can discuss a range of topics. Create a thread called “Working from Home” so people can share anecdotes, tips and success stories.
Encourage video calls whenever possible. Being able to view faces will reduce ambiguity and build a sense of connection. Equip employees with some guidelines around video call best practice, especially those who may be new to the technology.
For calls with large groups, nominate a conversation facilitator who ensures each person has an opportunity to contribute. Some people may interrupt or speak out of turn so create some protocols for group call etiquette.
Keep virtual meetings short. People will often multitask (that’s why having cameras on is useful) and they’ll almost certainly zone out of anything beyond an hour. Allow rest breaks for meetings longer than an hour.
Don’t see COVID-19 as an excuse to roll out more systems and software. Starting a Slack board may seem cool but how distracted are your employees already? Can you make use of existing tools, like Yammer, Skype, Hangouts or Sharepoint?
Encourage employees to have virtual coffee breaks where they can openly discuss non-work topics. Using technology effectively can help maintain and even build company culture. It will be integral to human success in a physically disconnected future.
3. Be empathetic
Employees will be working from the sanctuary of their home space and this brings with it all kinds of challenges, from theWhite Tennis Shoe Syndrome(finding any distraction more appealing than the current task) to the lure of the fridge, to kids who also happen to be locked down at home.
While running remote working experiments you’ll connect with employees who’ve just woken up after a rough night. You’ll hear screaming in the background. Some people will be hyperproductive (take note) and some will be wallowing in procrastination and doubt. Managers are not immune to this – they may feel the pressure more than most.
Everyone responds differently to challenge so ask people how they’re doing and show them that you care. Emphasise the importance of the organisational mission and how much their contribution counts towards the greater goals.
Be really clear about performance objectives but allow space for adaptation to the new arrangement.
4. Create a culture of recognition
High-recognition companies have31% lower voluntary turnoverthan companies with poor recognition cultures. Use remote working as a way to encourage recognition, both peer-to-peer and from leaders.
A simple first step is saying thank you. The next step is public recognition. When teams are distributed geographically they miss the small wins – things that went well but don’t deserve a group email. Take the opportunity to recognise small wins by broadcasting daily or weekly group updates that are dedicated to good news, gratitude and success stories.
5. Hold virtual training sessions
When group workshops and conferences are impossible due to the risk of infection, employee training does not need to stop. Most training companies can offer webinar versions of their content, enabling employees to dial in remotely.
Tools likeZoomenable video meetings and webinars, with advanced functionality like chat and breakout rooms for one-on-one discussions. Zoom’s share price increased by 67% in 2020 withseveral large conferencesswitching to digital-only format.
Virtual summits and training sessions make sense, both environmentally and in terms of limiting the spread of viruses. They may not be quite as fun as a face-to-face event but they can certainly still be effective.
The Resilience Institute offers introductorywebinarsand deep-dives into specific areas including bounce, sleep, focus, emotional intelligence and high performance.
6. Encourage transparency
In times of crisis, transparency builds trust. From a team productivity perspective, shared task lists can help groups collaborate more efficiently. Tools like Trello (free), JIRA (paid) andMicrosoft Planner(included with Office 365) enable the quick creation of boards (projects), tasks and delegation.
Highly visual, shared boards become the central repository of work in progress and are much easier to manage than email. Leaders can quickly identify which employees need additional support, based on the number of tasks assigned and forthcoming deadlines.
Consider letting teams explore agile ways of working. You may discover an emergent workflow that forms the basis for future business continuity planning.
From the perspective of company communications, it is important that leaders maintain contact and share important updates as swiftly as possible. Crisis situations are an opportunity to strengthen relationships and practice real-time resilience. Transparent and authentic communication creates a foundation of workplace trust.
7. Offer virtual wellbeing training
Employees will take time to adapt to a completely new way of working. Some will take advantage of the extra time and go for walks or attend group fitness classes. Others may lack the motivation to get out of their pyjamas.
Working from home is an opportunity to save money and improve diet by preparing meals at home. Encourage employees to move throughout the day and provide them with resources to encourage mindfulness and calm. Promote healthy sleep habits and discourage working late.
Keep training sessions short and focused. Encourage the use of self-assessment tools to build personal insight.
The remote working experiment is an opportunity to develop high-performance habits, both individually and as a team. How about reserving the first 90 minutes in everyone’s diary for Flow State – the most important task/s for the day. After this, we share a collective break (meet at the virtual watercooler / Slack), then batch process emails and make video calls.
Some might schedule a second “flow zone” for the afternoon, followed by a break and time for recovery.
Bear in mind that some people will have kids arriving home in the afternoon, so they will compensate by working late. Be empathetic and discourage extremely late nights and weekends online. Leaders will need to model these behaviours because remote-working culture starts from the top.
The dangers of long hours arewell documentedanda studyshowed that upper-level managers who used their phones after 9 p.m. experienced decreases in quantity and quality of sleep.
Board and CEO take note. Resilience is a foundation for an organisation to survive and thrive. Organisational development in the last 25 years has focused on optimisation, speed and safety. The result is fragility. A fragile organisation suffers painful distress and malfunction in times of disruption.
Optimisation removes the redundancy necessary to bounce back from adversity. People are working at full pace when they are tired, distracted and overloaded. Speed removes reflection and innovation. People are racing through tasks and rarely stopping to reflect. Safety reduces risk and removes alertness and flexibility.
Our business environment has driven into disruptive change. Hundred year events strike every couple of years. Digitalisation is removing jobs and traditional skill-sets at breakneck speed. Competition is coming in from every angle. International conflict and migration are throwing communities into new orbits.
The mantras of optimisation, speed and safety are focused on control and stability. We must now adapt to radical disruption and turbulence. Resilience is the integrating solution. Resilience is far more than bounce back from adversity. It must include the ability to adapt with courage, to innovate and transform, and to retain and nurture strong connection and cooperation between people.
Preparing human capital and business process to meet the onslaught of disruptive turbulence requires a higher level of governance and executive action. This is the role of the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) who must report directly to the CEO and the board. Leading institutes in the practice of Resilience are very clear about the primary call for a CRO. The Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities has recentlyadvocated this role for every city preparing to negotiate the future.
What the CRO must do:
Understand how Resilience works in the complex system of organisational life
Seek out and define the strategic scenarios or risk and opportunity
Document and prepare for the likely disruptions and transformations required
Design and coach organisational functions to be ready and resilient
Relentlessly support and coach resilience building behaviours
Guide the board and coach the CEO to ensure Resilience is a priority
Practically, we understand how a military commander or sports team coach is specifically tasked with the responsibility of developing capability, connection and readiness for the campaigns ahead. This is a good template for an organisation. The CRO is the organisational coach accountable to ensure the organisation is capable, connected and ready for the future.
What the CRO skill-set looks like:
Deep thinker: resilience is multidisciplinary and complex and takes time to master
Integrative leader: resilience has to work across silos and systems skilfully
Coach and collaborator: execution requires hands-on engagement with teams
Visionary: being resilient requires a long-term view presented with energy
Powerful communicator: deep knowledge, clear thought and powerful messaging
Effective coach and instructor in physical, emotional and cognitive resilience.
How to secure the Chief Resilience Officer:
The CRO role requires knowledge, maturity and experience. They must have good business knowledge and a capability to influence hard-nosed short-term cost and profit focus. They will also have to have a deep understanding of human, environmental, financial, and operational systems. Many of these skills will be within the organisation or can be provided by expert advisors but the CRO must be able to understand and connect these systems and perspectives.
Much of the skill-set exists in safety, human resources, technology and finance but these are too narrow and compliance based. The CRO must be a visionary, risk-taker and collaborator. This will be the hardest element to secure and manage. To find a clear thinker who is both entrepreneurial and deeply collaborative is a rare mix.
In time, disruptive turbulence will force the emergence of this role. Boards must begin the conversation immediately. CEO’s must begin to research and understand what resilience means to their organisation. Executive teams might begin with a handpicked team to bring together the required skills. Executive teams must seek out advice and industry-specific insights from multiple experts.
Smart universities will begin to bring this role into environmental, engineering, business and health education. In the meantime we might be able to borrow the skills of successful coaches and military commanders. This is a great opportunity for young aspiring business leaders to work towards. It is also a great opportunity for the older executives and consultants with a broad depth of experience.
We look forward to being a part of this conversation.