With the easing of restrictions, many Australian companies are entering a new phase in the COVID-19 crisis. Transitioning back into the office is a daunting task not only for employees but for HR and leaders. Back in March things moved very quickly. Many companies went from having everyone in the office to everyone working from home within the space of a couple of days. Whilst it was manic to say the least, there was little choice and companies had to adapt quickly from setting up IT systems to ensuring employees had the physical tools and spaces to continue working.
Psychologically when we are not given choice in life, whilst it may be extremely difficult and our brains take time to process the loss of our normal rhythms and routines, it is sometimes easier to adapt quicker for we are forced into our ‘new normal’. Anecdotally we are hearing many of our clients saying that the first few weeks were tough but once the shock wore off, they are now in the ‘zone’. Whilst no one is undermining the challenges of home schooling, financial difficulties or the anxieties associated with ‘living’ with the fear of the virus or the virus itself- the overall feeling is now one of adaptation. There is some comfort with working from home and to an extent a feeling of safety in our bubbles.
Like many other transitions we go through in our lives, it is just as we feel comfortable that things are disrupted and we need to navigate another disorienting transition. When we think about the parental leave transition or transitioning into retirement, the part that is challenging is letting go of things as we know them and having to carve out the new normal. What is helpful in those transitions is that many people have gone, and go through them each day. In the case of COVID-19 we have no precedent for how to navigate this time. Whilst we can compare with pandemics from 100 years ago, the situation, supports and strategies were different.
What we do know is that transition takes time and with contingency planning we can travel a smoother pathway. This transition has no road map but the ‘pause’ of lockdown and working from home has allowed some thinking time and preparation for what we want going back to work to look like. The transition back into work is presenting different challenges for people. Some tech companies like Twitter have been quoted as allowing staff to work from home permanently. For other companies, transitioning back in can’t come quick enough as working from home just isn’t viable.
Companies are presently preparing practically including plans for how many days people can return, what teams will be in when, do they facilities for those riding bikes instead of using public transport, will they have room for social distancing, what the cleaning regime will be, how many people can use lifts? But the more abstract planning which is as important and often forgotten, is how will we help our people prepare mentally for this transition- how will we lead compassionately through this time, how will we support them emotionally to reorient to new ways of working, and how will we equip our leaders to lead!
With a sharp increase in mental health assistance requests (AFR advising it is up 40% or can use ABS stats here), with suicide on the rise and PANDA advising 20% increase in calls, it is imperative that workplaces invest in mental health initiatives focussed on transition and led by specialists in this area. To find out more about what Transitioning Well is doing please contact us…