Covid-19 has changed everybody’s working life. This is the case regardless of whether you are dealing with work/life balance because you are now trying to home-school alongside your job, whether you are trying to cope with the radical move onto online, digital platforms, whether you are self-employed and out of work, or whether you are furloughed or living on the edge of losing your job or have lost your job.
It is trite to say that these are unprecedented times. They are difficult, stressful, isolating, and occasionally miserable times.
They are times which are changing how we work.
As a Professor of Organisational Behaviour (or organisational psychology, depending on your leaning), this should be when I stand up and say, “here’s what we know and here’s how we can help”. My colleagues and I in the Workplace Behaviour Research Centre know a lot about sustainable working, motivation, leadership, team-working, innovation, and heaps of other aspects of work. I started making a list of all the issues that would be relevant to covid-working. Here’s what I got after just a few minutes: work/life balance, unemployment, emotions, innovation and creativity, productivity, well-being, goals, environmental behaviours, corporate social responsibility, happiness, meaningfulness, autonomy, meetings, self-leadership, top management leadership and visions, servant leadership, leadership development and styles, working environment, information flow, team working processes, conflict, communication, trust, power, social support… and after five minutes I stopped writing. Where on earth do we start? How can we possibly distil all this information? How can we determine what will apply and what won’t? And how can we make it relevant so that it helps other people?
When I sat there looking at the list, filled with doubts over what we could do and attempting to manage the unpredictability in my own working life, I realised that the one thing that underpinned it all was uncertainty. So, I figured that was a good place to start. I also decided that I would play with the uncertainty and not always try and find “the answer” from the research.
So, in this, my very first blog, I’m not going to try and build a solid wall of citations to justify an approach. Instead, I’m going to lean into my broader knowledge of mindfulness and eastern philosophies and apply that to the current situation. (But don’t get used to it, most of the blogs to come will be directly related to research-based evidence.)
What would a mindfulness guru do? I’m guessing she or he would say: Don’t fight the uncertainty, don’t try and beat it into submission. This is not something you can control by continuously searching for more information. But don’t ignore it either. Escaping into your kids’ schooling, Netflix or video games may make you feel better in the short-term, but it doesn’t last. Mindfulness training teaches us to acknowledge what is there and accept it. Uncertainty is going to be in our lives for the next 18 months, at least. And that’s okay.
Uncertainty isn’t a bad thing; uncertainty isn’t a good thing; uncertainty is just a thing.
There will be times when work feels overwhelming because of the covid situation, and that’s okay, we’ll get through them. There will be times when it feels exciting because we can see new opportunities coming out of the covid situation, and that’s okay too because we can build on these moments to move forward.
I’m going to use this blog to help myself deal with uncertainty and I hope in the process it might help you as well. I will document ideas, thoughts and ways that we might be able to help each other to move forward in the workplace. Sometimes what I write won’t be of any use, and that’s okay, because sometimes it will be of use. And as we discover what a post-covid workplace looks like, this blog can surface old knowledge and test its usefulness in the new world. The complexity of the impact of covid on our working life means that every blog will be woefully inadequate in trying to help us understand and move forward; but hopefully through feedback and an accumulation of insights from everyone who participates we will start to build a foundation to rest our uncertainties upon in these “interesting” times.