A new psychology of work: workplaces in the post-coronavirus era

Written by Guest blogger, Ama Afrifa-Tchie Wednesday 13 May 2020
As we approach the announcement of post-lockdown rules, how do managers, leaders and organisations create a sense of ‘psychological safety’ for their people?

The global pandemic has disrupted life like nothing in most of our lifetimes ever has. Our normal coping strategies for such drastic life changes – socialising with friends, exercising and therapy – are all significantly more difficult to do. The majority of the workforce have set up shop from their homes. It has forced organisations to rethink ‘business as usual’ in terms of their delivery, but also their people management.

With teams working from home, the way we communicate with colleagues and successfully complete a day’s work has been transformed. Many people are working staggered or reduced hours, or with flexible start times in order to fit around their home life or the needs of the business. When the lockdown ends, employees would rightfully expect flexibility around working and supporting wellbeing to continue.

So beyond Covid-19, what does the future look like?

Effectively managing a remote team

Around 70% of people say they have never previously worked from home, but many are now adapting well. This will have long-term implications for business and mean less reliance on a physical working space.

The main concerns that businesses have about employees working from home are the impacts on efficiency, motivation and team morale. These are some things managers will need to keep in mind in the post-pandemic landscape:

  • Consider the logistics: your team may be muddling through for now, but it’s important to make people have a sustainable set-up. Does everyone have the right equipment to work from home with the same effectiveness they would in the office, and could there be some budget put towards this to strengthen productivity?
  • Structure vs flexibility: it’s important to encourage a sense of routine to help employees prepare for work and decompress after work. Waking up at the usual time, taking breaks for lunch and packing away at the end of the day can help, but remember that everyone’s routine will be different. Flexible working arrangements should be agreed between managers and reportees and regularly revisited.
  • The ‘new normal’: create realistic expectations and timelines for work by considering the new set of circumstances we are all in. Your organisation may look completely different to the one that entered that pandemic, so your expectations for individuals’ workloads may need adjusting.
  • Stay connected and prioritise wellbeing: Have regular set times for 1-2-1s to check in on colleagues’ wellbeing as well as workloads. There may not be so many opportunities for people to share their concerns or worries with colleagues, so it’s important to always keep that line of communication open. If you think someone may be having a difficult time, make sure to signpost them to further support, whether that be a Mental Health First Aider, an EAP or self-care methods.

Now is a great opportunity to review your policies, such as remote or flexible working policies, and adapt them to be sustainable for the future of work. CMI Members can log into ManagementDirect to find thousands of templates, checklists, and pearls of wisdom to get you started.

Bringing our whole self to work

This is a stressful and uncertain time for many, but a positive has been colleagues gaining insight into one another’s lives. I’m sure most of us have been on a video call where a child or pet appears in the background, or you catch a glimpse of a colleague’s book collection or favourite film posters. What might have once seemed unprofessional to some has quickly become accepted, understood, and for many even a welcome inclusion.

The lines between our personal and professional lives have been blurred; for some, perhaps more than they anticipated. It’s important for employers to maintain the conditions where this is normal and people have the freedom to be their ‘whole self’, wherever they are working. This means being able to be authentic, comfortable in whatever environment we are working in, and free to discuss worries with our colleagues.

This sense of psychological safety, one of the five key elements that enables a team to excel according to Google’s Aristotle study, can bring greater creativity and productivity to our future workplaces. While some may prefer to keep their personal lives more separate – it’s important we recognise and respect this – bringing your whole self to work should be a choice that employees want to opt into, and the more authentic and inclusive your workplace culture is, the more likely employees will opt in. The freedom to be our whole self will help us get to know each other better, bring our workforces closer together, and improve our collaboration.

Consider different ways to collaborate and working styles that enable your teams to bring their whole self to work. For example, asking team members what the best way to communicate with them is, or how they like to receive feedback, is a great way to be inclusive whilst thinking about their wellbeing. Think about your meeting dynamics and creative ways for them to be inclusive, so that underrepresented voices can have the opportunity to express their opinions.

While for many it has been through circumstance rather than through choice, we have found a way to continue to meet deadlines, deliver results for clients and stick together as a team. We have had to be authentic, transparent, and flexible with our work in order to do this. These should be values we continue to champion in our post-pandemic workplace.

Ama Afrifa-Tchie is head of culture & wellbeing at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

For more resources to help you prepare for the workplace of the future, log into ManagementDirect and peruse our unrivalled resources, including videos, interviews, articles, and more.

Why not check out our Covid-19 Leading Through Uncertainty hub?

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