Over the next couple of weeks, teams will be moving out of the honeymoon phase of remote work.
Wait, honeymoon phase? COVID-19 has been plenty awful, thanks.
Yes, it has been.
It’s also important to understand that – despite the anxiety and many challenging aspects of this crisis – humans are incredibly good at adapting to changing parameters.
In the first fortnight of remote work, leaders have been focused on people care and mental wellbeing. A great deal of leeway has been given to team members feeling stressed or anxious, as well as mistakes being readily forgiven “considering the circumstances.”
However, the human brain is so good at adapting, that even a crisis situation will become normalised, given enough time.
The law of diminishing returns applies to human emotion. Think of the thrill when someone first hears the words “I love you,” from their partner. Now compare those feelings with the ease with which long-term partners gloss over endearments. Even though the words may hold the same meaning, emotionally they don’t hold the same weight. As we experience the same things again, the intensity of emotions diminishes.
Our brains seek novelty, which is why some people may have enjoyed the first fortnight of remote work. Humans will see the positive of a new environment, a lessened pressure to perform, or increased time around the house or on FaceTime with family.
Many others have instead faced the harsh realities of this crisis, whether it be loss of job or purpose, the first pangs of isolation or the threat to our health.
Over the next two weeks, remember that most people are about to undergo a change in their emotions.
After the honeymoon, comes the frustration phase.
The changes you will see in your colleagues, team, friends (and may even catch in yourself) will stem from the normalisation of what we first considered crazy. Mistakes in process and communication that were previously forgiven will start to feel frustrating and will be accompanied by perceptions of bad intent. The message “it’s okay for now” will stop being accepted by your team and crisis solutions that were designed to be temporary will no longer feel sustainable. This will lead our incredible human brains to blame leaders for a lack of foresight, where a week ago we were grateful for someone making decisions. Leaders will start to worry about results again, and the emphasis on people care will lessen. This may feel harsh, but it is important to anticipate the shift in priorities.
So, now you have predicted it, how can you help?
- Have Awareness and Understanding
Remember that most of the frustrating behaviours you will observe and encounter are simply humans, being human. Their emotions are adjusting to large-scale change, and they are trying to catch up. Take a deep breath and forgive people’s emotional reactions.
- Show Individual Compassion
Group behaviours through change fall pretty reliably into patterns, but each individual will react differently and have unique needs from you. Pay attention, listen to their concerns and be who they need you to be. Leadership and empathy shown in difficult times will be remembered and valued.
- Be Honest
As we see people move from the honeymoon to frustration phase, the human default is to avoid “negative” emotions by using optimism (“it will all be okay soon”) or minimising statements (“don’t be so down,” “you shouldn’t be so worried”). It may feel helpful in the moment, but people don’t always need their cloud to have a silver lining. People are smart: they can see if the weather is bad! Resilience is our ability to bounce back from difficult emotions, not about avoiding them.
- Focus on Behaviours
Identify the behaviours that will help your people succeed. Small, tangible and achievable changes are easier to understand and implement than sweeping mindset or emotional changes. When the small successes start to accumulate, you will gain momentum and help your people to build their own resilience.
- Exhibit Resilience
Emotions are contagious. The people around you will take strength OR fear from the behaviours you demonstrate. Role models start with themselves. Put some time into your own resilience strategies, so that even at your most vulnerable, you can show genuine composure and compassion.