Surviving Through Chaos
We fell asleep in one world and woke up in another. I read somewhere that suddenly, Disney is out of magic, Paris is no longer romantic, New York doesn’t stand up anymore, China’s wall is no longer a fortress, and Mecca is empty. Hugs and kisses are weapons and social distancing is an act of kindness. One of the conversations during a virtual hangout earlier was it feels like living in a sci-fi movie.
With this new house arrest situation, our source of truth is, obviously, digital channels. About a month into the pandemic, the internet is filled with content around COVID-19 updates. Most of the content I’ve read and watched is bucketed into the following:
- COVID-19 is Mother Earth sending us warning messages.
- Work from home and virtual meeting images.
- How various companies are stepping up to help during crisis.
- How many more people have been diagnosed.
- What measures should we take to avoid getting infected.
- What are different countries doing about it and how are their leaders reacting to it.
So, there’s chaos and a lot of it! The uncertainty around health, jobs, and resources have taken anxiety to another level. There are reports on how people aren’t the only targets of the virus—relationships can die too. On top of it, isolation could lead to two extremes—depression or a better connection with people. In the middle of all this chaos, I’d like to look at the latter. Given the situation we’re in, we could focus on what is in our control, and probably not worry about what’s not!
In a video chat between Simon Sinek and Christopher Fussell, a NY Times best-selling author and an ex-U.S. Navy Seal, Christopher connects their fight against Al Qaeda with COVID-19 in a couple of ways. One, they were fighting against a highly networked threat and two, an immense amount of uncertainty as they were losing men. They were asked to stay inside in isolation and look for specific opportunities to step out. So, In the middle of this, one of the key rank holders goes, “I am going to be on this virtual meeting, sharing my thoughts, and listening to yours while we all learn what’s going on, in the field.” Anyone from any rank could join in. Result—a feeling of connection, stronger team, together!
While this crisis has gotten the better for many in the world, some have come out stronger. A great example of is this speech the Irish PM gave regarding COVID-19. It’s a speech the world needed to hear from all its leaders. Leo shows up, communicates clearly, states the facts, doesn’t sugarcoat, addresses what he heard from the ground, tells what the government is going to do, asks what the society should do, and inspires everyone to be better, leaving me with goosebumps. All this while showing his vulnerabilities and bringing the world together by thanking them for what they have done so far.
We’ve all read about how unprecedented this situation is. Many companies and their leaders have dealt with uncertain times, causing chaos at various levels. Now, I understand no one has ever been in this specific COVID-19 crisis, but many have gone through other times of panic, uncertainty, and their own version of “the world is coming to an end” days. The world didn’t end. Some survived, some came out stronger, and others drowned.
This allows us to learn from experiences and focus on what can employees and employers do right, as we all get through this:
- Communicate and collaborate: Most companies have invested in applications for online collaboration. So, tools are great! What’s more important is using them to communicate. Keeping in touch through Zoom or whatever platform daily is important because sure, people need to know what’s going on and get directions, but it also gives us the sense of being part of a bigger picture.For leaders, this could include anything from sharing companies’ views, to their own views of the situation, what’s coming up, what may come up, including difficult decisions of budget freeze, hiring pauses, and layoffs, if any. Not knowing is far more stressful. Pankaj Mishra from “The Indian Leadership Think (tank)” or “TILT” recently told me that being unscripted in conversations during this time and sharing vulnerabilities can strengthen teams. “IKIGAI”—a book about a Japanese secret of long and happy life—constantly talks about the importance of having “a sense of community,” which holds true for professional relationships as much as personal ones.
- Flexibility: Work from home can be distracting. Not everyone has a fancy home office, but embracing change is an important factor to survive. It could be discomforting and distracting for some, but guess what, everyone is in this together with you and most of your colleagues will understand. It may be a good idea to work with managers and understand and reclarify their expectations of you, during these changing times. Now as long as those are delivered, with the expected quality , and in the deadline set, it should be all right. Managers, at the same time, may have to work with a lot more trust and be OK with the idea of not seeing team members in front of them all the time. The situation is unprecedented. Even the virus is mutating—the least we can do is adapt and be flexible for a healthier work culture.
- Health: Most of the news about COVID-19 is negative and depressing. On top of that, you are trying to adjust to new work culture. Some are worried about jobs, some are distracted, and some are just anxious. At this stage, it’s important to take control of your physical and mental health. It’s not easy, but there are a ton of different ways to achieve it. I’ll let you do your own research online to find what suits you the best—there’s plenty of content out there. You don’t want to come out of a lockdown feeling unhealthy and depressed. For me, I’m on a complete diet overhaul and adding 45 minutes of an at-home workout every day, with some breathing exercises. It makes a difference.
- Learn and upskill: You don’t spend extra hours every day getting ready, commuting, chatting in the office, hanging out after work, etc. This saves you a lot of time that you could contribute towards being a better version of yourself. The question is, where would you like to use those reclaimed hours? Upskilling during this spiral can help you get your next gig, make you more productive, and demonstrate your proactivity. Online courses, a new certification, new language, books, starting a new blog, and everything you’ve always thought you didn’t have time for, but you wanted to do…now is the time. It will be an awesome feeling to come out on the other side of this lockdown stronger, better informed, healthier, smarter, sharper, wiser, brighter, brainier … you get the drift. This is a huge opportunity to carve a better version of yourself. You don’t want to look back to see all the time went by and you could have done more. Take control and get at it!
These are challenging times. I’m challenged, just like my family and friends, just like yours. We’re all in it together. At this time, nobody knows what may happen and how things may change. I will, however, focus on what I can influence and what’s in my control. Let’s use this time to be more focused, more productive, and healthier. If this is the new way of doing business, then let’s get ready for it.