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Workplace learnings from life in lockdown

By Andry Anastasis McFarlane (pictured), author of The Really Resilient Guide

This last year has shown us many things about how we as individuals and businesses handle change and uncertainty. And how resilient we really are. What are some of the other bigger lessons we’ve been learning about ourselves and our lives and working lives during lockdown? And how will these lessons shape the future of working as restrictions ease…?

We are resilient communicators
It’s fairly clear to many of us who are aged 40+ that what younger people have been telling us for years – that we can connect online – is true! Before first lockdown in 2020, a common concern or criticism was that young people were spending too much time online and weren’t building real relationships. There’s definitely truth to the need to build face-to-face relationships. However, this last year has shown many of us that we can adapt to online communications. Perhaps we haven’t enjoyed it as much, and yes it is harder to read body language, plus we have to work harder at listening and checking our understanding… but these are all good communication skills. In fact, we’ve seen that we can adapt and communicate online. We can run our offices, our businesses and sometimes even thrive and grow our work online. We have become adaptable, resilient communicators.

Attending to our wellbeing at work
We have been working on surviving a challenging year; wellbeing mental health support services are clearly going to be desperately needed moving forward. UK Government data states that, ‘self-reported mental health and wellbeing may have worsened’.

Our ability to innovate and pivot at work has been incredible as we moved in and out of lockdown over the last year. I’ve seen staff on organisations pivot, cafés turn into organic produce shops, yoga businesses shift to online classes, face-to-face services moved online. Innovation and learning give you energy but it also takes physical and psychological energy, especially in a stressful environment. That’s also when we’ve needed to learn to attend to our wellbeing.

This is one of the biggest emerging lessons of the year: how to avoid burnout—how to care for your wellbeing in the face of long-term uncertainty and change at work and in life. At work, as well as accessing workplace Employee Assistance Programmes, there are simple, practical, evidence-based steps you can take, whether working from home or in an office/other workplace. Try out the Five ways to WellBeing principles called CLANG: Connect, keep Learning, stay Active, take Notice (mindfulness), and keep Giving (share your time and energy in a community setting when you can). In my experience, over this extreme year it’s been a time for extreme self-care around wellbeing.

Motivation at work
Motivation has been a key learning area this year. Many people have seen that they are self-motivated at work, even when working from home. Many of my coachees and colleagues have reported that in the long term they would like to continue part-time working from home. Many employers have learnt we are can ‘be trusted’ to motivate ourselves, with a slightly more hands-off approach—as many leaders and managers also report that individuals and teams are working effectively when at home. This is not to minimise the importance of ongoing workplace support for our roles, our communication and our wellbeing. But it seems we are more self-motivated than was perhaps previously thought.

Moving forward
Moving in and out of lockdown, changing restrictions and rules, and all the uncertainty we have faced has been a year-long journey already and there’s no clear ‘end date’ when things will return ‘back to normal’. Because of our challenging circumstances, there are many lessons we’ve been learning at work and in life—whether we’ve wanted to or not! As we move towards spring and out of our hibernation, with a little reflection on our own work learning, we may find that we have learnt more this year than we thought.

Andry Anastasis McFarlane is an experienced learning consultant, executive coach, international workshop facilitator and keynote speaker. The Learning Moment offers workshops, courses, executive coaching and learning consultancy within the UK. The Really Resilient Guide is Andry’s first book.