In this blog we are looking at the Corona virus or CONVID -19 and its implications for our leaders as it has a high potential to showcase both the obvious and insidious failures that are inherent in our organisations. I want to give a nod to my Barbadian colleague Dr Rochelle Haynes, who resides in the UK, who inspired me to take a look at CONVID 19 and the impact on leadership.
This pandemic is both an opportunity and a threat for the workplace. It is a threat because it will expose and highlight the existing leadership failures in organisations and it presents opportunity because leaders can learn from the experience and act differently going forward.
I am going to share opportunities
- Firm up Leave policies
- Work from home
- Review of Policies and Procedures
- Hygiene ant the office
- Improved Communication
- Practicing Compassion
Some countries, Trinidad and Tobago being one, have outlined the leaves of absence that will be required to deal with the fallout from the Corona Virus. I paid particular attention to the appeals made to leaders to have compassion for workers, and to workers to show up for duty if not impacted.
Based on the contagion rates that we have seen in other countries, we in the Caribbean need to be prepared for high absenteeism as staff fall ill or need to tend to family members who are ill.
Does your workplace have clear policies for sick leave and vacation leave?
There are a number of businesses that have not yet adopted the basic leave guidelines as defined by the Minimum Wage Acts or labour laws that are relevant in their country. For organisations like these, the pandemic provides an opportunity to fall in line with the provisions for leave under the relevant laws and regulations in your country.
Work from Home
One answer to the extended leave periods is to have our teams work from home.
I recall asking a CEO why weren’t laptops issued to all staff since almost everyone was required to work late several days each month. He responded that laptops were more expensive than desktops and only senior roles were entitled to these. No considerations were made for volume and urgency of work, the likelihood of late hours or living distance from the office. I’m wondering how that CEO feels now about that decision since the ability of staff to easily work from home safety and securely is now compromised
With the threat of extended absences from offices, there is a vigour to support work from home practices. How many members of our workforce can realistically and effectively work from home?
Over 50% of the Caribbean’s population are internet users, so it seems that work from home is a viable option. If the company has not equipped workers with adequate resources, then there is a real business risk using devices that have not been company issued and protected. These risks include protection and security of business data, virus and hacking protection, as well as, insecure internet connections to access the organisations data bases
The reality is that working from home in many instances is not something that is easily and quickly done.
At one of my previous employers, safety officers inspected our homes to ensure that we had both available and adequate space to work safety and ergonomically. Some organisations co-fund the creation of spaces in their team members’ homes and give small allowances to compensate for the use of internet, electricity, printers and other stationery supplies ..
Is your office prepared for work from home? In this emergency situation while we may not have time to dot all I’s and cross all the T’s we need to consider the future. How are we planning to bring the promises of work from home to full fruition?
Leaders often share hesitance about work from home practices because they do not trust team members. Their focus is on monitoring the amount of time worked or ensuring that the team members are actually working while at home.
Working at home practices are effective when the foundation is trust and leaders believe that the employees can achieve the set tasks. Admittedly some team members may be less disciplined than others.
Leaders can assist team members adjust to work from home by determining start and end times, being clear around deadlines, issuing protocols around availability for meetings and all other communication and explaining and documenting changes in workflow to accommodate these new parameters of work.
Some leaders confuse flexibility with accountability. Working from home means that the worker is remotely accountable to get the job done. Working from home allows flexibility in how the job gets done. Leaders can determine if they will allow flexibility and what the extent of this is. Can someone start at 6 and end the day at 2? Or work from 6pm to 2 a.m.?
Working from home is one of opportunities that the Corona virus has presented. Organisations will be well advised to implement procedures, after the pandemic has calmed, to ensure that all the functions that can work from home are adequately resourced and equipped to do this.
What is the return on the investment? Employees usually work longer hours, they have no morning commute and can enjoy more disposable income. These tangible benefits for both the organisation and team members compensate for the initial discomfort of setting up this practice.
Policies and Procedures
The work from home scenario offers us to a deeper dive into the organisation and how decisions were made and to review the traditions that exist. We can ask – What other areas of the organisation are decisions being made to prioritise status over goal achievement? What decisions have nothing to do with the resource allocation and only reflect status?
Top down organisational structure often adds bureaucracy to decision making and things take longer to happen. We can streamline and flatten our organisations removing the swollen middle management and supervisory levels by examining what is critical for goal achievement.
We can review the purpose of all policies and procedures. Are they to keep team members in check? Are they to ensure that leaders are in control?
We can also examine which policies and procedures are built on a lack of trust and how this manifests itself in the workplace.
This is an unique opportunity for reflection about the effectiveness of our organisations and what exactly we are trying to achieve. A quick reminder that trust is a two way street. Leaders don’t trust team members and members are aware that leaders don’t trust them so there is little incentive to be trust worthy. When Leaders trust team members, team members are aware of this and act in a trustworthy manner.
Hygiene at the office
The prevention and the containment of the Corona virus lies with our hygiene, both personal hygiene and the conditions of the spaces that we occupy. When last were the carpets, the ac vents, the blinds at your office sanitised? How do the janitors and cleaning crew clean your office spaces on a regular basis? What products do they use? Are they just wiping down surfaces or actively sanitising?
My prediction is that after the pandemic we will continue to practice much more hygienic sanitising practices at our places of work. We will have more hygienic working conditions.
We all know that fake news and trolls are synonymous with social media and that there is little that we can take as gospel without fact checking. I have seen many posts that contradict the number of confirmed cases as issued by the regulatory bodies.
Regardless of our inclinations leaders have a responsibility during this crises to disseminate accurate information to the workforce. Some companies can be commended for their communications around this issue. They have ben hosting staff meetings to disseminate information, allowing team members to express fears and sending regular updates from official sources. To these employers I say sincerest thank you and congratulations for taking charge in this moment of crises.
The rest of companies can follow their lead.
I am intentionally making the assumption that our leaders are not spreading rumours to serve their personal agendas since they are genuinely interested in reducing the panic and anxiety among staff.
The pandemic offers the opportunity for organisation to review their communication strategies and how they deal with crises.
I have spent most of the weekend in isolation at my house. I have a network of friends who call and whats app and so we stay in touch. My family chat is also a bedrock of support.
We need to check in with our team members on a regular basis.
As quarantine increases there will be team members who feel lost by the break in their routine. For many work persons work is a safe haven as it provides a much needed break from the domestic life.
As quarantine increases, and people are shut in cabin fever may set . This is not a physical condition but a claustrophobic reaction, manifested as extreme irritability and restlessness that takes place when a person or group is isolated, or stuck indoors in confined quarters for a period of time. The sufferer can make irrational decisions such as suicide or display paranoia, or leaving the safety of the quarantine. They may also act out on others which increases the possibility for abuse or tense situations.
We are all under stress. The thought of the virus with a cure in the form of a vaccine with unknown side-effects is particularly worrying for me. (I will confess that I may have watched one too many zombie movies and the vaccine is always to blame.)
The anxiety that is there when I return from the house and have to separate myself from the clothing that I wore, the daily cleaning of the used surfaces. The worry about contracting the disease or my mom contracting the disease adds to stress levels.
Leaders also have these same stresses as well as the additional stress of wondering about the ability of their teams to function under these conditions. To these leaders I recommend that you share the responsibility of checking in with each other with team members. The stress is too much for you to bear alone.
There is a shared stress about the economy and those of us who are self-employed, contract workers, small business owner are the ones who are most vulnerable as there will be reduced opportunities for earnings .
I am also thinking about the 4th edition of the gestalt Leadership Seminar. While our theme “Leading with Compassion” is relevant and we have a great line up of awesome speakers and we will have to postpone the event.
As we face the realities of Coronavirus and change our behaviours to match the needs of the time, this is an ideal time for us to actively practice compassion for each other. While leaders can lead the charge, it calls on each of us to behave in a manner that will bring comfort and not fear. The onus is on us as workers to keep the levels of productivity high so that our companies can stay afloat.
In our communities we can look out for each other. Perhaps we can assist single parents who have to work by offering for their children to spend the day with ours. Maybe we can check in on the elderly in your community especially those who live alone,
Coronavirus is a life threatening pandemic. It threatens the way that we live and work and yet, it offers some real opportunities that can change the way that we live work and lead.in the future.
I would love to hear what you think about the blog. Follow me on Facebook at, connect with me on linked in or follow me on insta gram at Maxine Attong, You can also send me a whats app on 7247642.
My intention for this blogis to fuel your leadership spark so that together we can bring change to the systems that we live in.
Thank you for reading.