The Psychology of Work Post COVID-19 Q&A

On June 4th we ran a webinar on The Psychology of Work Post COVID-19 with Kathryn Foster (psychologist and Head of People and Culture at Portable) and Gina McCredie (Organisational Psychologist and owner of Impactful Work). We received a large number of questions throughout the session however unfortunately, we couldn’t respond to all of them on the day. Instead, we have provided a synopsis on the themes which emerged from all of the questions. In addition, we have included references if you’re keen to explore further.

We were lucky enough to have Sarah the Firth, a Melbourne based graphic recorder, illustrate the webinar as it happened (recording below):

Blended Teams

For effective blended, distributed teams it is important to start with building great relationships with employees, both individually and collectively. Get to know them, understand and appreciate their context (their home environment, living arrangements); that will give you a deeper level of understanding each other and will help to build trust with them. From there you can add to the psychological safety in the relationship by engaging with them in a positive and safe way through use of active listening and open questions, and showing genuine empathy for their emotional and task-based challenges.

If you already had existing working relationships with team members prior to COVID, it’s important to continue engaging with them as much or more. Consider how you may need to increase frequency of check-ins to get a sense of their surroundings, their adaptability to working from home and fluctuations in their well-being. If you are inducting a brand-new team member you will need to invest extra time and effort in establishing a strong working relationship to establish trust and connection (on both sides) so that you can work efficiently together with minimal misunderstandings. 

Physical distance between a leader and their employee/s should not be a barrier to maintaining or building a good working relationship. As a leader, you need to be mindful of attending to the relationship and adapting to a different way of engaging using a combination of phone, text, and other online tools available.  Leaders can create virtual space for the ‘water cooler’ conversations with individuals and teams through role modelling and encouraging a more informal and personal conversation when appropriate. This could be incorporated into regular 1:1s or utilising online chat functions including  work tools such as Teams, Slack etc.

Norms/Values

Norms are the way we do business. Most people would agree COVID is changing the way we do business, that means we need to change our norms to suit the new environment too. How quickly an organisation can adapt to the environment is determined by how effectively employees can respond. Many people find values and norms “fluffy” when in fact these are a key tool to accelerate behaviour change, when individuals take ownership of defining and living these and leaders role model them. It is important to still go ahead and engage with staff on key topics like culture and values, and to get buy-in through large group workshop formats to drive collective ownership of the outcomes. This can be done virtually using a combination of small group discussion, polling, online whiteboarding and breakout rooms.

Future of Work

There is no doubt that the way we work has changed forever in many sectors, particularly the corporate sector. Large organisations in Australia and overseas (e.g. NAB, Telstra, Google) have published very low expectations for people returning to the office. Indeed, many individuals have also suggested that they will not return to the office 5 days per week, even if that was the norm before. But once we have a vaccine, and the world slowly reopens, things may shift again, and what we may end up with is a compromise between how things were before COVID, and how things are right now. 

There are advantages to blended teams however including those listed in the section above. As well as the advantages for the team, there are advantages for individuals working remotely including reduced travel time and greater work flexibility. As mentioned in the webinar, there are also significant advantages in terms of global talent attraction when remote working is more prominent. 

Talent

As mentioned previously, a greater proportion of remote working means more global opportunities as people are relying less on being in the same physical environment. We were asked to provide any recommendations for students entering the workforce for the first time and our advice would be to cast the net even wider than usual. Look at positions overseas, particularly those who are still under physical distancing requirements and actively target them. Also consider more stable economies - you may not have considered some of these but for the short term you want to focus where there are jobs, and where you will likely keep your job. So, travel is probably out for now, but government (local, state and federal), Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), healthcare and transport and logistics have all been fairly stable, and typically perform well even during recessions. Also think about what skills and abilities will be needed into the future including the ability to work productively  in a virtual environment, skills to connect easily and build relationships quickly, and the emotional resilience to maintain professionalism even in challenging situations. 

Wellbeing

There was a strong focus on wellbeing during the webinar and there were a few questions related to this. Firstly, we briefly mentioned the legislation which governs organisations to provide a psychological healthy workplace and you can find that in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (link included under ‘Resources’). It is very clear in the objectives of the Act that employers are responsible for ‘securing the health, safety and welfare of employees’ and this includes psychological health. So, working to maintain and even improve the wellbeing of your employees is critical. 

We recognise that sometimes employers can feel overwhelmed by this responsibility and need help in managing wellbeing and mental health. First and foremost, it is an employer’s primary responsibility not to have a negative impact on an employee’s wellbeing, so this means avoiding obvious things like abuse, overwork, poor work environments and conditions. In a more proactive sense, organisations have offered things such as Employee Assistance Programs, mindfulness programs, health and fitness programs. In relation to mental health, the best support is from professionals who are trained in this space and so as people transition back to work, it is best to promote the use of such services and consider increasing capacity/number of sessions available, if possible. Also encourage your managers to continue to be proactive in checking in on their staff around their wellbeing including things like health, exercise, downtime and family.

Another element is considering the blurred line between work and home now that both things are happening in the same physical space. People’s wellbeing has been impacted by feeling like they can’t switch off, or by working additional hours. We have provided a link below which is a good recap of productivity generally, that includes a section on shutting down your workday which is more important in these times to ensure you do separate your work and home life. 

Another important way to manage wellbeing is to have information available to you so you know where it is at. One free but valid resource is the World Health Organisation’s wellbeing index which can provide information on wellbeing at an individual level (refer within the links below under ‘Resources’). 

Resources

For further information on how organisations are focussed on enabling blended teams to thrive, tools to leads these teams, the importance of values and wellbeing in the workplace, we have included some article links. Enjoy!

  1. See a recording of the webinar 'The Psychology of Work Post-COVID-19 Q&A'
  2. See Impactful Work’s articles on teamwork and teaming including “Successful Teamwork in the Age of Coronavirus”, “How teams gain traction during and after the initial stages of the COVID19 crisis” and “The adaptability skills you need to thrive in the new normal
  3. The Centre for Transformative Work Design, in WA, has an article “Good news - most employees are as productive at home as in the office. But there is room to improve
  4. Harvard Business School has a range of valuable articles like “A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers” by Barbara Z. Larson , Susan R. Vroman and Erin E. Makarius
  5. Fast Company has an article, “How to keep company values on track while people work remotely in quarantine
  6. Harini Bandara, HO Business Transformation at Third Space writes, “How to build a strong culture with a remote team: Tips and techniques to keep staff engaged and happy
  7. WHO wellbeing measure from the Mental Health Centre North Zealand
  8. The Ohio State University WHO-5 Well-being Index
  9. Victorian (Aus) legislation relating to wellbeing
  10. More resources on supporting employee wellbeing and mental health:
    https://www.robertsoncooper.com/working-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-resources/ https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/topic/mental-health
    https://www.inventium.com.au/how-to-create-your-most-productive-workday/

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