Lockdown leadership lessons: Isolation


One of the biggest concerns from the past year has been the increase in isolation. Most of us who switched to working from home have faced feeling alone, even when we were in the house with other family members.

For the first six months, I worked from an armchair in my bedroom as I never needed a dedicated workspace until March last year. Eventually, I had a garden studio built to make home working sustainable.

Although the studio has been amazing, I have still felt alone as I walked down the garden to the studio where I spent work time completely on my own.

Humans need interaction with others and according to a study in 2018, loneliness was already at an epidemic level in the USA. I am sure that it will have reached even more worrying levels in the past 12 months.

There’s a saying that if you have nothing in life but friends, you are rich! And I believe that is the case: true well-being and wealth is found in authentic relationships, not money.

During these difficult months, I have craved meeting people. I am a ‘people person’ and missed physically seeing the various people I normally would. Video conferencing may have been an answer for some, but it hasn’t replaced and won’t replace the uplifting interaction of meeting people face to face.

Pick up the phone

I keep my Zoom meetings and Relationology courses to mornings, something I decided to do early on in the pandemic.

Then, after lunch, I move my working day outside, where I walk and work! Any meeting or business conversation in the afternoon is strictly by telephone, and I have found this to be a powerful for personal contact.

I believe that you focus more on the other person’s words during a call, which leads to a more engaging, compelling and useful conversation. When using Zoom, you need to be presentationally present, which I feel distracts from the discussion.

As we slowly ease out of lockdowns in the UK, the opportunity to meet people outside for lunch is something I have grasped. I am sure it will be a while before there is a return to ‘normality’ and, for some, what we considered normal will become history!

A warning for businesses

There is no doubt that life has changed. We won’t be heading back to offices in the same way. I am sure ‘rush hour’ will not be as rushed as it used to be, and many commuters will revel in not having to leave the house to sit crushed on a train.

But I believe that businesses will need to be careful and resist simply closing their offices! In the future, flexibility is the key. Redesigning office space for the likes of more hot-desking will be essential.

No business will need the space it used to, but none can expect all employees to work from home all of the time.

Those who live alone will, no doubt, want to enjoy interaction with colleagues and may choose to spend some of the week ‘at work’. Failing to provide that opportunity will lead to increased and additional social isolation.

According to a study by the American Psychology Association, loneliness can lead to serious mental health issues. With that comes the issue of reduced capacity in the workforce, which is counterproductive for both employee and employer!

We are entering a time of transformation in business with staff spread out across offices and homes, which will be a challenge. For business leaders, finding the right balance while also focusing on team connectivity across multiple workplaces will be difficult.

If businesses can address these challenges, there is an opportunity for happier staff all-round as they finally find that elusive ‘work-life balance’.

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