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How can business leaders look out for themselves throughout Covid-19?

Here we are, in Lockdown 2.0. It feels quite different this time. We got through the first lockdown driven by a sense of panic and urgency. The situation was dynamic and fast-moving, and fuelled by  adrenaline. The whole concept of lockdown was new, with a sense of drama unfolding around us. This time round, the […]

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Here we are, in Lockdown 2.0. It feels quite different this time. We got through the first lockdown driven by a sense of panic and urgency. The situation was dynamic and fast-moving, and fuelled by  adrenaline. The whole concept of lockdown was new, with a sense of drama unfolding around us.

This time round, the challenge has changed. After a few months of freedom and a taste of normal life over the summer, we now have shorter, darker days, and further uncertainty and fears of the unknown. It’s entered a chronic stage – the test is now of stamina and resilience, rather than crisis management, as each day blends into one, and Zoom fatigue has set in.

I know I’m not alone feeling this way. Although sectors such as Retail and Hospitality are being hit hard, for many businesses across the UK, the biggest challenge they facing as we move into the second wave of the global pandemic is dealing with the impact on mental health i.e. how do we stay happy when we’re feeling isolated, exhausted, and bored? Research from the Office for National Statistics found that by June, two months into the initial lockdown, instances of reported depression had doubled from pre-lockdown rates (from around 10% of adults, to around 20%). By August 40% of adults reported that coronavirus was affecting their wellbeing.

It’s a time for leadership, certainly, but I’m interested to share how business leaders ensure that they are looking after themselves?  Bupa’s Global Executive Wellbeing Index found that over 50% of leaders are worrying about the UK’s economic recovery. Under more pressure than ever with other priorities, 32% of executives that had felt the strain during the first lockdown delayed seeking help for themselves. We can’t successfully focus on the wellbeing of employees if we are not looking after our own mental health and wellbeing first.

What’s worked for me?

I am sharing here adaptations and coping strategies to make the best of Lockdown 2.0, as I have a particular perspective for 2 reasons: 

  • My company was already fully remote before lockdown, so we’re familiar with how to make it work. Several of our customers are also remote businesses, so we already had many best practices in place.
  • As an entrepreneur with autism, I’ve had to be quite deliberate about setting up patterns and routines. It gives me a unique angle that I hope can help you.

Here is my list of tools and techniques to help you thrive as a business leader in Lockdown 2.0:

Great exercise routine. A great advantage of lockdown is that I have full control over my exercise schedule. No business trips or excuses for not getting out there. As a result, my running paces are the best they’ve ever been:

  • Virtual exercise groups. I’ve used Strava and whatsapp groups to share runs and rows, to encourage myself and others. We set challenges and congratulate achievements.
  • Set a weekly pattern. For me it’s sprints on a Monday, hill run on a Wednesday, and distance on a Saturday. Using the same routes each time takes the decision out of it.
  • Home exercise. We’ve converted our conservatory into a gym, and installed a rowing machine, which is a favourite. We get the whole family involved, and track progress.

Work patterns. With the move to virtual working, the diary has transformed into constant, back to back video conference calls. Much as I like the efficiency, there are also significant problems with this. Zoom calls are surprisingly draining, and too many days like that leave me with a headache and a sense of despondency. So, work patterns and 

  • Keep a day free. I book no calls on a Friday. This removes the sense of constantly having something pressing coming up. Like a ‘working out of the office’ day, my virtual door is closed that day. It allows me to get headspace and clear other work (or not work at all).
  • Workspace layout. I’ve invested significantly in my home office. New flooring, painted walls, and plenty of storage. I even have soft touches like flowers and a candle burning, to make it an organised and pleasant working environment.
  • Ergonomics. Height and distance of my screen is very important to avoid headaches (at least 50cm distant – more for a large screen – and just below eye level). I use a standing desk, and have a high stool to hand if my legs tire. Specialist keyboard, as well as camera and microphone for conf calls. 

I’m part of the team too. As the leader of the team, there is always a sense of pressure (real and self-imposed) to be strong. This is sometimes necessary, there have been many moments this year when leaders like me have had to stand up and say ‘We will get through this’. Having said that, the team is there for me too, and there are several ways that they can benefit me at this time:

  • Share. It’s OK on a bad day to say so to the team. If I’m fed up, or down, or not even sure what I’m feeling (a common one), it’s OK to say so. Vulnerability is a great leadership trait too. We’re in this together, and that means sharing goes both ways. 
  • Routine sets you free. Having used  the tools from the book ‘Scaling Up’ for many years, I’m a great believer in the benefit of check-in rhythms with the team, (and customers), which really improve communication and a sense of belonging to the team. I have:
    • 7.44 daily huddle every workday morning;
    • Weekly team huddle on a Monday, 
    • Specific weekly team huddles, such as sales, finance, and marketing.
  • Have some fun. We sometimes take up to a quarter or a third of our meetings just doing something fun. We’ve played ‘Would I lie to you’, shared childhood photos, and had music sessions sharing favourite songs.

Personal choices.Everyone lives their life their own way. Below I share some of my personal habits that I have found work for me. Most of these pre-date lockdown, but have been important in maintaining my happiness and positivity at this time:

  • Get to bed on time. In bed by 10pm every night, no exceptions.
  • Allow wonky working patterns. If I wake in the middle of the night with energy and an idea, go with it (this article being just such an example).
  • Family dinner. Together every evening. No phones.
  • IBZ. Get to inbox zero at least once a week, preferably once a day.
  • Dress for the office. Shirt and jacket. If I look like the boss of my day, I’ll feel more like it, and act like it.
  • No alcohol. I am sober 13 years this week, and have never looked back. I can’t imagine what lockdown must be like with alcohol included. For me, certainly dangerous.
  • Manage weight. If I ever hit 75kg (and it has happened a few times in lockdown) then immediate diet, no discussion. Don’t go down the slippery slope.
  • Limit news. I check key articles in The Economist once a week. No other news.
  • No social media. I use LinkedIn for professional purposes, and that’s it.

It won’t last forever

We’re in the marathon stage of this, not the sprint, but it won’t last forever, and the finish line will appear! Life will get back to normal. Some of what we’ve learned throughout lockdown will stick, there are many benefits we can keep from this special time. Things are out of balance now, but they won’t be forever. 2021 brings with it hope and new opportunities. “They say the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” from Bob Dylan’s ‘Meet me in the morning’

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