I was on this call earlier today, organized by Sharon Sperry, a brilliant woman in my community, who’s passion project is looking at how work is currently set up and how to shift it to be better for people. She calls it “The Batter Nature of Work”. The conversation revolved greatly around the shifts that have happened in work since the Coronavirus hit, what changes are positive, what systemic problems have been brought to light in the shift to work from home, and how leaders are succeeding or failing in the current climate. The common thread, as I saw it, was that many are being faced with how much power and responsibility they actually have.
In a pandemic, there’s so much talk of personal responsibility. Each person is responsible for staying home as much as possible to flatten the curve, and protect their community. There’s also an economic responsibility that we all face- and that is to stay in the economy. Local and small businesses are struggling to get by and it’s up to every individual to do what they can to support the businesses that they want to see get through this. Likewise, businesses have a responsibility to their people, to ensure that if they can keep people employed, then they do, and if they can’t then to be transparent and to offer as much support as they possibly can to furloughed and laid off workers.
Leaders have a responsibility to their people, to reassure and to deliver clear, vetted facts. This isn’t just political or business leaders that I’m talking about, this is also leaders of any social organizations, institutions of education, and families. We talked about how hard it is to be a parent right now. Needing to be a leader to little humans who have no idea what’s going on but can sense the fear and stress and notice the obvious disruption to their lives. Leading little ones has the added tax that there’s no going home after a full day, there’s no clocking out- you have to be there and ready to support and educate 24/7. My heart goes out to all you moms and dads out there.
We were discussing the issue of work-life balance, and how many are finding this more impossible to manage than ever before. In fact, there have been reports that many are working a solid 3 hours more a day during this pandemic than they ever did previously. Yes, the ritual of commuting, “starting” your work day and “ending” your work day, is gone, but everyone has autonomy over their life, and the ability to set boundaries. Yes, many are having to shift their processes to be doable at home, and are doing so in an atmosphere of extreme stress and fear, but each person is just as able to set the boundaries that they need as before.
Every person has the responsibility to themselves and their world to say yes or no. Up until now we’ve gotten away with not having to say no, because the structure of our day indicated it for us. When you arrive at work, you’ve started and you’re available. When you leave work, you’ve ended your day and are unavailable. Yes, we’re all living in our offices now, but it’s up to you to tell your colleagues when it’s ok to ping you for work and to expect an answer. There was a time when this all started that businesses were scrambling to set up their work from home systems, and there was so much buying fear that many things ground to a halt. We’re coming out of that now, and it’s your responsibility to set the boundaries you need going forward.
Lastly, there’s the responsibility each of us has to ourselves. Life has shifted, and yet our needs, desires, and values have not. It’s up to each of us to determine what we can meet for ourselves right now, and what we need to ask for help on. We’re not a species that finds it easy to stay home when there’s a crisis. When there’s a war, or a fire, or some natural disaster, humans’ natural tendency is to jump in and help. Being told that the way to help everyone is to stay home is counter to everything we’re made for. Each of us has a responsibility to fill that instinct to help in whatever way we can work out.