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I started writing this a little while ago and stopped because it felt like maybe this blog had missed its time. However, hearing a number of stories this past week reiterating what I had struggled through almost verbatim, made me want to share again while I feel like I am on the ‘other side’ – even if only momentarily.

The last few months have been hard. Really hard. I ended up in hysterical tears on the phone telling my husband I couldn’t do it; that educating, feeding, cleaning and trying to work was impossible. I can joke now about how he dropped an ICAS brochure on my desk. At the time, I didn’t respond well. But it did make me wonder what I could do to learn more to support my own wellbeing, because maybe he had a point, and the reality of going back to ‘normal’ was a very distant idea.

I have read a number of articles and listened to thought leaders who agree that most businesses will not go back ‘to the office’ just like before. That, for many, time in the office will be an occasional visit as opposed to the everyday norm. The question around being productive in the WFH scenario has been answered, now my clients are dealing daily with the question of wellness of individuals in this ‘new normal’.

I have read, noted and experienced some of the principles and actual tools used to support wellness, and I’d like to share just a few.

Number one that comes up over and again, is that leadership is key, and leading with a purpose – providing a reminder of the values shared both by an organization and of its teams.

Communication ties closely to this – transparency, clarity, and individualized, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of your business and teams. It is the WhatsApp group, bulk sms, email or video – the purposeful daily connect done authentically – and for some leaders it is also about committing to both personal and professional connections in separate spaces and times.

As this continues, how do you make up for the missed ‘water cooler’ moments of connection? How can you create a deliberate interaction to make up for chance moments of daily life? I don’t have an exact answer, because virtual lunch really never did it for me (this may have everything to do with my state of mind and not the idea) – but I do kind of love how our leaders have created a spontaneous quiz delivered through the team WhatsApp group. The lure of some unknown prize may be driving many but, for me, it’s more about the opportunity to joke and interact beyond the work we share, in a way that feels spontaneous.

Let’s all agree, that this most certainly is not “business as usual’! Great leaders will be explicit in sharing this too. Someone shared with me how a team member had called and burst into tears, saying she simply couldn’t cope and the only solution she could come up with was to use all her leave so as not to fail. What impressed me most was this person telling their colleague no, there is another solution, perhaps it’s about figuring a new schedule, which probably won’t be perfect at first, and let’s work this out together.

Resilience is a word that comes up again and again, and we need to support individuals to figure this out. Formalised training may be the answer, or perhaps it’s a discussion around the changing ‘look’ of your typical work day (the endless day that I know many are experiencing right now), and the need to take recovery breaks and the subtle (or perhaps not so) suggestion to reframe the activity done in those breaks to create a more positive mood and more energized return to work (think people taking joy in the dishes and hanging laundry – it is true).

There are so many examples, and in my desire to continue learning more, I would love to hear yours.

Author Info: Michelle Bedford-Shaw

Michelle grew up in a mining town on the Copperbelt in Zambia and moved to South Africa to finish school and then pursue a law degree. She completed her studies – and promptly disappointed her parents by deciding not to be a lawyer.

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