After any interruption, most people find that it takes a while to get back on track; a few seconds to re-focus on whatever it is they were doing before the interruption. Perhaps they mutter “Right!” or “Now, where was I?” as they turn their attention back to their original task.
We’ve all been there. Distractions are all too common in the workplace and, according to researchers, it takes at least a couple of minutes to get back up to speed after you have been side-tracked.
COVID-19 has been more than a minor interruption or whimsical side-tracking. It has been a major disruption! Common sense tells us then that there will be a period of readjustment as we find our feet, but it won’t be a mere couple of minutes. The ‘new normal’ (as it’s being called – even while we don’t yet know what it will actually look like) will require a much longer settling-in period.
Let’s compare this to a sportsperson who is about to embark on a hard training session. To perform at their best, they will need to warm up properly. Without stretching those joints, sinews and muscles, something will get strained when they need to give it their all. If something ‘gives’, then the poor athlete is back to square one – indeed probably minus one if they injure themselves badly!
Different people will have different thoughts and feelings about this next phase of adjustment, coming at it from widely varying perspectives: have they been working full-time from home with minimal impact; juggling the difficulties of home schooling alongside a workload; or completely furloughed and therefore returning from a rather strange extended ‘holiday’?
Apart from the obvious risk-assessments and protective measures, we should be inclined to add ‘Easy Does It’ guidelines to our back to work policies to ensure the full variety of situations that people have experienced over the last few months can be accommodated accordingly, with plans phased in to match individual circumstances.
Maintaining communication with individuals to get a sense check will be vital: one person’s enthusiasm is another’s disruptive behaviour; you might be young and healthy – or have an underlying health condition; or just want to follow Government guidelines to the letter – but without understanding these individual circumstances, a blanket return to work policy might be counter-productive in the long-term.
Let’s embrace the fact that everyone will need to warm up in their own way, so be prepared to make allowances for that. If this is noticed, encouraged and rewarded, then the journey upwards towards a renewed level of optimal performance will be faster and smoother, and the resulting output will be consistent and reliable. Above all, too high an expectation of our people hitting the ground running may actually stall our journey back to efficiency and effectiveness.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the quote (often attributed to Abraham Lincoln); “If I am given four hours to cut down a tree, I would spend the first three hours sharpening my axe!”
Let’s allow folk a bit of time with their whetstones.