Covid-19: “Hands and Hearts” (a reflection)

Dear clients, colleagues and service providers

In our senior staff meeting on Monday, we were reflecting on a theme of “Hands and Hearts”.  In this strange new reality most of us are working at home, or possibly be taking a mandatory break, in a place of physical isolation.  I have heard of numerous accounts of garages being cleared.  House painting is happening, and someone I know has already painted his roof!

All of this talks to the “hands”; what are we physically doing during this crisis.  So much of the initial pressure we were feeling was about getting set up to work from home, deadlines, and the need to identify high priority deadlines that could touch a life (e.g. payment of salaries) or that could result in a statutory penalty.  Other deadlines had to be renegotiated.  There are countless other issues, all of which are important and need to be addressed in an orderly manner.  But our important reflection on Monday was about how we are dealing with the relationship between our hands and our hearts. 

It is the heart that really matters as we work through this process.  How have we personally responded to this massive rate of change; in the world, our country, our businesses, our families, our own lives?  Experts in change management cite the change process as running a similar course to losing a loved one.  There will often be shock, denial, anger and depression, then moving to a place of acceptance and peace.  This Coronavirus change has happened so quickly, but also seems so open ended that there has been no time for a nice orderly process.  We will be facing these feelings at times and not necessarily in a defined order.  Sometimes the feelings will arise at the most unwelcome of times.  We have encouraged each other to reflect on this (me included!) – even if it feels uncomfortable – and also to reflect with their families.  We need to have a deep empathy for each other at such a time.

From the first day of our new “virtual” office, we realised that we needed to dramatically increase communication at all levels of our organisation.  The senior team meets with the directors daily (previously weekly), and they then have a smaller more intimate meeting with their immediate teams.  This has had a profound impact on how we are operating as a team.  During some “one on one” touch bases with staff there are some interesting themes that emerge, with one of the most common being that staff really appreciate the support the guidance they have received from the seniors.  And also, that they could not wait to get back into the physical office!  As an aside, it was also deeply encouraging to hear from each one of them their absolute appreciation for our President and the work he is doing.

A big insight in these “virtual meetings” is that we often spend more time on “heart” than “hands”.  Each meeting starts with a personal check-in from each person in the “virtual room”. How are they and how is their family?  We then reflect on the wider issues facing us.  And we then move to planning.  Our overriding sense as a team was that it was really important that we come through this process with our hearts intact and that we need provide mutual support, both to ourselves and our families.

The above reflection was prompted by our information to be shared today on virtual meeting protocols, as it is these meetings that have such a central role to much of the above discussion.   My PA Winette has drawn up a guideline for use by our team on electronic meetings, and I felt it was so good that it was worth sharing (see article).  I have had vastly different experiences of electronic meetings.  Some have been outstanding; everyone online a few minutes before the start.  But there have also been some that have been really frustrating.  These guidelines are practical, sometimes stating the obvious, but also drawing into some great insights that may not be so obvious.

I would like to highlight one point made by Winette of keeping emotion out of group meetings.  While the above discussion has promoted these virtual meetings as a way of connecting at the “heart” level, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of keeping negative emotions out of virtual group meetings.  It is not something I have encountered often, but when I have encountered it my reflection is that the impact does damage way beyond the issue at hand and in fact becomes deeply upsetting for all of the participants in the meeting.  One of the big downsides of an electronic format is that it is two dimensional, we cannot read body language.  Further, in a group meeting the other participants will often be displayed in a small window, or sometimes may not be seen at all.  In a physical meeting it is typically the physical cues that will temper our response and enable us to respond with empathy.  Far better to deal with that difficult issue on a one-on-one video call.  Practical issues, but ones that are very much within the theme of “heart”.

Thank you to Winette for putting these guidelines together.  Some of them may be obvious for the old hands.  For many of us, this is a learning process and you are welcome to share Winette’s notes if you feel it will help in the conduct of your own meetings.

Have a great day!

Kind regards


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