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Rachel Ellison MBE

Rachel Ellison Ltd

Executive Leadership Coach and Author

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Panic and pandemic: long-life lockdown


Some may be returning to the office this month, but others won't be going back in a hurry – or at least, may still work from home some of the time. So how will we all adapt to this new way of working in the long-term, now that the initial shock of lockdown is over?

The initial three weeks of lockdown, or ‘circuit-breaker’ as they’re calling it in Singapore, is now four months. It’ll soon be five or six or longer. As some managers measure out socially distanced desks, floor walks and assembly lines, others have told their workers they’ll not be back in the office until October. Or January or even next June.

After the initial scramble for broadband capacity, supermarket delivery slots and face masks, households and organisations across the globe focused on safety and survival.

Decisions at work that would normally take months of consultation, review and heady resistance, were achieved within days or even hours. There was no time to plan or prevaricate. Nobody said: ‘this cannot be done’. It was – and quickly. ‘Why can’t we do that with other imperatives, like equal pay?’ asked one eminent HR lawyer I know.

For those with jobs that can transfer to a desk at home, the kitchen table or in the case of many 20-somethings in studio flats, a computer balanced atop a duvet, working life continues through Covid-19 at pace. Early starts, midnight finishes and considerable amounts of non-alcoholic craft beer, have enabled many juggling the care of very young children, to hang on to their jobs, their professional reputations just about intact.

It feels as if we’re now entering long-life lockdown. Everyday is ‘Blursday’. Like long-life milk. It doesn’t taste ideal and nobody really wants to drink it. So with ‘le confinement’ as the French term it. Lockdown is a defence against contagion. Few people want to live like this – but we all do want to live.

That means the privation of movement, contact, holidays and the possibility of going to university or getting a job in the way many had hoped and dreamed. In terms of income, the next few months look precarious.

Harsh is the dichotomy between those with no time and no support, compared to others saddled with too much time. Frontline workers continue to serve the nation with backbone and heart. Sometimes at great cost to their own wellbeing.

Others who’ve wanted to help, are finding ingenious ways to do so, from running food banks and interfaith community kitchens, to driving medical supplies to the isolated and listening to primary school children read. Emergency has generated an outbreak of kindness. People have been caring and generous. Some with their time, some with their resources, some with the quality of their leadership.

Living in pandemic is a test of practical ingenuity, mental agility and psychological resilience…What a time to reflect. To examine on our relationship to work, to our institutions, to each other. What a time to learn.

We have been showered with a heart-warming fountain of cultural and fitness experiences from PE in the living room, to Zoom ballet, YouTube opera and theatre and pub quizzes on Skype. Alongside these fun time fillers, sit thousands of enriching academic inputs pitched from primary to tertiary education. For example, Oak National Academy’s online lessons, Ted-Ed’s Earth School, The Economist Educational Foundation on free speech and protest in pandemic; the Open University has a thousand courses from 1 hour upwards in length. An international suite of university offerings await on the British Academy’s Coursera programme. All gratis.  

For those determined to find hope amidst the panic of pandemic, learning is a golden opportunity to access new experiences and mental stimulation. Volunteering is another. A way of eschewing depression perhaps. Or making the free time you might have once craved – but not in this format – have meaning.

We will need to master longlife lockdown. At first, it was temporary reprieve (taken by many in pyjama bottoms) from the city commute. Now it looks as if it’s a semi-permanent way of working, with the bus or cycle route, replaced by the short journey from laptop to fridge.

How best to self-manage for the long haul? How best to lead others who may be coping more or less well? What about leading those you’ve never even met, having recruited them virtually during lockdown?

Maybe the key is to keep on asking these and many other questions. To continue to reflect. To try to keep growing. To consciously take with us, the best bits – the golden moments or the deepest insights – for when we are finally free of this virus. 

Author Profile Picture
Rachel Ellison MBE

Executive Leadership Coach and Author

Read more from Rachel Ellison MBE

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