One of the central lessons of What Matters at Work is that we must pay close attention to our Core Values and Intentions. When our worlds are “turned upside down” by major disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this focus is even more crucial: There are the opportunities to be distracted by the never-ending news cycle, we can be paralyzed by fear for ourselves and our loved ones, and we may be overwhelmed by our new work circumstances with family members and housemates working from home… Thus, we may easily stray from What Matters.
Yet there are opportunities in the midst of this way of Being and Doing that offer new pathways towards discerning What Matters, if we take the time to notice them:
- Revisit your Core Values and Intentions — Are they remaining ‘top of mind’ these days? Have they been displaced by work with new urgency? Before setting aside these ideas, make sure they are explored for the opportunities they offer.
For example, our business may have shifted its priorities to “all COVID-19, all the time” and set aside any other projects. My intention is to Think Strategically, so I am not only reacting to the crisis just ahead. There is urgency to the current focus, to be sure, and there is also value in keeping some attention on those priorities that will sustain us when we need to shift focus in a few months. For some, this may not be possible right now, but for others there is energy to offer such attention.
We often feel our own resources are in short supply at times of crisis, especially if we have had work reduced or our jobs have disappeared (which is a reality for at least ⅓ of us). But if my value is to be Generous, how might I live into that value? Perhaps I can connect with people I care about, to be sure they have what they need, or find ways to help out while being “sheltered in place” while being mindful of my need to find new work and income.
Consider ways of being true to your values that are possible because of the threats to our well-being, noticing new ways to invest in yourself and your community that wouldn’t have been noticed had we not been in crisis (for example, some are seeing the importance of gaps in the health care system that were being set aside previously). These interests are not in conflict with one another – We may even find new synergies through such thinking.
- Motivation and focus can ebb at times during the day, leading to self-critical comments about dedication and commitment. Allow yourself to experience these shifts, then create “transition structures” that facilitate new ways of getting energized. Start small, by doing relevant, energizing tasks and then committing to 20m, then 40m spurts of focused energy on less-appealing, necessary tasks. Set aside those things that can truly wait, and shift modes regularly in ways that allow you to manage sitting, screen time. Many of the suggestions made about the Desired Calendar Activity are relevant.
- Meetings may become less structured, offering chances to “check in” that are valued in working relationships. We are usually so hurried and task-driven, racing from one meeting to another (I realize that can happen in strings of Zoom meetings, as well). If we take a few minutes to “check in” at the start of the meeting, it can be a valued “safe space” to hear ideas and feelings derived from some aspects of this new way of working. It is also a chance to express the ambivalence towards some of our work tasks and projects that we are feeling. It’s all there, it’s all real.
My only caution is not to let the meeting goal and purpose be so distracted from such discussion that we never get to our work purpose, or that one person’s angst overwhelms the group. We can manage our time to focus on the things that matter in our work while also regarding the special circumstances we are experiencing.
- Journal Your Experiences of this Moment: We have little idea how the COVID-19 experience will play out, or how long we will be “sheltered in place” in our communities. As such, taking stock of how we are working at this time may be especially valuable. We can notice how our Core Story is informing our actions and we can sense how our Core Values and Intentions are being tested. We can begin identifying new ways of working that we may take forward with us when we move into the next phase, after the crest of the pandemic recedes. It is becoming clear that the economic and societal impacts will linger for months or years, so being aware of our priorities will be useful for a considerable period of time.
- Communities of Practice are more essential than ever: Use virtual platforms to continue or initiate peer-led learning opportunities. There may be ways to engage members who haven’t been able to participate in some time, either because geography has prevented their personal attendance or because schedules have new flexibility. CoP’s are great sources of ideas to address pressing project needs, as well as ways to build connections as we think about new work opportunities.
There are ways of noticing such opportunities in our personal lives, as well:
- Through preparing meals with ingredients that we now have available, we discover new tastes to relish together. From this discovery, we may engage our kids in new ways or hear stories of our parents and grandparents that lay dormant, opening up new channels of communication within our family regarding those things we value;
- In our isolation, we are reminded of friends we haven’t seen in many years, and connect through email or video chat. We have previously discussed the importance of connecting with others during this time… it also allows us to make new discoveries about ourselves.
For example, one friend from my youth recently found herself scanning old photos, sent me a few where I was present, and we had a really nice way to catch up a little. In turn, it offered me a way to connect with my family about a phase of my life far removed from our experiences together;
- Reframing and redefining our social groups allows for creativity and new contributions from members. It also lets us reach out and support those who are needing it, whether due to job loss, illness, or other stressors that influence our ways of being a group together. Personally, I have missed some important gatherings and fear many more will be canceled. But this allows me to discover new ways of connecting that can have great value to all of us.
By revisiting our core values and intentions, old pathways get reinvigorated and restored while new ones open for us to discover. If we stay true to What Matters during such a unique time, it can pay meaningful dividends for us and for our organizations in the future.