Why compassion must be our guide as we return to work

It’s almost unbelievable to think that we have now reached a year since the first national lockdown. Not because it’s gone so quickly, but because it hasn’t! We are now a year into this rather extreme social experiment; what happens when you remove all “unnecessary” social contact, almost all leisure sport and exercise, all avoidable travel, and dictate that people must live and work in their homes indefinitely amidst a constant and grinding narrative of danger and judgement. 

Tentatively, we are crawling towards a return to our previous way of life. Many people are now spending at least some time back in the office whether through hybrid working or going back full time. And although on the one hand we welcome the return to normality, in the other hand many people will deal with post lockdown trauma. 

What is this lockdown trauma? I think its the trauma of being starved and then force fed! Starved of all social contact and then force fed the social complexity of an office environment. Starved of all travel and then force fed the crowded commute. Starved of all extra curricular activities and then force fed the expectations of busy days and evenings out. Yes, we do want it all back, but for many many people this transition is going to be a little bumpy, and for others it may cause severe anxiety. 

This is why as we begin hybrid working or go back to the office full time, compassion must be our guide as we return to work. We need to have compassion on team members who are struggling to match the pace, who need a little more time and space than usual. Not everyone will need it, but keep your eye out for that person who seems to be struggling with the culture shock of expectations in the work environment. As Dr Dan Sherwood, a consultant psychiatrist at the Defence Rehabilitation Centre in Loughborough has said, “I think it is plausible that there will be a higher preponderance of workplace absences as lockdown lifts, and certainly in the early stages. And, if so, I think that that will have an impact potentially on the morale and psychological wellbeing of the reduced workforce, and increasing the likelihood of occupational burnout”. 

No doubt this transition back to office working will be a tricky one. We must be ready to respond with compassion , not judgement, when our team members and colleagues need support. 

What does it mean to be resilient?

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. In a recent episode of our podcast, Squeeze, we focused on Lucy Hone; an expert in resilience. Her Ted Talk on this topic is well worth a watch. Speaking from tragic personal experience and academic expertise, Lucy lays out three keys to being a resilient person.

Resilient people understand that bad things happen

Understanding this simple idea is critical in removing from ones self the sense of victimhood. Reframing the question, ‘why me?’ to ‘why not me?’ leads to a rapid perspective shift. We live in an age where we think that we are entitled to a perfect, picturesque, instagram lifestyle. But the objective truth is different. We are not entitled to any of these things, there are no guarantees, bad things do happen to good people.

Resilient people are really good at choosing where they apply their attention

This means realistically appraising situations, and focusing on the things that they can change, and accepting the things that they can’t. This, says Lucy, is a vital and learnable skill. The idea rolls off the tongue with ease, but the biological reality that human beings are hard wired to be highly receptive to negative emotions (threats and dangers) makes it very difficult. Studies have shown how our biological hardware is lagging behind cultural and societal development. What we are left with is an over active stress response which, rather than helping us run away from a tiger, leaves us emotionally drained after seeing something triggering on twitter.

Resilient people do not diminish the negative, but they have worked out a way of tuning into the good

In psychology, this is called benefit finding. One study asked participants to think of three good things that had happened to them each day. 6 months into the study, the group were showing higher levels of gratitude, happiness and less depression than the control group. Making a deliberate effort to tune into what is good in your world is demonstrably powerful.

Lastly, resilient people ask themselves, ‘is what i’m doing helping or harming me?’. The answer in any given scenario will probably be blindingly obvious, you only need the courage to ask the question. And when you ask the question, you are putting yourself back in the drivers seat and regaining some control over your circumstances.

Three simple, readily available strategies to help build resilience, if only we are willing to give them a try.

Get the most out of your Webcam

Whether you love it or hate it, video conferencing is the new normal, and it’s here to stay. For team meetings and catchups we can be content to use our in built webcams, but what about important presentations, sales meetings, or coaching sessions? There are times when we want to make a little more of an impression, and in this blog I will outline a few simple techniques and principals to help you add a touch of class to your zoom-pearance… (that’s zoom and appearance stapled together!), and get the most out of your webcam.

Webcams

Most laptops have a webcam of sufficient quality these days, but the real issue with webcams is the framing. We end up with a close up shot at an upward angle towards the face because of the tilt we want to have on our laptop screens. It’s okay, it’s not great.

The simple solution is to get hold of an external HD webcam. Mount the webcam a good few feet behind and above your laptop. This will achieve a much more professional ‘news reporter’ style shot, which includes your desk and your laptop in the frame.

Lighting

We want to avoid the extremes. Poor lighting delivers a dark and often fuzzy picture as software tries to digitally lighten the image. Too much light and the image will be blown out. If we’re going for a super professional look, then we want to aim for three sources of light; a key light, a fill light, and a back light.

The key light is the main source of light in the video, and for our purposes is best placed at a 45degree angle from the subject, at a downward angle replicating sunlight. Light sources that are at an upward angle produce the unsettling horror movie look, and we certainly aren’t aiming for that! The fill light should be less bright than the key light, and fills in some of the shadows that are caused by the key light. And lastly, the back light creates separation between the subject and the background, creating a stronger silhouette. These light sources could be artificial, studio lights or even lamps, or you can just as effectively utilise natural light through windows, by placing yourself at the right angle from the window. In most scenarios, a combination of natural light and a lamp in the background will be perfect. What we are aiming for is a well lit subject, with some subtle shadows on one side of the face, separated from the background.

Background

You might think the plainer the background the better, and in some context you would be right. However, sitting up against a blank wall is not actually the most aesthetically pleasing choice. Don’t be afraid to have a dynamic and colourful background with books, shelves, lamps, or artwork in view. Just be sure there is nothing inappropriate or compromising in the frame! For a really professional look, get as much space between yourself and the background as you can in the room. This gives a sense of 3D depth to the frame, in comparison to sitting close to a wall which can feel claustrophobic and one dimensional.

So there you have it, three simple ideas that you could implement to take your zoom game to the next level.

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I'm Bob Bannister, owner, and trainer at iManage Performance, the specialists in training for remote workers and managers with over 20 years of experience in this sector.

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