HPC Executive Coach, Tom Armstrong argues that despite the huge changes experienced during lockdown and home working, for most people, core obstacles, challenges and opportunities haven’t changed as much as we might think.
When Covid-19 struck in March 2020, I wondered “what new challenges will people in businesses and organisations face” – now that our working world had been turned upside down. Initial challenges ranged from teamwork and team meetings to Wi-Fi to tech anxiety. And on the positive side, people cited the joy of the lack of the daily commute and greater flexibility.
Home working issues
For sure, most people are sensing a loss of connection and belonging, and the physical sense of people. There is a general feeling of fatigue related to the general consequences of lockdown. However, on questions around ability to collaborate, set boundaries, remain productive and perform, there is a much wider range of opinions and no clear consensus – with almost equal numbers favouring home / remote working and office working – a clear nod to blended working.
When I ask clients ‘what would you like to talk about and explore?’, and I follow their story, the conversations move towards more familiar themes, albeit in different surroundings.
Coaching issues during home working
This surprised me initially. So, I looked back over my notes to see what were the most common themes that emerged over the last year. They look remarkably familiar, but on reflection I’m not surprised.
– Self-doubt / fear of looking foolish
– Being courageous
– Limiting beliefs and assumptions
– Adapting and being flexible
– Empowering the team
– Vulnerability and leading
– Managing relationships
– Authentic leadership
– Career Presence / gravitas
– Personal values / organisation values alignment
– Self-awareness and habit changing
What does this mean?
Home working, and especially if and when we move to a mix of blended working, is mainly an issue around how we work. And yes, there is significant fallout and consequences – many of which are not fully apparent yet. Home working will need to be handled carefully if it is to succeed for all stakeholders. However, people are flexible and if this pandemic proves anything it is the adaptability of humanity. In terms of productivity, the Irish economy grew by 3% in 2020 (GDP of course, is boosted by medical and pharmaceutical exports). While this is a crude measure, I believe it demonstrates how quickly human beings can adapt and respond, especially in the short term. Most of us ‘do what it takes’ – we survive. The fax, the telephone and the internet have all changed how we work in recent centuries. The constant factor is the human being at the centre.
The long game
The long game and the challenges people face have not changed as much as we may have first thought. Issues around courage, leadership, empathy and more, will continue to test us. We could be deflected from tackling these constant themes based on recent positive experiences around adaptability. Also, because of home working, some issues are less visible than if we were in the office. However, the key issues that people face remain and are part of being human. The choice is whether to tackle and overcome the barriers and challenges, and help people thrive – or not. Whether there is a lockdown – or not. Whether there is blended working – or not. To quote Stephen Covey, “we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and obstacles.” Taking actions that have long term reward requires long term focus, vision, patience, and courage.
What can we do?
Concerns around connection, belonging and collegiality have increased during home working and I believe these are red flags for the long term. The more familiar challenges, obstacles and opportunities that people face are still there too – it’s part of being human. The surest way to facilitate our people to help themselves is through supporting them in their development, like a sports coach working tirelessly with their team no matter how good they ‘think’ they are.
Well-functioning humans are at the heart of healthy businesses and organisations. Executive coaching helps people manage and find ‘their way’ through the multitude of challenges that working and living throws at them – to draw on their own reserves, to survive and thrive – both now and into the future, whatever it holds.
Tom is a member of HPC’s Executive Coaching Panel. In addition to his coaching qualifications, he has over 25 years’ experience working as a senior executive within various sectors.
Prior to joining HPC, Tom worked at a senior level in the Motor, Investment, Leisure, Equestrian and Property sectors. He was the Finance Director of Toyota Ireland for 10 years and CFO of Killeen Group Holdings for over 4 years. In addition to operating as part of the senior management team, he had overall responsibility for Finance, IT, HR, and Company Secretarial.
Tom’s executive coaching experience has enabled him to coach in a wide variety of environments including executives in small, medium and large private sector companies, as well as private individuals and leaders in public organisations.