Isn't life crazy? One day you're crammed into the office like a sardine, hanging out around the water cooler catching up on the latest company gossip and the next you're working in isolation from your home in your button-down shirt and pajama pants with your dog on your lap. On Monday you were fighting rush-hour traffic and on Friday, you're fighting your neighbor for the last roll of toilet paper on the grocery store shelf.
Would you ever have guessed how much your life would change in 2020; either temporarily or permanently? Whether it's at home or at work, what does your "new normal" look like? And more importantly, how are you coping with it?
Let's look at a couple of new "Normals" we have to deal with:
A brand-new vocabulary: "PPE", "N95", "Herd Immunity", "Super Spreader Events", "Shelter in Place" and of course the ever popular "Flattening the Curve."
Elbow bumps, foot kicks or "air-fives" in place of handshakes
Searching for a mask that goes with your outfit, supports you local sports team or makes your preferred political statement.
"Bouncers" who take your temperature at your hair dresser
A legitimate excuse to stay 6 feet away from that co-working with the bad breath
The intent here is not to make light of a very serious situation. People are dying. Nothing funny about that. Many of us are fighting just to survive. That said, many of us also are trying to figure out how to do more than survive. We are trying to figure out how to THRIVE in the "new normal." The most successful individuals understand that adversity brings opportunity. Opportunity to grow, opportunity to evolve and opportunity to serve. The new, more isolated, more virtual world brings with it a lot of complexity and a lot of opportunity. Let's take a look at some examples of the side-effects of our new lifestyle and the opportunities that exist for growth.
As an introvert, I'm in heaven. As an extrovert, my wife is in hell. Social isolation has a real, tangible, psychological influence on our well-being.
Teams that worked closely together every day now hardly see it other.
Continuous Low Level Stress and Anxiety
Many of us have either lost jobs, are about to lose jobs, or have been impacted by the pandemic in our businesses. In some cases stages even our food supply interrupted or affected. Our need for safety and security has been severely impacted.
We live in permanent uncertainty. When will this end? How will I be affected? Will my company survive? With so many unknowns, uncertainty creates continuous low level stress, which in turn causes many other health related issues.
Statistics show that divorce is up by 34% during the pandemic compared to the same time last year with newlyweds doubling their divorce rate. While there are many different reasons, from a career perspective, one is worth mentioning; Work/Life Boundaries. With remote work blurring the lines between work and home, boundaries start to fade. When one partner spends a disproportionate amount of time at work (or play), resentment starts to creep in and relationships start to suffer.
Now that we've defined some of the challenges, let's seek to find some solutions.
SOLUTIONS: HOW CAN WELL DEVELOPED SOFT SKILLS HELP?
Firstly, let's get specific about the term "Soft Skills". I believe that part of the reason we overlook these skills as a solution is because we really don't define them clearly enough.
Soft skills are the inter-personal, professional or life skills that allow us to function optimally when working with or relating to other humans. It is the non-technical skills that determines 85% of our life and career success.
Here are some examples of these life skills as it relates to our current lifestyles:
Ability to read the emotions, intentions and behaviors of others
The ability to respond appropriately to social situations
Empathy: The ability to put yourself in the shoes of others
Creative Problem Solving
How do we apply these to our new virtual world? Here are 6 recommendations for using your soft skills in a virtual world to kickstart your path from surviving to thriving.
Be extra tolerant and patient. Remember how stressed we all are. Be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Practice empathy. The person on the other side of the zoom call might not be distracted because she's just not interested. It might be because she's a single mom trying to balance her career with homeschooling a teenager at the same time. Cut her some slack.
Over Communicate: Whether you're speaking to someone from behind a mask or from behind a Zoom window, these barriers filter out some of the non-verbal communication, facial cues, or sound quality needed for good communication. Pay extra attention to making sure the message is received by the other party, not just sent by you.
Flexibility: Understand the "old normal" is no longer normal. Practice empathy and be flexible wherever possible to accommodate new circumstances. In spite of the fact that remote work is almost the new norm, there are still companies who force their associates to physically come into work in spite of the fact that their work is all computer based. That is old school thinking.
Be extra self-aware: Really take the time to explore your thoughts, emotions, behavior and habits as it relates to isolation and working remotely with your team. Are you part of the solution or part of the problem? Are you helping others overcome this challenge or are you contributing to the chaos? Are you making remote work easier for your peers, seniors or subordinates or harder?
Be very intentional about making more personal connections. Call someone, text someone, Zoom-call someone or send an email EVERY day. Attend virtual networking events or create your own virtual happy-hours but whatever you do, stay connected. Not just to combat social isolation but to grow your network and thrive.
Creativity: Necessity is the mother of invention. New circumstances is an opportunity for creativity. How can you come up with creative ways to connect, learn, grow and serve in the circumstances where you are?
Success in life is less about surviving the storm as it is about learning to dance in the rain. Are you surviving or thriving in the 2020 storm? And more importantly, are you adding some sunshine to others or are you bringing more dark clouds? My hope is that this article will help us all focus a little more closely on some of those critical life skills that turn surviving into thriving.
Be safe out there.