Lockdown 2.0: What’s the difference from the first time around?

Lockdown 2.0 presents its own challenges and opportunities to both workers and their employers.

In line with the first Lockdown, redundancies continue to rise throughout the second and third quarter of 2020. Despite the UK being better prepared for the introduction of new Lockdown measures, and the extension of the Job Retention Scheme until March 2021.

Along with this, stress-related absence is on the rise with 37% of respondents reporting a rise to the CIPD and Simply Health Wellbeing Survey. These factors are culminating in a rise of absenteeism and added pressure for those who are still working throughout this time.

It is also clear that the combination of dreary winter weather, the darker and shorter days, and ongoing workplace stress should refocus employer’s attention back onto employee wellbeing. If anything, even more so this time around.

Many of us are tired.  Tired of not seeing our families, our colleagues, and our friends. Tired of not going to a concert, the cinema, or a packed restaurant. Tired of our existences being rather one dimensional, laptop-based work, eat, sleep routine.

I help organisations appoint Senior Commercial Executives within FMCG businesses in my role as part of the Senior Leadership Team at the Walter James Group. There is plenty to do, day in and day out, and we have ambitious goals to strive towards and we must bring energy and enthusiasm to each day.  But before I finish my work for the evening, outside is a deep dark blue by 5pm, its cold, and the long outside walks from the first lockdown that helped me refresh my mind at the end of the day are no longer so accessible.

More than ever as we are now 2 weeks into this winter lockdown, we need to ensure we look around us to support our immediate teams and we need to challenge our organisations to support the wellbeing of their employees. To remain productive, it is important to recognise the second phase of lockdown as different - without the long summer evenings, different coping mechanisms need to be put in place.

Personally, I have relied on openness about the daily challenge of a lockdown and I have admitted my vulnerability more this time around. By admitting that it is tougher, weirdly that makes it easier…. I am absolutely openly talking about when I have a difficult day. I also keep my ‘office door’ open to the Walter James team and indeed my network across FMCG, family and friends – we may mostly still be locked-down inside our homes, working at the kitchen table laptops buzzing, but we all need to get outside, take a mental break & get some headspace or discuss something that is totally not related to work.

Across our team I’ve seen a range of strategies – from winter fitness commitments scheduled & ring-fenced into the diary, lunchtime walks, taking up yoga, coffee chats ‘no business chat allowed’, firmly shutting down tech at the end of each day and daily meditation routines.

All of these seem to have a positive impact and work individually and together.

Maybe you have other ideas? If you do, please do share them.

But is this it now?

There has been some interesting rhetoric these last few weeks about whether Lockdown 2.0 is the right thing to do and we must respect different schools of thought on that. I certainly think we are in for a little longer that the early December end we are holding onto. More concerning I feel is the discussions around this being 100% ‘the new normal’. To my mind, we must challenge the assumption that not seeing and working directly with our colleagues is an okay way to operate in the long-term. Inherently, we are sociable beings. We will miss the lack of human connection and camaraderie. We are missing the energy in a room, the connection, the team building, the ideas generation, and the innovation that we create from working closely with one another all pulling together towards a common goal.

The coffee machine chat can be artificially created for now – we have managed to make it still exist in lockdown. But first we must actively acknowledge that it is needed -  that screen-work is only part of the future of working and that one day we will be able to celebrate again simply ‘working together’ as well as ‘achieving goals’ together.

By Annabel Weeden

Partner - Commercial Practice Co-Chair D&I Board

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