Remote working styles during Covid-19

Friday 17th April 2020

Caterpillar or Butterfly?

Ria Varnom, experienced trainer, coach and friend of Waldrons sets out her observations on remote working-styles during COVID 19, with a reminder to also consider your own development as you look after the development of others.

If you are new to remote working, I’m guessing you might be even newer to remote managing.

By now the advantages of working from home might have warn off, multitasking home and work at the same time is so 2020!   Already forgotten is the hectic early morning commute, the long queues in your favourite coffee shop and then the Sherlock Holmes-esque hunting down who has ‘borrowed’ your stapler and worse still, whose turn it is to do the washing up.   As a business, you will be facing different trials and joys, let’s not forget the joys.

I’d like you to think back to Valentine’s Day 2020,  (14th of February for those of you that need a clue) doesn’t it seem in the dim and distant, a long time ago now?  If I asked you on 14th of February “What is your relationship with your colleagues like.  How well does your team function? In fact, are you loved up with work?” what would your answer have been?

What is your answer to these questions now… what are your thoughts? You may have the same answers to both sets of questions, however you may have answered a little differently because the world feels like it is not revolving in quite the same way now.

We are all managing the additional and practical situations life presently demands of us, and for some those situations are emotionally charged.  I know a colleague adept in their role at work looking tired and frustrated during a Zoom conference as he was bombarded in the spare room/study by three under seven year olds wanting daddy to have a water pistol fight in the garden, by the look of things they looked like they had a head start on poor old dad. It was part of their home schooling science syllabus apparently. My husband is shopping for his dad, some neighbours and us, getting dodgy looks at our local shop for the number of visits and toilet roll packs.  We are facing new regimes of home schooling, needy elderly relatives or even a family member who is ill.

I am coaching a manager who is currently separated from her 20 year old daughter and newly born baby granddaughter.  Her daughter is a single mum, living in a rural area and feeling overwhelmed and quite alone.  It’s hard for both of them, and really affecting my coachee’s ability to concentrate on her very demanding job in the Fire Service.  She is not alone, for even our Prime Minister is recovering at Chequers with his cabinet team continuing to step up as he gets back to full strength. 

We are all learning new skills, some carry extra emotional concerns than previously.

If you’re finding the challenges of managing a bit tough, whether in the office remote working or on furlough,  give yourself a little compassion, these are difficult times and we all react differently. Maybe it’s time you took the opportunity to refresh your skills or look into having a coach to help you gather your thoughts and get on top of your game. 

I have been using Nature as my muse of late, listening to the morning and dusk birdsong, noticing changes in the garden with each passing day and I’ve started to see an occasional butterfly, which got me thinking… Here are some ideas for managing the psychological process that underlies our way of addressing Covid19.

Some might revert to the egg stage, retreating into our shell, a place of safety, withdrawn and immobilised.  Some species hatch from being an egg within a few weeks others only when the weather turns warmer. 

If you have withdrawn and pressed pause, by whatever means hand over information/responsibility to someone else? 

If you are working with someone who has beat a hasty retreat, try a little compassion and let them know you are looking out for them, coax and encourage them to set agreed goals. Try to engage them through set times to check in and track those daily goals/tasks that are easily achievable , this can rebuild their confidence and reduce their need to be distant or fear of being caught out.

If you are at the Caterpillars stage, you will begin to emerge from the box sets/ overwhelm and initial shock of remote working and getting to grips with new technology. As the book says caterpillars are very hungry.  They eat their way out of the egg and munch through most of the foliage on the host plant protecting them. The caterpillar stage may be about exploring new things, entrepreneurial caterpillars will find new outlets for their ideas, others may be very hungry for the latest updates – will the company survive, is my job safe?    If your colleagues or customers seem more demanding or hungry for knowledge, eg. requiring instant answers by asking lots questions, needing reassurance, perhaps rechecking everything  and listening out for the latest news update; beware, you may feel overwhelmed, it’s a challenge to keep on top of your work and manage people who seem more burdensome than usual. You may notice they are more hyper-vigilant than they were before, if so, get in first, early in the day and check in with them, from then on keep them informed regularly letting them know when and how and they can factor this in and be reassured sufficiently  to move to the next stage.

Caterpillars grow fast when fed, they shed their skin up to 100 times as they grow.  With a good level of care and control you could see rapid growth from egg to full-size caterpillar;  for short term regular investment, expect growth in confidence and greater output.  This quick growth stage requires sound information from you, with enough nourishment so that like the caterpillar can grow in stature

Once fully grown the caterpillar will turn itself into a pupa or chrysalis, this stage of its life cycle is its most creative and leads on to fully formed adult.  It is only by living within the shelter of the chrysalis that caterpillars transforms its shape into a butterfly. 

The journey time from egg to butterfly varies and usually takes place under the shelter of a leaf from the host plant. You are like the leaf on the host plant, a safe place for the pupae to grow and develop. Maybe it’s time for you to focus on your development, you could consider doing some training or ask someone you admire to mentor you, to help shape your future. Where do you take shelter to grow, become strong and transform? And what of your customers, direct reports and colleagues, are you their shelter, do they usually turn to you?  If you aren’t available, who else within your business can offer them guidance and direction in the same way? Consider your needs, if you keep creating beautiful butterflies, wouldn’t it be lovely to fly with them?

Final stage: Emerging from the chrysalis is a brand new butterfly, it takes a little while for the adult wings to dry and be strong enough to fly, perhaps you’ve been tempted to ease back into your chrysalis for a bit of solace, to have a breathing space and  let your wings to dry,  just like the butterfly who is now fully adult,  now it’s time  take to the sky and fly.

I understand that it’s tempting to creep back into the chrysalis for shelter, your place that feels safe and comforting, For others its somewhere they are ready to leave, ready to fly. 

There will be some with magnificent colourful wings plus the more often seen Cabbage White, both go on about the business making the world a little better, all butterflies bring joy to those who see them fly past.

We are at our best when we can practice patience during this time, encouraging our own caterpillars to grow, develop then fly, then explore the world beyond  their chrysalis and ensure they touch base and recharge, before taking off once more.

Ria is experienced in delivering ‘people services and solutions‘ in many business environments spanning her career. A proficient confidant to decision makes or reviving the spirits of frazzled executives, Ria helps people to shine as she draws on her coaching talent to hone raw potential in people as they advance within the company.  She excels in supporting HR and Directors to turn around poor performers and build buy-in,

Ria is adept at creating flourishing organisations through bespoke  coaching and training, resulting in successful long term development.   

Contact.     Tel:  07900 497381.      

Illustrations by Amy Purfield-Clark contact: amy

Please note that there is no fee sharing or referral fee agreement in place between Ria Varnom and Waldrons.