Those that know me, know that I talk a lot about my shed. Indeed, recently at a new project meeting, when asked to introduce ourselves, we were also asked to talk about an object that was important to us right now. Others chose gorgeous artifacts or pictures of loved ones and told beautiful personal stories. I chose my shed.
The thing is, this shed – this object of meaning – really has been a safe place for me these last 14 months. I work here. Long hours, through the heat of last summer (seriously thought I was going to combust) and the freezing winter, draped in blankets. With my children at home so much, including one who was auditioning for musical theatre schools involving the kitchen being turned into a dance studio and the living room into a sound studio, it really has been invaluable for the many zoom training sessions and meetings I need to attend. I’ve been lucky.
But what became very clear about three weeks ago was that this shed had become so much more than a workspace – it had become a life raft. And if I may continue with the analogy, being told to prepare to jump off that life raft and start swimming in the cool blue non-covid related waters again, was quiet frankly overwhelming. And so, 3 weeks ago, I found myself one evening unable to stop crying. I had a lot to do that evening. Workwise there were some lengthy contractual agreements to review, some preparation for a leadership programme I was delivering and numerous emails to respond to. Home wise? Well there was the usual to do – walking the dog, cooking the dinner, sorting out the laundry etc. Then there was the daily call to my Dad who has dementia – you never know how that will go and how it will make you feel afterwards. But what tipped me over that night I think was just one extra thing – it could have been anything. It happened to be student loan forms. It wasn’t the complexity of the forms that hit me. It was the fact that student loan forms signalled the very near future for my family. A future when I would be required to return to my old life of constantly being on the move, dashing between client offices and chasing my tail. A future far away from the safety of my shed.
I’ve realised just how nervous I am about life outside my shed. What will it be like? What will I be like? What will others be like? This feeling is so unusual. I’m an extravert by nature, self-sufficient, independent and organized. The old me might have known what to do, what to be outside my shed, but the new me, this me in April 2021 is slowly, nervously feeling her way.
And here’s the thing, I don’t think I’m alone in this. Maybe some might think I shouldn’t voice it as a leader of a team. That what my team needs right now is steadfastness and solutions. But what if my vulnerability, my own sense of unfamiliarity, might help them feel their way outside their sheds? I’m writing this because I do believe that what will be needed from leaders as we emerge from our private safe spaces is empathetic and compassionate leadership. My worry is that whilst plans are being made to deal with logistics and operational needs, where to put what desk, that people may have forgotten that we are dealing with people here. And people need safe spaces in their workplaces – a space to share the trauma and grief they have suffered in their homes, a space to share the fears for their children’s futures, and a space quite simply to share the terror they feel every time they get on their train to work. These will be the conversations by the coffee machines after May 2021, and we need to prepare for the impact of these emotions.
Are you preparing your hybrid workplace for the emotions that will walk through the door - everyday?
Are you actively encouraging and helping your leaders to demonstrate authenticity, vulnerability and empathy?
Are you thinking about how to create safe spaces for people to share how they are feeling?
Are you skilling up your Allies, your Networks and your employee forums to help support the psychological safety that needs to be in place when people emerge from their sheds?
Whether you are or you aren’t – if you fancy a chat about how to keep your people feeling safe, then please contact us, and/or join us for our webinar on 29 April: Summer of ‘21 and beyond: the human-centred workplace.
You can find more resources and information about how we're helping organisations with the shift to the hybrid workplace here.