This current period we're in is unique and stressful and in many ways unpleasant. It's not what any of us want, but it's what we've got. People are stressed and angry, frustrated and sad. The political, economic, and social aspects of our lives seem to swirl and seethe daily, pulling us on currents of emotions that exhaust us. For many, it feels like life is a jumble of sizes and shapes, none of which fit together in a logical manner.
In talking with colleagues in IT in a variety of industries - healthcare, non-profits, utilities and services - the picture is the same. Staff are stressed and distracted, no matter their personal circumstance. Some are more challenged than others with illnesses or spouses unemployed, kids at home without adequate supervision, elderly parents thousands of miles away, ill or isolated. We've talked about how we, as IT leaders, can maintain the quality of service that's expected of IT in this challenging time while being compassionate with our staff in this difficult time.
This is not easy to do when organizations are clamoring for more technology to solve remote issues. Work from home, kids schooling at home, tele-visits for primary care practices, tele-monitoring for hospitalized COVID patients, remote monitoring, sensing, managing all involves IT on some level. And there's the information security aspect of remote access, managing multi-factor authentication, user provisioning all while maintaining the highest information security standards. The demand is exploding, but staffing remains at or below prior levels. That typically sounds like a train wreck in progress and in some cases it is. So, what's a leader to do? There are no magic answers, but here are three proven techniques for managing through difficulties that may be useful for you and your teams.
1. Ensure you're taking care of yourself and maintaining your perspective.
It's imperative that you ensure you're taking care of yourself first so that you can take care of your family, your staff, and your community. If you're a wreck, you're of no use to anyone. That means getting enough sleep, eat well, exercise a bit and chill. That itself can be a tall order these days, but find something that will help restore your perspective and allow your best self to emerge. Take a break when you're struggling. Once you've restored your own equilibrium, you can lead your team toward better outcomes.
2. Remain compassionate and flexible while managing within the requirements of the organization.
People have unique needs right now and a compassionate leader allows for variance within reason. Flexible work hours, flexible delivery of results, short-notice time off - whatever your staff need to help them manage their lives will ultimately help your organization. Of course, you need to maintain requirements for productivity, quality, and timeliness, but creative solutions will help bridge the gap for employees and reduce their stress. When they're less stressed, they perform better. Everyone wins.
3. Engage your staff and your leadership in problem-solving and prioritization.
Your staff know what their constraints and roadblocks are. Sometimes it's a simple fix to clear the way. Often working with a team to prioritize work and deprioritize non-essential work can deliver the result you need.
Sometimes it's complicated or political or expensive and you'll need to engage your organizational leadership in problem solving if working at the team level doesn't yield enough relief. Sometimes it's an executive-level conversation to discuss growing demand with limited resources. Ultimately, it's a math equation - organizational demand vs. supply (staff time, resources, etc.). Fine-tuning that equation is how you find a new equilibrium, a new normal.
If you haven't talked with your staff about how to manage demand, start there. Your team will appreciate that you're engaged with them in problem solving and simply talking about what the team needs and what it can do today can allow creative solutions to emerge.
Remember, people don't think well under stress.
Reduced stress = Improved critical thinking = Problems solved.
Easier said than done, but taking the first step is the best way to get started.