The global impact of COVID-19 has created fundamental shifts in the way we live and work. These unprecedented times are creating new and unfamiliar stressors, both personal and personal. As I speak with companies and people in the US and here in Japan, I hear the following challenges:
- Many organizations have already begun to see a downturn in business. Recessionary predictions can put even the most optimistic business owner on edge. Those in the tourism, hospitality, and foodservice industries have likely been the earliest and hardest hit. Small, locally-owned businesses may be particularly vulnerable as clients put off making buying decisions.
- As global markets ride a roller coaster of uncertainty, we may find it challenging to take business risks or to forecast our future revenues accurately. We may find our decision-making stalled or not knowing how to respond to sudden changes in market downturns.
- We may find ourselves in genuinely unprecedented and vexing business realities. We have no business models that are effective right now. In our lifetime, we have not had a pandemic this far-reaching. Nor have we existed in such a global business environment, where its implications for our day-to-day business are significant.
- Being repeatedly exposed to a stimulus over which we have little control creates a psychological phenomenon known as learned helplessness. This can have significant mental health impacts, such as acute stress, prolonged anxiety, and even depression.
- Personal restrictions, such as limited social interactions, social distancing, and diminished work-related interactions can create risks for isolation.
- Concern for our safety, or for loved ones who may be a higher risk, can exacerbate anxiety and create chronic worry. These stressors can increase with overexposure to the media, sleeplessness, and limitations places on our daily activities.
Remember, when facing adversity, all good endurance athletes realistically assess the current situation, adjust their strategy, and begin a slow but disciplined shift in mindset and behavior to reach the finish line. Similarly, there are things you can do to help minimize risks, both personally and professionally to keep you healthy, safe, and prepared for the future.
- Re-evaluate your business strategy, early and often. Ill-considered or old strategies will not win in the future market. Whatever your playbook was, put it aside and start bringing in a fresh approach. Engage with team, colleagues, and even others in your industry to evaluate current versus future state and implement plans. Some helpful resources are Michael Porter’s seminal work on the Five Forces, Playing to Win, and Strategy that Works.
- Build a learning culture. The companies that will win in the “new normal” are those that reward innovative risk, embrace fast failure, and encourage new approaches. Some resources to help are The Lean Startup, Design Thinking, and The Eight Essentials of Innovation.
- Communicate and support your people. In uncertain times, people need clear and consistent messaging from their leadership; in times of crisis, they need those messages fast and often. As workplaces move from in-person to virtual, start planning strategies for successful virtual meetings, consistent visibility of senior leaders, and strategies to provide both internal and external support. To help in this arena: Scott Eblin’s How To Lead Compelling Virtual Meetings, Part 1 and Part 2, and the CDC’s direction regarding communication management during crisis.
- Protect your health – physical, mental, and emotional. Continue to practice hand-washing and social distancing strategies, but also make sure you are
protecting your emotional and mental health. Set boundaries regarding media consumption (including social media), which can exacerbate existing stress about the pandemic. Even if you are restricted to the home, take time to exercise. You can do a lot within one square meter! Practice resilience through mindfulness, meditation, or yoga. Eat healthy foods and get proper rest. Many US-based mental health professionals are offering resources electronically during this time: Some useful resources: Dan Harris’ Ten Percent Happier, and resources from the American Psychological Association, like this one on COVID-19 and anxiety.
- Stay connected. Working remotely can have its benefits, but it also can create social isolation. Prevent isolation by setting up regular meetings and calls with coworkers, family, and friends. Many video conferencing providers already offer free or nominal fee accounts for individuals, and they have stepped up to provide the same for specific industries and schools during this time. Check out Zoom and GoToMeeting for more information.
- Help others. One of the most important ways to guard against depression and anxiety is to be a resource to others. Those over 65 are at greater risk of serious health consequences if they contract the novel coronavirus. Reach out to those in your neighborhood who might be self-quarantined or are limiting their interactions to ensure they have food, supplies, and games or other ways to keep busy. Volunteer to make meals for local medical professionals. Giving to others boosts gratitude and can be a significant antidote against learned helplessness.
While there is no sign of COVID-19 abating (yet!), we can manage the uncertainty with focused, proactive efforts. Taking care of yourself, your family, and your business can give you the calm, confidence, and focus to weather the storm and thrive through adversity and still reach your goals.
*This section was informed by ideas from a wonderful colleague and thought leader, ManuelleCharbonneau. Thank you, Manuelle, for continuing to lead the way!