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21 September 2020    |    Blog

The New Abnormal

September – autumn breezes begin to blow in and the leaves start to redden. For many of us, this is a time to refresh our thinking, tackle the To Do list and to start planning for the winter months.

But that’s a normal September. This September, in the year of Covid, normal service does not necessarily resume. Let’s face it, the past six months have been …. well, choose your platitude/adjective. Unprecedented. Catastrophic. Unexpected. Different. Abnormal.

In July, members of Consultants for Good met (virtually) to talk about ‘The New Normal’.  Or, perhaps more accurately, The New Abnormal because things are still far from settled or certain.

As a national network of self-employed people we’re used to uncertainty, but one thing we’re all agree on is that it’s unlikely that our working lives will go back to “normal” any time soon. For us that raises a lot of big questions. What will this period of abnormality mean for us and for the voluntary and community sector organisations we work with?

In this first think piece of a regular series, we try to get to grips with digital with a piece from member Lori Streich of Rowan Associates South West.

An unstable connection
Last year, who knew much about Zoom?  Who used Teams – the virtual, Microsoft version?

How many of us have developed tech skills that we didn’t even know that we had a year ago?

At one of our recent learning sessions Consultants forGood members talked about the benefits of the digital world. As a national network, yes it’s easier to meet people from different parts of the country; we can gather and share ideas and information nationally and regionally without leaving the home/office. We’ve seen for ourselves and from our clients a shift towards more flexible working.  Thanks to the power of the digital world, we can match relevant consultancy skills to more clients, without having to factor in travel costs – win-win for consultants and clients alike. Crucially, this technology also increases access for disabled people, and creates opportunities where not enough existed before.

But where there’s an upside, there’s often a down. If we carry on using this tech, and it looks certain we will, how can we use it well, and how can we address its challenges?

Teams, but less teamwork?
If you don’t go into the office any more, you won’t be seeing your colleagues in person. How are people, especially front-line staff, coping without all those all-important informal conversations, debriefs and rants?  How can managers keep an eye on the work, and support their teams, and the individuals within, when they’re only seeing each other in two-dimensions?  One approach we liked was from a team we know who has a daily digital ‘drop in’ session on Zoom/ Teams. Just an optional half an hour after lunch where team members can connect with their colleagues if they want or need to.  Its helped to maintain and develop cohesion in the team, and enabled individuals to feel less alone with their caseloads.

Your connection is unstable
It’s not just dodgy internet connections which can be unstable, some people are experiencing real wobbles themselves.Spending days in front of a screen with limited real human contact (and often unlimited interruptions) is far from ideal for good mental health amongst staff and team members. Managers and CEOs are too are under real strain. Running an organisation which provides essential services with decreasing (or no) income, in an increasingly uncertain climate, means that many are experiencing increasing stress and risking burnout. Digital connectivity has saved many organisations but there has been a human cost too. But is this understood by Trustees?  Where does support for those under strain actually come from?

That’s where Consultants for Good can really help. We’re in the unique position of being able to offer clarity and specialist support for leaders and teams under extraordinary strain. We’re not immune to the pandemic’s effects, and we’ve also got more questions than answers. However what we can do is share tools, experience, expertise and ideas to support leaders, managers, boards and staff teams in the voluntary sector to be resilient and to manage change in these absolutely abnormal times. Keep watching this space…

Lori Streich
Lori’s profile