And what do we typically associate the word lockdown within New Zealand and Australia?
Probably the March 15th, Mosque shooting in Christchurch and the Lindt Café siege in Sydney.
But is lockdown the correct terminology to use currently?
What we’re dealing with currently is a new virus in our community which can be managed if we all practice social distancing. If we approached the COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ the same way we would March 15th lockdown, we wouldn’t be able to take our children for a walk (we would be under our desks for the next four weeks).
Therefore, we must stop labelling it a lockdown in this case, and rather shelter in place.
By definition, shelter in place is when we have a possible external threat and we are staying safe in our place of work, or home, but still allowing our staff to work. (We need to keep working)
Today marks a point in history we’ll be telling future generations about.
This morning, Kiwis woke to the eery thought that much of the population aren’t leaving their homes today, or tomorrow, or this month. It’s different and that causes anxiety and confusion. However, our emails continue to ping, our calendars are still full, but our children and partners are here with us. It’s both a wonderful time of connection but also one of complete isolation.
How we act now and for the next four weeks will determine how we are perceived as a nation and as leaders.
In these challenging times, the New Zealand Government has done an exceptional job of keeping us informed and making staunch, quick decisions. They’ve shown exceptional examples of business continuity and communication with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noting, “we will be with you every day”. The UK has now moved into a similar state of isolation. Australia’s government shows signs of following New Zealand’s measures in the next day or so too.
As we adjust over the next 48 hours, we as leaders need to concentrate heavily on our people – more than ever. We need to calm them and reassure them.
This starts with terminology.
Recently, a deputy director at the Health of Ministry noted we need to understand the difference between self-isolation and self-quarantine. The latter being what most of us are currently in.
People in self-isolation are confirmed cases of COVID-19 or probable cases of COVID-19. This term can have a negative spin to it but is important to remember there is always a risk of someone in your workplace getting a communicable disease. Infections is usually through no fault of their own, so they should not be stigmatised when they return to work.
Self-quarantine is a measure put into place to protect people from being put in situations where they could be exposed to the disease. Despite self-quarantine being technically the correct definition that many Kiwis find themselves in, misconceptions around terminology mean self-isolation is commonly used.
Considerations of terminology
It’s time to put a positive spin on this difficult situation. There is lots of negativity and fear (understandably). As leaders we can encourage our teams to look for opportunities from a personal and business level.
Organisations that have planned for this can now thrive from it. With no need to commute, less meetings and distractions at the coffee machine, we can make 2020 the year we get all our jobs done.
A conversation we were recently a part of included the phrase, “while you’re in isolation, please can you get XYZ done”. This simple request can single out and make an individual feel like being in isolation or working from home is their fault. We need to avoid this.
The commercial benefits of better mindsets
It probably goes without saying that happy employees bring results.
In his book Organisational Crisis Management, Gerald Lewis studies and discloses that the effects and afterburner of a crisis last longer than any lifespan (particularly natural disasters).
When people are affected in your workplace, it takes very little time for the business to begin to fail. Clients are ignored, deadlines missed, reputation damaged.
Specifically, in COVID-19, we need to remind ourselves that the social distancing requirement to stay at home does not mean a holiday. It does not mean work is paused. Leadership teams need to find inspiring ways to communicate this.
Could you handle another crisis?
Earthquakes won’t wait for COVID-19 to disappear (look at Croatia and Japan).
While the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, businesses are still forgetting to assess how much more they can handle. Consider this: if your staff are remote right now, your financial situation is uncertain and you wake tomorrow to learn of a serious cyber breach, could your organisation survive?
Few organisations could manage two crisis events right now. But the likelihood has increased while your operations move into a new “business as usual” state.
By starting with terminology, contributing to positive mindsets from our staff, we can keep everyone alert and in a good space while we head deeper into this working from home / social distancing state (not a lockdown).