Adapting practices in a changed world – COVID-19

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In these difficult and uncertain times, people across the globe are trying to adapt and change to a deeply uncomfortable new reality. Some of these changes are physical (moving to home working, isolating from others, searching for groceries) but far more testing are the mental challenges which arise from unanswerable questions: When will this end? Will my family be ok? Will my job still be here in 12 weeks? As yet there is no certainty around any of these questions and so we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, dealing with feelings of anxiety.

Finding ways to cope with this anxiety will be crucial in the coming weeks and everyone has a part to play. At Youth Fed, we were well prepared to shift technologically to home working. Everyone has a laptop, phone and chargers. All our systems are cloud-based and we have an internal and external video-conferencing facility. But allowing people to communicate from home is different to continuing to deliver services to young people who are feeling every bit as anxious as the rest of us and are often within home environments which are not truly ‘safe’.  So we moved very quickly from ‘surviving’ (have we the resources, systems and people to continue?) to ‘thriving’ (how can we create new ways of delivering our services, how can we communicate with the young people we serve, how can we continue to secure outcomes?)

The creativity required to discover new ways of delivering for our beneficiaries comes from our most important resource: our people. We will not get the best out of this resource if we are not careful to empower and inspire them. Now is not the moment to be implementing time management systems, dictating repetitive administrative tasks or draconian working practices. Quite the opposite. Now is the moment to unleash creativity through the setting of a bold vision and by allowing individuals and teams to design innovative solutions.

Virtual youth clubs, digital training, online mentoring and skills programmes are not new ideas, but the current challenges we face will speed their adoption. Individual social action, facilitated and delivered on a national scale, can be a catalyst for recovery when the country passes through the social-distancing phase of the fight against COVID-19. Linking generations through technology, caring for communities through email and WhatsApp, providing advice and guidance for struggling families through Skype, the potential for innovation is endless. We just need to inspire and empower our people to create and make the change we desperately desire.

To support our people who are working from home, we need to introduce ideas and activities that provide the social interaction that they used to get through the workplace. Some of the ideas we are trialing like virtual tea breaks, Friday night online drinks and weekly quizzes bring together disparate staff, but we also need to think longer-term. How do we undertake Trustee Board meetings, award ceremonies and celebration nights held between a great many people, helping them be together through technology when they are physically apart?

We also need to create opportunities to keep learning through undertaking team and organisation training, skill sharing and by getting the very best partner organisations to deliver webinars and online conferences. Finally, we need to create a balance between the inherent desire for structure within the working day and the flexibility to keep following a new idea or thought through to its conclusion. Therefore, the next 12 weeks need to be the most creative in our history and we should endeavour to give our people the space needed for ideas to flourish.

From a personal perspective we all need to find ways of coping with the uncertainty. 24-hour news and social media channels are useful, but at present the information seems overwhelming. An approach we have taken is to follow only one trusted news channel (deleting from the desktop all the tempting shortcuts to the rest) and restrain ourselves from checking it more than twice a day. We are also focused on trying to seek out positive news and hold on to the hope it contains. The starting of vaccine trials in America, the slowing of new cases in China and the generosity of communities in Italy have lifted our spirits.

Finally, we are trying not to project too far ahead. Settling on small chronological packets of time and thinking how best to steer the Youth Fed through them, provides a modicum of ‘certainty’ that would otherwise not be possible. Most importantly, we keep reminding ourselves that this WILL end!