Pandemic flux syndrome: how to build a ‘flux-friendly’ workplace

by Richenda Vermeulen
February 3, 2022

Your team could be feeling pandemic fatigue. But you’re not helpless.

I had three weeks of holiday booked, jam packed with fun, as well as opportunities for my family and me to recoup from an incredibly hard year. 

Then all four of us got COVID-19. We spent the Christmas holiday in isolation, all our plans cancelled. Needless to say, I wasn’t rejuvenated when I came back to work. And I wasn’t alone, either. One third of our team had a similar experience over the break. We’ve had to adjust so many plans and reset so many expectations. 

This experience gave me a chance to think about what we are collectively going through and how we can overcome it. I want to share four pieces of advice as you lead your team through uncertainty:  

1. Let go of the future… and the past.

In her book Flux(highly recommended!), April Rinne identifies ‘letting go of the future’ as one of eight ‘flux superpowers’. At ntegrity, this year that’s already meant letting go of our two years in the making team trip to Magnetic Island. It wasn’t an easy decision. Honestly, I was tempted to delay – but that would have only created more uncertainty for our team. 

So we’re adjusting. We’ll still celebrate our team; we’ll just do it a little closer to home to minimise the health risk. 

But I would suggest that we as leaders also need to let go of the past. 

No matter how hard we wish, we are never going back to ‘the way things were’. What used to work pre-March 2020 may never work again. The tools we rely on to motivate our teams will need to change. The balance between remote and in-person work will not go away after the pandemic. 

2. Lead with humility and energy.

I don’t have all the answers. None of us have been here before. There’s no playbook for leading in a pandemic! 

Our teams need our humility and flexibility a lot more than our certitude. They need us to create environments where energy is flowing. This takes skill. It requires an ability to read the room – to know when support and compassion are needed, and when your team needs a jolt of life and optimism.

At ntegrity, we spent our first all-team meeting of the year (virtual, of course) naming the elephant in the room: that we may not all be coming back to work as refreshed as we would have liked. It’s important to acknowledge what your teammates are feeling – and that not all of them are necessarily in the same place.

Give your team permission to talk openly about how they’re doing. 

3. Set flexible expectations, with and for your team.

As noted in part 1, people are unsure what normal even looks like. But if your team is like most people, they want agency over how and where they work. That’s not going away. 

Here’s how we’ve navigated this new reality at ntegrity. While we’ve long offered flexible work options, we’ve made a few adjustments as cases surged the last few weeks, in order to make our workplace even more flux-work friendly:

  • We made all team and client meetings remote.

  • We’ve kept our office open for those eager to have  in-person connection, while limiting the number of people in the office at one time. 

  • We established set team days to maximise in-person collaboration. 

  • We’re encouraging staff to commute in ways that reduce their exposure (and compensating them for the additional cost). 

Since our team has expanded the last few months, we wanted new staff to have 10 full days of sick leave straightaway, instead of requiring them to accumulate days gradually. We’ve set the expectation that if you get sick, you should take the time you need to recover. 

One of the most important elements of a ‘flux-friendly’ workspace is control. With so much of our world feeling out of control – confusing restrictions, skyrocketing infections, and so on –  it’s more important than ever to give your team members a say in how they work. 

Some of our team members have been excited to return to the office. Some have chosen to continue working from home.  Some have felt well enough to work remotely when recovering from COVID-19. Others needed time to rest. 

‘Flux-friendly’ means letting go of ‘one size fits all’ solutions, while setting reasonable expectations for how to communicate when someone needs to be out. 

The main thing is to trust your team to decide when they are well enough to work and, as much as possible, how they work. The more agency you put in their hands, the more resilient they will be. As Amy Cuddy said on a recent episode of Brené Brown’s ‘Dare to Lead’ podcast

People work better when they’re working in ways that work for them as individuals… Some people do great work from home. Some people do great work when they’re together. So we’re going to have to find a way that is accommodating to what people have learned about themselves through this experience.

4. Focus on your ‘why’.

There has never been a more important time to get dialled in on your purpose. Shortly before the latest surge, we held a strategy day at ntegrity where we dug deep into our ‘why’. 

What brings us to work every day? What are we trying to build? What is it we want to help grow? 

We carved out time to remember our purpose: we exist to help good grow. We are passionate about our clients, their donors, and each other. Our success is bound up together. 

We also reviewed individual professional growth plans, to see where each team member’s personal ‘why’ fits into our organisation’s larger purpose.  

Teams whose core purpose is profit or to extract as much productivity as they can out of their people will have the hardest time retaining staff. In fact, we’re already seeing the fallout – just look at the staffing shortages impacting many Australian firms.

The more you live by your values, and the more you do to connect your individual team members’ ‘why’ to your organisation’s ‘why’, the more resilient your organisation will be. 

Recently, we published a series on how to put purpose at the heart of your organisation. If you’d like to talk more about how to leverage your ‘why’ to overcome pandemic flux syndrome, reach out.