I’ve always found “change management” to be a funny term. If this COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how little control we have to manage change at all.
On a macro level, even the most powerful government officials, all the way from the president to state governors, couldn’t do anything to change the existence and contagion of the Coronavirus. All they could do was manage its effects in an attempt to make it less detrimental to their people.
On a microlevel, my family and I could not manage whether or not our state went into lockdown—we could only manage the effects it had on our lives externally and how it affects us each internally.
I’d love to share with you some key principles that help to cushion the severity of change in our family during our 24 days (and counting) quarantine. My hope is to help make your job a little easier whether you’re leading a remote team or suddenly homeschooling your kids.
1. Acknowledge differences.
When it comes to dealing with change on a mass scale, each person manages how it affects them differently. There are five stages of grief, and there’s no guarantee that everyone in your family, on your team, or in your group will be in the same stage even if you’re all experiencing the same loss or change. Not only that, but people’s personalities and strengths will affect their response.
During our family quarantine, my youngest son who is an extravert and is always planning gatherings and having friends over was furious when the stay-at-home order was extended an additional month. Meanwhile, my daughter, who is an introvert, was excited to continue homeschooling and spending time with family.
And while I like personality tests like the enneagram or StrengthsFinders, people are people—not robots—and don’t act one consistent way every minute. To stay on the same team, allow space for a diversity of reactions to change. While I may be having my best day, someone else in my home or on my team could be having their worst day—or vice versa. It’s key to acknowledge these differences and be sensitive to the very real possibility that others don’t feel exactly the same way that you do.
2. Maintain routine and normalcy.
Even if everything else has changed, it helps to keep some things the same. During the COVID outbreak, my team and I still have a 9:15 am call to touch base at the beginning of every day. At home, my wife and I have our kids get up, make their beds and shower before they start their school days so that they don’t feel like they’re doing schoolwork in their sleep. Even if your whole team goes remote, you get furloughed, or your client pool dries up, find one thing that you can consistently keep doing every day.
3. Keep laughing.
Change may weigh on people more than they know. Even if they’re acting unphased now, it may eventually hit them like a ton of bricks because they’re holding all of it in. After dinner, we’ve been sharing memes, watching a movie, or playing a game. Wherever a person may be in their emotional processing journey, a fun, distracting outlet is healthy for everyone.
4. Clarify expectations.
When schedules, team dynamics, physical locations—or all of the above—shift, people need to know what their job is. In our family, we decide on Saturday evenings who will walk the dog, what we’ll have for dinner, and who will take turns making it in the coming week. Whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes!
If you can tell people what to expect even in the midst of crisis or uncertainty, it gives people some semblance of security—and at least in a family setting, minimizes arguing. When we’re all stressed out about what’s going on in the world or in our own minds, when we fight, we’re not really arguing about who’s doing the dishes. Instead, the deep emotions we’re not acknowledging are being triggered by mildly annoying situations. Although emotions are inevitable, we try to minimize the triggers for them to boil over in petty ways by creating clear expectations.
This also helps to minimize any micromanaging: Once these expectations are made clear and are even put into a contract (which we did do with our three teenagers during quarantine) all we have to do is say “remember the contract?” rather than policing how much time they’re spending on their phone each day.
5. Create individual workspaces.
When schools closed and non-essential business was effectively shut down, we spent two days thinking clearly about where everyone was going to be working followed by a full day cleaning the entire house and those spaces. Even when everything is in upheaval, there’s something about a clean space of your own that can clear your mind and boost productivity.
When it comes to family dynamics of cleaning (i.e. your kids won’t do it) I want to note that you have two options: You can spend the whole day arguing with your kids about how they need to clean, or you can do the cleaning yourself and then ask them to keep it that way. It’s never been more important not to fracture relationships—because there’s no escaping now! This is not the time to nag and criticize: It’s a time to really be understanding and let things go.
6. Check up on each other.
Getting on the same page is never more important than it is during times of upheaval—and I don’t just mean getting on the same page regarding plans—I mean getting on the same page emotionally. During our family quarantine, at 5pm, we’ve instituted a family meeting. It doesn’t go more than 15 minutes, and we don’t talk about who still needs to clean their room or walk the dog. It’s a meeting to see how we’re doing and how we’re coping. Change is hard. And it’s harder for some people than it is for others. Change always involves the loss of what was and a transition into something new, and that can feel a lot like grief, whether you really are dealing with the loss of a loved one or you work for a company that had to close—or even just temporarily shut down.
7. Stay in touch.
My friend Joy Van Patten recently posted: “In times of crisis and change, there is no such thing as over-communication.” We used to use our family group chat every once and a while when the five people in my family were scattered across the Greater Cincinnati Region on any given day, but we use it even more now that we’re all stuck in the same house. We text in the group chat so that there’s no screaming when it’s time for dinner. We share funny memes or informative articles that we found online. This touchpoint of communication for when we’re not in the same room has kept us in sync with each other more than usual. My team at the office uses Slack, which is a messaging app that allows for the same kind of communication.
8. Don’t mandate.
Because everyone deals with change differently, when it comes to fun family activities like watching movies and playing games, we don’t mandate it anymore like we used to—it’s free and flexible for whoever wants to join. While it is important to offer people undergoing transition fun distractions, it’s even more important to provide space for the variety of emotions people are dealing with as they navigate change. Some people need more time with someone else when they’re having a hard day, and some people need more time alone to process and sit quietly.
9. Limit media consumption.
The first few days that COVID-19 began spreading in the U.S., I’m going to be honest— I watched a lot of news. And while it’s important to stay informed about the things we can control, it wasn’t helping me to get daily updates on the death toll or ICU units filling up faster than anyone expected. So, I made the choice to keep doing my part by staying home and wiping down the groceries but to cut back on the amount of coronavirus-related media I was consuming. It’s made a world of difference, both for me individually and for our family. While we do talk about what’s going on as a family, we set aside family dinner as a time to connect with each other instead of sharing news on the virus or arguing over politics.
10. Choose your attitude and your actions.
Whether you’re leading a remote team, suddenly homeschooling your kids, filing for unemployment, or navigating living alone and working from home in total isolation, there’s one thing that has to change before any of these other strategies will help: Your attitude. We’re all effectively living in the movie Groundhog Day where every day of social distancing will be exactly the same unless we do something to change it. The variables in our life that usually run our days—like our commute, our evening plans or the people in the office have been removed. The only variable now is us. What can you do at home tomorrow that’s a little different in relationships, how you handle things, or food choices? The environment will be exactly the same for at least the next month, and it’s now up to you how you manage the effects of change and how change affects you.
Now go wash your hands!
As a speaker and author, Curtis Zimmerman has impacted over one million people with his life-changing messages and award-winning programs. Curtis is an expert at transforming organizations by inspiring individuals to live their lives at performance level.
Want to be inspired? Check out his podcast The Next 24 Hours.