A structured approach to what has changed and what has stayed the same in our day-to-day work

The van pulled up, the driver turned to the passenger seat, picked up the small parcel, alighted and made his way to my neighbour’s front door.  His rubber-gloved hand rang the bell.  He placed the parcel next to the door, stepped back the obligatory two metres and waited. What followed was one of a myriad of consequential changes following COVID19.

After a little longer than felt entirely comfortable, my neighbour cracked the door slightly open and peered out.

‘Delivery!’ said the driver.

‘Great!  Thanks!  Where do I sign?’

‘No signature, but I need to take your photo as proof of delivery’.

Oh, dear.  A photograph.  In her dressing gown.  A tiny bit embarrassing.

But then again, this is April 2020 and there are similar consequential changes following COVID19 happening all the time.

A Professional Pause for Thought

No one wanted this awful virus and the misery it has caused.  But the reality is that it has happened.  It has changed things in both our personal and our working lives, often for the worse.

Therein lies an opportunity to take a professional pause, to reflect on our work and how we perform it, and to think about what we can learn and apply to our work.  We can try to retrieve something positive from this messed-up situation.

Changes to the ‘how’ we do our jobs

Getting a recipient’s ‘proof of delivery’ fulfilled the driver’s role purpose, but the method was changed from a signature to a photograph to suit the needs of the time.  (As an aside, it intrigued me how easily my neighbour accepted the new process!  Better to be in a photograph in your pyjamas than contracting a disease through unnecessary contact, I guess!)

Millions of examples

The examples are everywhere.  Business Analysts probably can’t hold ‘in-person’ workshops.  Scrum Masters and project managers can’t hold in-person daily stand-ups.  Check-out staff at supermarkets have to wear gloves and serve from behind plastic screens.  Bus drivers in London are letting people ON to their buses using the middle doors, not the usual front doors.  Builders and tradespeople doing renovations are taking extra care to work separately on-site.  On small buildings/houses, project managers are scheduling work around keeping people socially distant.  Doctors and nurses are still using their amazing skills, but often in areas with which they are unfamiliar; junior doctors taking on new specialities, and senior doctors being ‘first responders’.

A Structured Approach to Understanding the New Normal

If we take the delivery driver example, the driver could describe his Work-role Purpose as being “to get the recipient to sign a proof of delivery receipt”. However, getting a signature is practically impossible (ok, not impossible, but practically it is)  as one of the consequential changes following COVID19.

Proof of receipt is still required.  It’s required because that’s was the sending customer has paid for.  So the purpose or requirement can more accurately be defined as ‘proving receipt’, not as ‘getting a signature’.  The actual Purpose remains the same, but then it is now more accurately defined and the method for achieving it has changed. The present circumstance has caused us to peel back a few layers and get much closer to the real, actual purpose of our work-roles.

Identifying the Challenges and questions to ask

While no article, no study, no advice can describe what you need to do in every situation, we can instead draw on professionalism theory to take a structured approach to our analytical approach:

A working definition of professionalism is “In fulfilling the purpose of your work-role, you meet, exceed or re-set your observer’s positive expectations of standards of both performance and persona”.

This practical definition gives guidance as to key questions we should ask ourselves when considering changes following COVID19 and analysing our present situation.

1. Work-Role and Purpose

    • Has the Purpose of my work-role changed? The Purpose of a Work-Role is ‘what’ we have to do.  It is probably unlikely to change as a result of the COVID19 crisis.  It is our ability, or the ‘how’, to fulfil our Purpose that is most under threat.  However, it is still worthwhile reviewing.
    • Has my Work-role changed? (that is, are you still an accountant, teacher, brick-layer, bus driver?)
    • Have any ancillary elements of my work-role changed? Examples include:
      • Do I still have responsibilities for other people?
      • Am I mentoring anyone?
      • Do I perform other roles in my organisation (the fire marshal, the health and safety representative) in the office?
      • Does the project or committee to which I am seconded still need to function?

2. Expectations of Performance and Persona

    • Are the expectations associated with doing my job placed still achievable? Are they easier?  More difficult?  Why?  What can be done about this?  Professionalism often means still performing my Work-role, even when the going gets tough.
    • Are the expectations I have placed on others achievable?
    • Are there new expectations? Or ones that no longer exist?  If not, why not?  Are there new constraints as a direct or indirect consequence of the present situation?
    • Do I need to change the expectations placed on me by others? Or placed on others by me?  Are these contractual?  If so, does the contract give guidance as to how to dispose of those expectations?
    • If they need to change, how are you able to change them? By negotiation?  By edict (unlikely!)
    • Can I still be relied upon by others – that is, to do my job so that they can do their jobs?
    • Do I need new or different technology to do my job? A better camera or microphone for video conferences?  Change the background image so that no one can see my laundry?
    • If I can’t fulfil the Purpose of my Work-role through my Performance, what can I do? Am I able to overcome the challenge(s)?  Am I able to go around them?  Hint – don’t give up at the first sign of difficulty!
    • What is the version of me that will most help me perform my role? What personal attributes do I possess that will help or hinder the Performance of my Work-role and what can I do about them?

3. Standards of Performance and Persona

    • Are the standards to which I work still applicable? If so, have they changed temporarily or permanently?  Or if they are unchanged, how am I able to maintain or achieve them?
    • Are the quality standards of my work-role achievable? Are they still relevant?
    • If they still apply, will they be measured differently?
    • Are ethical standards in any way compromised? Do I have to make tough decisions that challenge my professional ethics?
    • Will the situation throw out any challenges to my integrity? If so, how can I address them and maintain my professional reputation and integrity?

And, of course, the most important question of all when considering changes following COVID19:  If the delivery driver knocks on my door at midday, should I still be in my dressing gown?

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

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