Taking back control - COVID-19 blog | Deloitte Australia has been saved
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Paying attention to diversity is critical to navigating COVID-19. That might sound like an unlikely statement to make, but we need diversity of thinking so we can innovate our way out of this crisis and ensure that our society doesn’t splinter into fractious groups.
But paying attention to diversity, even wanting to pay attention to diversity, requires mental energy and that’s in short supply. Every day brings a new major decision, we’re on a steep learning curve with new tech platforms and our heads are filled with deep primal anxiety.
The paradox is that at the very moment when we need to be cool, calm and collected, we are nervous, distracted and overwhelmed. And that is a recipe for slipping into tunnel vision, group-think, defaulting to no, or any one of the hundreds of biases that limit who we connect with and how we make good decisions.
And virtual working - at least the way we are embracing it - is making things much, much worse. Firstly, because work has suddenly become a deluge of back-to-back interactive conference calls (full of simultaneous chats, presentations and multiple faces), overflowing inboxes and check-in calls. And secondly, because it is literally harder to make good decisions on virtual calls compared to face-to-face. In particular, it’s harder to piece together fragmented information from disparate participants (O’Neill et al, 2016) and it’s harder to engage in meaningful conversations. Communication through a screen mutes subtle emotional signals by which we judge and adjust our interactions, and the slight lag between what’s said and what’s received undermines verbal fluency. All of this adds up to calibrations and recalibrations of what we might say, what we did say, what we heard and what they meant, how we appeared and how we want to appear. It’s exhausting.
If all of this resonates, but virtual working is the only option we have right now, then we need to take control of its energy-sapping form. And this is critical, because deep wells of mental energy are needed to do the labour-intensive work of empathy, emotional self-control and complex thinking. Indeed, it is even necessary to ensure we optimise the good things that can come with virtual working, such as the rebalancing of power between extroverts and introverts, a greater share of voice for those who are sometimes left behind (there’s nowhere to hide on a screen) and opening the aperture on who we are by sharing a view inside our homes.
The research on cognitive depletion offers insights and six practical ideas:
In the rush to keep our physical distance from each other during COVID-19, most office-based workers are now working from home and using virtual technologies. This is as it should be. What needs to change is our management of those technologies by taking a more human centred design approach. In sum, people led technology. At present, work has become an exhausting ride on a (COVID-19) tech-driven runaway train. And this cognitively depleting context is jeopardising our ability to attend to diverse ideas, as well as care for and collaborate with a diverse network. Being more deliberate about how we preserve, use and generate energy is key to redressing this trend. The irony is that the more cognitively depleted we become, the less we will care about being thoughtful, consultative and empathetic. So the move to control our new way of working has to be made now.
Juliet Bourke is a partner at Deloitte Human Capital and the author of “Which two heads are better than one? How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions” (2016) AICD. Thanks to Andrea Espedido and Adrian Letilovic for feedback.
Delpechitre, D. & Black, H., (2019) Just Do It: Engaging in Self-Control on a Daily Basis Improves the Capacity for Self-Control. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing. 34: 317–337.
Lewis, M. (2012) Obama’s way. Vanity Fair. October 2012.
O’Neill, T. A., et al (2016) Team Decision Making in Virtual and Face-to-Face Environments. Group Decis Negot. 25: 995–1020.
Juliet leads Deloitte Australia's Diversity and Inclusion Consulting practice and co-leads the Leadership practice. She has over 25 years' experience in human capital, management and law. Juliet works with Executives and global organisations to improve workplace performance through cultural change, focussing on D&I, leadership and culture. Her latest book, the acclaimed ‘Which two heads are better than one?: How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions’, helps leaders understand how to systematically create diverse thinking and take team performance to the next level. Juliet is a member of the Australian firm’s Diversity Council, and sits on a number of boards and award panels, such as the Telstra Business Awards, Harvard’s Women’s Leadership Board, Navy’s Diversity Council and Macquarie University’s Global MBA Board. Juliet’s own awards include Women Lawyers Association of NSW (Achievement Award), University of NSW (Alumni Award) and Centre for Leadership for Women. A highly engaging public speaker, Juliet has keynoted at hundreds of global conferences, including TEDx.