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THE INVESTMENT THAT GIVES THE GREATEST RETURN 

There is no doubt that the last couple of years have been pretty tough on most businesses. Costs have had to be saved, efficiencies made in order to stay afloat and get through this challenging time. Investment was limited to that which was quantifiably justifiable to the business needs and frankly not much else. 

Now, however, for the first time in a long time, the future is looking a little brighter and, as we start a new financial year, we look at what to invest in as businesses, as leaders (and, indeed, as individuals!). 

What will get us the best value for money? 

What will give us the biggest return on our investments? 

What will serve our organisation best? 

How can we make savings, efficiencies AND improve our performance? 

Here’s where I want to introduce a radical concept: 

Investing in your people. 

(And if you’re reading this as an individual, investing in YOU!)

It’s not just the pandemic that has prevented people’s development and leadership development within organisations. I’d strongly argue that there’s been very little investment in people in most organisations for many years previous to that. In fact, my belief is that it can all be traced back to the financial recession in 2008-9. 

Since the recession, organisations have radically changed their organisational structures, flattening and streamlining, reducing headcount, cutting costs, finding savings and ‘efficiencies’ in the traditional ways, through restructuring, process and system improvements. And, in newer more modish ways, by changing business models or operating models. As a result, you’ll probably find that you are doing the role that was once done by two or more people. The role hasn’t got any smaller and, in most cases, it’ll probably have had its remit and responsibilities increased! And you will be expected in most (not all) organisations to just get on with it. 

I want you to do your own empirical research here, while you read this article. I want you to think about your own experience in this time (not just take my word for it).

In the 12 years since the recession: 

  1. How many development or training programmes have you personally been funded to go on in your organisation? (Not a team away-day, an actual development or training programme where you have learnt new things). 
  2. How many promotions (either internally or by changing jobs) have you had in that time? 

And if you’re reading this as an individual:

3. When was the last time you really invested in your own training and development? 

Research shows that the average person will have been promoted two-three times during those 12 years, which means that a frontline staff member may well now be a manager in charge of a team, or indeed a head of service. That’s a big shift in responsibility but it also requires a whole different set of skills, not least managing and leading your people. 

Now in the past, almost every organisation would have given training when you got a new role. As a minimum you’d have had a decent month-long handover from the person you were replacing and, in most organisations, you’d have had management training or leadership development once you hit a certain level of organisational responsibility. 

However, if you think to your own experience, your own history – did you?

At Meta we’re really fortunate in that our customers are from all sectors and, over time, become our friends. We are regularly in touch with our Meta family (as we like to call it) and as a result we often get to hear of people’s good news, their promotions, their new roles etc. We love to celebrate with our friends. However, all too often the new promotion, the next pay grade or newly created role in a restructure, comes with increased responsibilities but very rarely comes with training and development too. When you get your new role nowadays you’re expected to ‘hit the ground running’ and find out how to actually do the job and what it actually entails, ‘on the job’. 

I was speaking to one of our dear Meta family just this week, and she’d moved organisations recently. It was a good move she told me (not least as her last organisation was pretty toxic), but she was still ‘finding her feet in the new structure and organisation’ she was in. She’d been in role three months and still she was finding her way and figuring out how best to fulfil her role. 

On the flip side of this, organisations are hiring more ‘experts’ than ever to fill skill and knowledge gaps within their organisation. It used to be just the corporate sector that hired consultants and got in contractors to run projects or fill an area of expertise quickly. However, both public and 3rd sector organisations now often will hire people in to do the work that used to be done in-house by skilled internal staff members. 

Now of course there are financial reasons for some organisations to get in contractors or consultants, or perhaps it’s easier to get a contractor in to do a project rather than go out to market to employ someone full time – there are bona fide business reasons for doing that. However, often it’s ALSO because they are lacking particular skills or knowledge within their workforce – they haven’t got the skills they need in the leaders and staff they employ. 

Now, we think at Meta, that it’s time to change that story. 

Journey to Mastery Masterclass 2018

It’s time to INVEST IN YOUR PEOPLE and TO INVEST IN YOU

Why?

Because it’s the best investment you will make this year – it’s not a short-term investment (although it is financially), it’s a long-term investment and one that will keep on giving you returns year after year. 

One of the key factors that people measure an organisation by is whether they feel valued. The other is that their workplace creates a culture where they feel they can learn and grow – they can progress and get development along the way. And these are measurables that most organisations, right now, will not measure well against! 

What’s that old proverb used to great effect in an old Oxfam advert? 

‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day – teach the man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’

It’s about making sure that we give people (and ourselves) the tools, the skills, and the development they need to do more than survive and instead, thrive. In an organisational setting it’s about giving your people the skills they and the organisation need. Note here that this is not only an altruistic thing to be doing, but it also makes SOUNDS BUSINESS SENSE. If you are training and developing your people, they will be more loyal, are less likely to be absent, will be more motivated, more efficient and yes, more productive! 

Right now, people are working incredibly hard. They are working longer hours than ever trying admirably to get what was once done by two or more people done by just one. They’ve been working really hard all through the pandemic, they’ve given their all, to help get your organisation through probably one of the hardest and most challenging times of its entire history. But they’re run out, they’re exhausted and, as a result, their productivity, quality and creativity will inevitably suffer. That hard work culture has meant that the UK consistently has one of the lowest productivity levels within Europe and across the developed world – and most people we come across will admit that they’re not being as effective as they’d like to be. 

So, here’s where you can have a real WIN-WIN. You invest in your people and in return you get a happy, more effective and more skilled workforce. They get a return on their time and investment into their work, into your organisation. They get a return on all the hard work they’ve put in; they start to feel valued and, yes, appreciated again. 

Now the reason most organisations don’t invest in the development of their staff is that they think the cost will be too much. But actually, it’s a lot LESS than you think. It’s certainly less than getting in a contractor or consultant for a month or two, and much less than going through a complete restructuring exercise, replacing a system, or getting in fancy consultants to change your operating model. 

An organisation can only be as good as the people in it. An organisation is a living system, and the living bit is your people. The system (your organisation)’s success depends on those people’s capabilities, strengths, skills and knowledge. 

It’s time to invest in your people and, if you’re reading this as an individual, it’s time to INVEST IN YOU. 

At Meta we can help develop and train your people. We can help your organisation to develop a real people strategy (one that gets the best out of your people). We can train your staff in smarter working techniques that can help them to be more efficient and yes, more productive. We can train teams to be more effective, and help directorates work collaboratively across team boundaries. We can help you to develop exciting and practically useful leadership development programmes that use real live operational issues as the basis for live ‘on the job’ implementation of the learning.

We can coach and mentor individual leaders or create a talent development programme for the stars of the future within your organisation. You need a ready-to-go well-being strategy or help developing a well-being culture in your organisation? – We’ve done all the research, so you don’t have to. You need to improve communication and collaboration in your organisation? – We can help. You need to help people to maximise their performance in the new hybrid ways of working – we’ve got you covered! 

We have worked with numerous Sunday Times Top 100 organisations; we have been researching how to help people and organisations to be the best they can be for a very long time now. We have the knowledge and skills that can help you to get the best value for money for your investment – AND the best return on that investment. 

Many people think that we just train and develop people in organisations, and yes that is our bread and butter as an organisation, but we LOVE to work with individuals too! 

Think about it, when was the last time you really invested in YOU and YOUR DEVELOPMENT? There is no better type of development than self-development. If your organisation won’t fund you, why not consider investing in your own development? 

We love helping anyone to be the best that they can be, be that through individual coaching or mentoring or, indeed, developing a personalised training package just for you – you could have 1-1 time with Jo or Di and get personally mentored and trained in the areas where you feel you need a little extra help.

Or you could sign yourself to join our flagship personal development programme ‘Journey to Mastery’, now in its 20th year. We also run numerous Meta Masterclasses (one has just been announced on June 23rd), and Leaders Network events each year that anyone is welcome to join us on, and have a very affordable cost indeed. 

So, if you take this blog to heart, and DO decide that 2022 is the year to really invest in your people or, indeed, in your SELF, then do get in touch, sign up to one of our events, or just have a chat with Di or Jo. We love helping people to shine, to be the best they can be – it’s what Meta is all about. 

We’d love to help support you in developing and investing in your people and in you, that’s what we’re in business to do! And we promise you, it’ll cost a lot less than you think. 

Contact Jo and have a chat about what we can do for you, your team, your leaders, and your organisation – jo@metapositive.com

Have a wonderful month and make 2022 the year where you put the time and investment where it matters most – in you and your people! 

In peace,
Jo xx

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HARNESSING THE POWER & ENERGY OF YOUR TEAM

Recently I’ve been back doing in-person workshops, and the thing that has struck me the most about the team away-days I’ve been facilitating is the amazing power and energy in the room. 

With most of us having mainly worked from home in the last 48months, we have been working in isolation, by ourselves, and so the only energy in the room is US. So if we are a bit flat or our fuel tanks are running on empty, then there’s no-one around to pick us up or give us a boost, it’s all down to us (which is why I’ve talked extensively about how important it is for us to look after ourselves when working from home). 

However, now most of us are heading back to the office (at least for part of our working week), and although the office is likely to have far fewer staff than it would usually, have you noticed the difference in the energy when you’re there? Has it picked you up and made you smile to see your colleagues and once again be able to chat together as you make a cuppa? 

All this talk of energy might sound a bit WOO-WOO, but I promise you it’s real science. We have been stuck by ourselves at home in front of our laptops or computer screens and so all our interactions with people have been through a screen. However, your technology only takes your energy, whereas when you meet someone in-person there is an energy exchange – you literally feed off each other at an energetic level. So, when you like someone and you’ve not seen them for a while, you always get a buzz, a little energy boost from being with them. It picks you up when you’re feeling down or feel that you’re running on empty. 

Now, the thing is you probably never really noticed that before. But now we’ve been away from others, when you get back with them you will notice it much more readily. 

When consultants talk about ‘harnessing the power of your team’ I’m sure you’d normally have switched off at that point, as you felt it was a real business jargon thing, just consultants making up stuff to get you to cough up some more money and give them more work (and I’m sure in many cases it was!) However, there is something real to it – there is a literal power in your teams that hasn’t been tapped into or properly utilised for a while. 

At Meta we have researched extensively over the last 20 years into what makes an excellent team, and how we describe an excellent team in its simplest terms is as being ‘more than the sum of its parts’. Now, in order to be ‘more than the sum of your parts’ you need to be getting the best from everyone and finding synergies between you that enable you, as a team, to deliver even more than you think possible, given the number of people in your team. 

Most teams have been working individually for most of the last year and have only just started coming back together in person in the office. So actually, the power, the energy of your team has been dependent on individuals as you’ll have mostly been working at home. Even now that you are coming back to the office, it’s unlikely that your whole team will be together on any given day so, although it’s definitely better than it was and you’ll be getting energised by being with some of your teammates again, it’s still not harnessing the potential power and creative energy that exists within your team. 

The other thing to raise here is that many teams will have new members who have joined in the last 24months, team members who have done their best to integrate into the team, but who you won’t know as well as if you’d have been spending this time working with them at the office, day in day out. Do you know what their strengths are? Do they know what yours are? 

Now, more than ever, as we try to get our businesses out of the Covid tunnel and back on track, we need to be harnessing the potential held within our workforce, within our teams. The likelihood is that most teams will have not met properly together in person in the last 24 months, and that’s a heck of a long time to not get together! 

We are, at the end of the day, social animals, but much more than that we thrive off each other’s company and, when we get together, it’s amazing what we can achieve – we fire off each other and can come up with amazing stuff if we just get together and have space and time to think and reflect. It’s also important for us to re-connect as teams, to jointly re-commit to one another, look forward to the year ahead and co-create our future plans together. 

We’ve all tried our best to make virtual working work, and I know from personal conversations with leaders how hard you’ve been trying to keep the team spirit going and keeping the flame alive. However, it’s inevitable that after 24months the team’s spirit is flagging a little and so that’s why it’s time, now that we can get back together, to get some of that team magic back. 

Now it doesn’t have to be much, you don’t need some grand gesture, but it does need to be AWAY from the office, and it needs to be ALL OF YOU in a room somewhere. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been facilitating team away-days all through January and February, and every team I’ve worked with has been astounded and delighted with what they came up with within their away-days. I also have to say that the energy in the room was palpable, it was ELECTRIC! 

Have a think now, when was the last time you had an in-person team away-day? 

I’m betting that, for most of you, it was most likely over two years ago. And during that time, you’ll have been mostly working virtually so not even working WITH your teammates in an office. And even if you are back at the office now, your team probably isn’t at full strength, you’ll take it in turns to come into the office so are rarely, if at all, together in the office at the same time. 

At Meta we really truly believe that people are amazing. Your people are amazing, your team is amazing – you’ve seen your people step up in the last two years, and you’ve seen your team do amazingly well considering the circumstances we’ve all been through. So NOW is the time to re-commit to your team, now is the time to get together and harness the power in your team.

Now is the time to: 

  1. RE-VIEW – put the Covid chapter to bed and celebrate what you’ve achieved.
  2. RE-SET – start thinking about how you’d like your next chapter to be as a team.
  3. RE-FOCUS – getting perspective on what’s important, making sure that you’re setting the right priorities for your team in the coming year and beyond.
  4. RE-COMMIT – to each other and to making your team the best it can be.
  5. RE-CONNECT – making sure that you’re rebuilding your relationships and re-establishing your team connection, your team spirit.

The best way to do all of these things? 

Simple, take your team away from the office, get them in a room together. 

There is a tremendous untapped energy and power in your team. Right now, there is more potential in teams than there ever has been. People are hungry for connection and want to get back to working together as a team, they want to give of their best and be their best. 

As a leader, NOW is the time (if you haven’t already) to plan and organise your team away-day. Seriously, it’s time to invest in a little time away from the office, to help review, re-set and get some perspective. To re-calibrate and figure out how best to tap into the power that is held within your team. 

If you’re not a leader, you can still make the suggestion that it might be nice for the team to have an away-day and encourage other team colleagues to do the same. You’ll find that many will be feeling like you, and the more who ask, the better your chances of making it happen. 

The likelihood is that you’ll have team targets which are a real stretch this year, that will require the team to really work well together in order to deliver what needs to be delivered for your business plans. You need your team to be firing on all cylinders, you need your team to be more than the sum of its parts – a facilitated team away-day can really help with that. 

At Meta we have facilitated hundreds, if not thousands, of team away-days over the 20 years we’ve been in business, and there is a real value in getting someone in who is independent, outside of your organisation, to help you facilitate your away-day. 

We love doing away-days, it’s absolutely our ‘bread and butter’ and, if we do say so ourselves, we’ve got rather good at it over all these years. We are great at re-energising the team spirit, capturing the wisdom that is held within your team, and ensuring the team goes away enthused, engaged and re-invigorated. Combine that energy with new Meta tools in the team toolkits, and after a team away-day with us your team will be ready to take on the world! We know how to access the potential in your team, and we are really good at helping you to harness the energy and power in your team, so you can do what needs to get done this year. 

So, if you decide to plan a team away-day this year, all we ask is that you bear us in mind, we’d love to help make your team away-day one to remember, the one that re-energised and re-inspired your team post-Covid and got your team feeling REALLY GOOD again. 

And even if you don’t use us, please do make the time in the coming months to really focus on your team and get them together, if at all possible, we promise you, you’ll be so glad that you did! 

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WRITING YOUR NEXT CHAPTER

As I write, the government has announced that the plan B restrictions are to be phased out, we are facing what seems to be the beginning of the end, and we are being encouraged to learn how to live with Covid. 

It’s been a challenging couple of years, to put it mildly, and I’m sure like me you’ll be glad to put Covid behind you and get on with your life. But the thing is, that for many of us, it will feel as though we’ve lost those years, and as though we’ve been in some kind of Covid stasis, unable to move (quite literally in lockdowns) and stuck in a life in limbo. However, now, most of us are starting to come out of our enforced hibernation and back out into the world. Reconnecting with friends and family we’ve not seen for a while, starting to dream and plan and book our holidays with some certainty that they will happen. We’re going back to the pub, going out for meals, doing things that Covid and its restrictions had put a stop to. 

There is no doubt that these last two years have felt out of our control, because they have been. With all the government diktats, the imposing and lifting of restrictions, it’s felt almost as though we were a character in the book of the story of our lives; with the government and Covid as the co-authors and we just being the characters whose lives were being written for us upon the page. However, as we now come out of the Covid tunnel and a new year is upon us, apparently a year of possibility, of potential, now is the PERFECT time to be thinking about writing your next chapter.

What do I mean by that? 

Well, I mean that it’s time to end this Covid chapter. Time to wrestle back control of your life, and the authorship of your story. It’s time to turn the page and start creating the life you want to have. 

You see I am a firm believer that we are the creators of our lives, the authors if you will. If we don’t write our stories who will? And as a new year begins, psychologically it’s a good time to think about how you really want YOUR next chapter to be. 

It’s a useful metaphor to think of your life as a book. You’re not just the author but you’re also the editor, the publisher and the principle character within it!  How your life will be, is up to you. Of course, there are other principal characters in your story, your family, your friends who will have an influence on the storylines, but ultimately, it’s your life and your story. 

Now I think it’s safe to say that, for most of us, we’ll be glad to see the back of the Covid chapter. It was scary, unnerving, challenging and unpredictable. But you know what? The dark chapters of our lives tend to be the ones we learn most from (good things and not so good things). I like to think of these dark times and difficult challenges as really badly wrapped presents. They look like crap from the outside, but within them often there are gems of learning. Ultimately often our biggest leaps in our own understanding of ourselves come through adversity – those badly wrapped presents! 

Now I’ve introduced the concept, and I hope you understand it, I’m sure you’re wondering, well, that’s all very well Jo but how do you write your next chapter? 

That’s precisely what I’m coming to, let me give you a step by step guide on how to write your next chapter. 

WRITING YOUR NEXT CHAPTER

For me (I have done this exercise many times in my own life), I find it easiest to write my next chapter on a day when I am feeling GOOD. When we’re feeling good and in the right state, this exercise is so much easier to do, and you’ll also come up with much more interesting storylines! 

Start by finding yourself the right environment to be creative, somewhere comfortable, somewhere you will not be disturbed for the time it takes to do this (allow a couple of hours). I start by opening a document on my computer or laptop, but you may prefer to do this in the traditional way with paper and pen, there’s no right or wrong here – just the way that works for you. 

When thinking of your ‘next chapter’ I suggest that you see the next chapter as the next 3-5 years, that frees up your mind to think more broadly, you can dare to dream and you are more likely to believe that more is possible within that time frame. 

Think in terms of a book and an author writing a book. There will be principal characters (partners, children, family, friends), principal storylines (work, relationships, love, home, passions, things that make up your life), and an over-arching storyline (your life story!). Make a note of the important things in your life, put those as headings on your document or piece of paper, and this will form the starting point for your next chapter. 

Then it’s a case of thinking about your last chapter, the chapter you’re ending. Ask yourself: 

  1. What was good in that chapter? What are storylines you’d like to continue as is into your next chapter? 
  2. Which storylines could continue forwards but need a bit of tweaking or adjusting? For example, perhaps you’d like to spend more quality time with your children, have more holidays or laugh more?
  3. What do you want to leave behind in the last chapter? This exercise is a great way to leave behind things that you don’t want to carry forward with you – perhaps worrying about things, not seeing family, uncertainty, or perhaps it’s some of the bad habits you may have had in your last chapter? 
  4. What do you want to bring in that is new? Is there anything you’ve wanted to do or have in your life that you’ve not been able to so far? Perhaps it’s a new hobby or to find a new passion? Maybe it’s to change career? To find a new friend or relationship? 
  5. Is there anything from a previous chapter in your life that you’d like to revisit or bring into your next chapter? Sometimes, as we get older, we lose track of things and let things slip that actually, when we stop and think about it, were important or useful or just fun to have in our lives. This is an opportunity to bring things from the past back into your life. Perhaps it was those date nights with your hubby, or going out for a fun wild night out with friends, or going to concerts?
  6. And finally (and importantly!), your next chapter should also include how you want to FEEL in the next chapter. For example, I’m always putting ‘more fun’, ‘more laughter’ in my next chapters and it’s right to put things like ‘feeling freer’, ‘having more time for me’, ‘more time for cuddles with the kids’.

As you record your answers to these questions you’re going to have a lot of content and it needs to be pulled together under headings so that it makes sense and isn’t just a bullet pointed list of things (that’ll be too much for your mind to take in). 

It’s also important to note that this shouldn’t look like a ‘bucket list’. That isn’t what this is. Yes of course it should be aspirational and inspiring, there should be big things, dreams, and your wishes for your life, absolutely; but also the simple things, the everyday things, the things you want to improve and make a bit better – that which makes your life what it is. 

When you have something that is looking like your next chapter, then comes the ‘creation’ part of this. 

  1. Read it to yourself – Each night, before you go to bed, read your next chapter. This shouldn’t be a difficult or onerous task, this should be exciting and inspiring, and it’s a wonderful way to go off to sleep. Do this for two months, and this then gets into your sub-conscious, it programmes your brain so that it looks for opportunities as they arise to put into action all that you’ve put in your next chapter. 
  2. Share it with another – Dare to share it with your partner, your best friend. By doing so you are daring to express how you’d like your life to be and, no, it isn’t a self-indulgent of narcissistic thing to do. Having been privileged enough to have heard other people’s next chapters, I can tell you there’s nothing more beautiful than hearing someone else’s next chapter, it’s very inspiring.
  3. Start making it happen – Choose three things from your next chapter that you’re actively going to start exploring or taking first steps towards making happen. The first step is often the hardest, and by starting to make it happen you make it much more likely for more to come to fruition as a result. 

Now I HOPE that this has all made sense, and the steps are easy to follow. I really would encourage you to give this exercise a go. I have found it truly transformatory for me over the years, perhaps one of the most powerful exercises I have ever done. 

It also reminds us at the deepest level of something that is incredibly important:

WE AND WE ALONE ARE THE AUTHORS OF THE STORY OF OUR OWN LIVES. 

That is such an empowering statement, and as you start to collate the evidence that it is true, and truly believe it, it is a life-changing statement. 

Please use this Meta blog as an excuse, a prompt if you will, to dare to write your next chapter, and see what happens for you. 

I promise you, you’ll be so glad you did and before you know it you’ll be living out that ‘next chapter’ you have created, for real! 

Wishing you all a wonderful next chapter, 

In peace and love

Jo xx

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THE COVID HANGOVER – DON’T WAIT UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE TO ACT

You’re probably fed up of hearing about Covid. I know I am. And yet, it’s a big mistake to ignore the longer-term effects of Covid on your leaders, your workforce and your organisation. 

At Meta we’re seeing more and more people in our network suffering from the effects of what we’ve termed the ‘Covid Hangover’. So, we wanted to use this month’s blog to talk about what you can do to help mitigate the longer-term effects of that ‘hangover’ on your people and your organisation. 

It’s important to state here that it’s not too late! However, we’d urge you to not wait much longer before you start investing time and yes, resources, to ensure that you, your team, your organisation and your people don’t end up suffering from one almighty ‘Covid Hangover’.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a real game changer in the world of work. Now, more than ever, we need our leaders and our staff to be performing at their best, to deliver organisational Covid recovery business plans, but, after 18 months of the pandemic (supporting their organisations), the simple fact is that most of us have run out of energy. We’re working such long hours, working harder than ever before (this is borne out of the data in research conducted on working hours since the pandemic began), and almost every person we have talked to in the Meta network over the last few months is tired (at best), running on empty (most of the time), exhausted (more times than not) and, in the worst cases, close to burnout. 

That’s a concern to us, because we genuinely care about you! We also know that, with a small amount of help, support and development, you can prevent the worst-case scenarios, and get you and your organisation into a good place – ready for the next chapter of working in a post-Covid world. 

Organisational resilience is a serious risk to every business right now, perhaps the greatest risk – and your organisational resilience (the ability to bounce back and recover post-Covid) is absolutely dependent on your people’s resilience (their ability to bounce back and recover themselves post-Covid). 

As you know, at Meta we love etymology (the root meanings of words, what they originally meant).

The word ‘ORGANISATION’ comes from the same root as ‘organic’ and ‘organism’, it means ‘a whole consisting of inter-dependent parts, a living system’. 

Your organisation (and on a smaller scale your team too) is a ‘living system’. Its success and ability to recover post-Covid is 100% dependent on your people (the ‘living’ part of your system). As it’s an interdependent system, if one area fails (or in the case of the team, more than one person is off longer term, or you experience staff turnover), then unless the rest of the system (or team) can adapt and pick up the work, the system comes crashing down. 

With very little (if any) spare capacity in organisations anymore, as we’ve streamlined our organisations down to the bare minimum of people needed to deliver what needs to be delivered, it is doubly difficult to maintain the balance in the living system that is your organisation. What once was done by ‘two’ is now done by ‘one’ – if that ‘one’ is missing, who picks up the work? 

Then throw in the mix of a hybrid working model, with some people working virtually and some in the office (rarely at the same time), and this means that more and more work pressures are not shared amongst the team (as they were), but rather fall on the individual.

So how on earth do we tackle this? 

Well first of all, we need to start acknowledging that we can’t work how we always used to. We’re working on average four hours longer a week than we did before the pandemic, and the truth is that, although we are working longer and harder than ever before, we’re still not getting everything done (at least not at the level we’d like to get it done). 

We’re working longer hours, and working harder – working through breaks, doing back-to-back (virtual) meetings, re-visiting our laptops and emails in the evenings, and yet, it’s still not enough. 

We need to be working in a smarter way. But what is smarter working? We’ve heard so much about it, but what does it mean in practice? 

Be very clear here, it doesn’t mean using more technology. Having more technology in our organisations has not lessened our workloads. If anything, it’s just led to an expectation that everything should be done, responded to, solved and completed, quicker and faster. It’s just made us go faster and try and do more. 

Smarter working is about understanding HOW WE WORK AT OUR BEST, as individuals, teams and yes, as organisations. It’s about understanding we’re not robots, we’re not machines, we’re humans and, as such, have to manage our performance and our workloads/tasks in a way that matches our natural peaks and dips in an average working day – and matches our own brain’s ability to perform. We need to understand HOW our brain works: how it stores, processes and performs at its best. Then you can instantly improve your own performance and productivity as an individual. 

Then there’s self-management – the bit where we make sure that we’re in the best state possible to do what needs to be done. When we’re flat, when we’re stressed, when we’ve not slept, when we’ve worked through lunch, we’re just not going to perform at our best and so our ability to do what needs to be done suffers. So does the quality of what we do, so does our ability to be creative, to come up with innovative ideas or innovative solutions. An organisation which delivers poor quality, struggles to be creative or innovative, is not an organisation that will thrive in the post- Covid world. 

We need self-management tools that help ensure we get a good night’s sleep, that we understand our own stressors and have ways of reducing the impact of stress on ourselves. We need to understand and work with our human being-ness – really maximise practical ways of improving our performance. 

Then there’s smarter working practices, proven techniques from academic, scientific and real-life smarter working experts, which help you to manage, prioritise, delegate, plan and organise your tasks and workloads so that you can be more efficient. You need to make sure that you’re assigning the most complex tasks to when you naturally perform at your best in the day, and the easier tasks to when you’re not. It’s about carving out the time to do the things that you don’t get time for, but you know are important – this is especially relevant for the leaders reading this. When was the last time you felt you had proper time to reflect, look to the future, think strategically and do more, rather than being reactive? 

We’re so busy, that we struggle to find the headspace or thinking time to look too far into the future, to plan our routes ahead. So, we end up firefighting, putting out fires that we probably could have foreseen and made sure didn’t get started up in the first place – if we’d had the time and space to think. It can feel, as a leader, that it’s nigh on impossible to get everything done, but having worked with many senior leaders and executives over the last five years, I can promise you that with some smarter working tools in your toolkit you’ll be amazed at what a difference it can make. 

But this is not just for leaders, there are so many smarter working tools that can help you, whatever level you work at in your organisation, and now we’re moving to a more self-managed way of working in the hybrid era, we can all benefit from a few smarter working tools in our toolkits and in our working practices. 

Then there’s the problem of capacity – as leaders we need to focus on how our people work going forwards. The likelihood is that, for the foreseeable future, we will not be getting any extra resources while we are in the recovery phase of the Covid journey. So, this means INVESTING in your people, up-skilling the organisation at every level (that you can) to help you through this challenging next phase. 

That future isn’t a long way away. You can start working towards it now – creating a new way of working that works for you and your organisation. The future of work is coming, and in order to make current structures work, there will be a need for a multi-skilled workforce – one that works cross-functionally and has a flexible structure that enables the movement of ‘floating resources’ that can help you maintain the living system (the organisation) and keep it working at a high level no matter what comes your way. 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. First of all we need to take some preventative measures, to ensure that we don’t experience the worst effects of the ‘Covid Hangover’, as individuals, as leaders, and as organisations. 

The first thing you need to do?

STOP.

Yep, you heard me. You really need to stop and take time out. 

I was working this week (and last) with a senior leadership team in a large metropolitan council. They felt that, even though we were coming out of the Covid tunnel, they were still in ‘emergency mode’. They hadn’t stopped (quite literally in some cases) for 18 months straight. Meta had offered to do a free workshop with them around smarter working practices, and one of the most common pieces of feedback from the leaders was how good it was to stop and take time out for themselves and reconnect together as a leadership team.

It’s not just leadership teams, it’s all teams and all of us. We need to stop, create a little time (in your busy work diary) for reflection. Can you really carry on the way you are working? Or is what you’re doing, and HOW you’re working, unsustainable? Are you finding it really tough to do everything that needs to be done in normal working hours? Are you stressed? Overwhelmed? Run out? Is it affecting your work-life balance? Are you struggling with your sleep? Is it affecting your home life? 

If the answer is YES to any of the above – then please, please PLEASE don’t ignore your own intuition that says something needs to change. 

This is preventative medicine, it’s like taking a glass of water and a paracetamol BEFORE bed when you know you’ve overdone it a bit. It means that in the morning you’re likely to be OK, rather than struggling to function. 

Although I’m using a humorous metaphor here, let’s be clear, there’s nothing humorous about the risk to you as an individual, you as a leader, or to your business that the ‘Covid Hangover’ brings. There’s nothing funny about your leaders’ and staff’s mental and physical health being affected by what is to come – it will seriously affect your business’ ability to function. 

META – WE’RE HERE TO HELP SUPPORT YOU

OK so don’t stop reading, but this is where we do a bit of self-promotion. Why? Because we KNOW that we can help you! Be you an individual, a team leader, a CEO or organisational leader – we can genuinely help and that’s what we’re in business to do.

At Meta we’ve always been on a mission to change the way people work, and support leaders and organisations to do that. 

Most of you will know Meta as a business consultancy. You’d have come across us through a team, leadership or organisational development journey that we’ve done in your organisation, that you’ve been a part of.

What you probably DON’T KNOW about us is that, at Meta, we do a lot of research. We’ve been (for example) researching smarter working practices for over ten years now. We understood, earlier than most, that the way we were working wasn’t sustainable, that we needed to develop a new way of working – so have an extensive library of smarter working resources based on the research we have been using in the organisational work we have been delivering these past ten years. 

You probably also don’t know that, during the last 18 months, we have been working with frontline organisations and developing a programme we have called ‘Your Resilience Toolkit’ (see link to download information at the bottom of this blog) – a programme of workshops that brings together the very latest scientific research and simple-yet-practical tools (from our years of trying and testing out what really works in the busy workplace) that enable anyone who attends to re-build their resilience, combat stress, and work smarter not harder. 

We believe we have something really special here, and we’d really love to share it with you and your team or your organisation. We’ve had amazing feedback from the organisations where we have delivered this programme.

SO HOW CAN META HELP YOU? 

If you are an individual – If you’re reading this and you are struggling, or finding it challenging/overwhelming to do everything which needs to be done, or if you’re worn out, run out, exhausted – then PLEASE get in touch to talk to us about how we can help you develop your own personalised Resilience Toolkit to help you perform at your best (and mitigate the worst of your hangover side-effects!) You might have been on one Meta programme YEARS ago, but it doesn’t matter to us how long ago it was, or whether you’ve stayed in touch – if we can help, we will, so get in touch! 

If you are a team leader – It’s time to do something with your staff. Don’t delay, don’t put it off. Don’t leave it too late before you act. If you’re too busy, if there’s not enough time, then that’s a sure-fire sign that you really DO need to carve out a space to do something with your team. How about arranging a team away-day facilitated by Meta? We could share some of our Resilience Toolkit with you and your team and, together as a team, you can support each other to implement those tools back in the workplace. We’ve done lots of team away-days over the years and we’re really good at them. 

If you are an organisational leader – We invite you to have a conversation with us. It might be that you ask Di or Jo to coach or mentor you as a leader, or do something wider with your leadership team or organisation. It’s so easy, you just drop Jo an email and say “Jo, we’d like to talk about how we help get our organisation through this next stage of the Covid recovery.” Then we have a frank chat to talk through your options. We will always be honest with you, and make sure that what we propose is tailored just for you (and yes, works for your team/organisational budgets too!). We promise you that it will take less time and will cost WAY LESS than you think to do a really effective re-building organisational resilience programme. 

If you are a CEO/leadership team – During this crisis the biggest pressures have fallen on CEOs and their leadership teams. It can be lonely at the top, especially as most leadership teams have been working virtually. It might be that, as a CEO you arrange some coaching or mentoring with Meta, or it might be that you take time out as a leadership team and do some work to reflect and think about how you create the ‘what next’ in your organisational journey. Whatever it is, please do call on us, we’re here to help. We’ve been working with a number of CEOs and senior leadership teams with their Covid recovery plans since the beginning of 2021. We all need to turn the page on Covid: we need to learn what worked, what didn’t work, and create a new way of working. That’s not easy to do with everything else you need to get done. You need to take time out, away from the office, and have some quality facilitated sessions where you really work together as a team to envision and plan your transition strategy to your ‘new normal’ as an organisation. 

The transition out of Covid is an incredibly important period to your business, and we can help you to create an organisational strategy that works best for you and your organisation. 

IN CONCLUSION

We have deliberately made this month’s blog serious, and provocative, because we think this is something that we all need to be talking more about. We HOPE that it’s stimulated your thoughts and made you think a bit differently about your current working experiences. We also hope that you will now see Meta a bit differently and call on us whilst the worst of the ‘Covid Hangover’ is still preventable. We will do what we can to help and support you. 

That’s what Meta’s mission has always been, to support lovely people like you – so don’t delay, don’t wait until it’s too late, just get in touch. The help you need is only just an email or phone call away 

You can contact Jo direct: jo@metapositive.com

Or call: 07976 262352

In peace,

Jo & Di xxx

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FINDING REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

As many of you will know I’ve always been a glass half-full type of person. I’ve always had a spring in my step (a Tigger bounce some might say) and a positive outlook in life. Our website was originally called ‘metapositive’ and many people still think that’s our actual company name! 

I, like many of you I’m sure, have found the last 16 months testing my resilience and my positivity to its limits. At first I could deal with the adversity, the challenges that life was throwing me but, gradually over time, I found it harder to bounce back, harder to find as many positives. 

So last week I sat myself down and gave myself a bit of a stern talking to (you know, like the one your dad or your mum used to give you as a teenager when you’d crossed a line or needed picking up and motivating because you were a bit flat). I reminded myself that I am naturally a positive little soul and part of my purpose was to spread that positivity and look for the good in the world. It was time to pick myself up, dust myself down, pick myself up by my bootstraps, and give myself a good metaphorical kick up the bum to get myself up and going again. 

It’s amazing that when we talk to ourselves kindly but seriously, how motivated we can get. You see we always have CHOICE – no-one can tell us how to be, no-one or no-thing can influence us unless we allow them to. I realised that I’d been making some passive choices, choices that made me feel like things were being ‘done to me’ and so I decided it was time to make some different choices. Why? Because the passive choices I was making weren’t making me happy! 

I made an agreement with myself that I’d start looking for reasons to be cheerful, and do you know what? Since I’ve made that agreement, it’s amazing how many reasons there are to be cheerful! The fog of fear seems to have dispersed, and although I can’t claim to feel great all the time, I am definitely feeling a lot better than I did. I’m making different, more active choices, and if I find myself feeling a bit down I cheer myself up by finding some reasons to be cheerful. 

At Meta we’ve always talked about being careful about what you look for in life – if you look for what’s wrong, you’ll find it. If you look for what’s right, you’ll find that too. Now I’m not advocating being positive for positive’s sake, I’m just saying that actually, right now, there are lots of reasons to be cheerful. 

Almost all of you reading this will be at least single-jabbed with one of the Covid vaccines and many of you will be double-jabbed. That will be leading to more and more freedoms for us all, and a release of perhaps our biggest fear in the last year and a half – getting Covid. As I write this I’m self-isolating (yes, I got ‘pinged’ from NHS Test and Trace) because my daughter has Covid. Now it’s annoying, not gonna lie, but I also have no doubt that the fact I’m double jabbed has protected me and today, a few days in, I’m still Covid negative. Now that’s a reason to be cheerful right there! As is the fact that my daughter has pretty much no symptoms even though she’s not been jabbed (she’s only 15). 

Being at home I’ve got slightly addicted to watching the Olympics – wow, what incredible feats of athleticism have I been witness to. So many medals, so many brave and moving Olympic stories – having the Olympics on while you’re self-isolating? Yep, another reason to be cheerful! 

I have a concert coming up with a band I found just before lockdown, who I absolutely LOVE (Another Sky… check them out, they are amazing!). I’d managed to get tickets for a tiny gig in Bristol (just 100 capacity venue), then of course Covid struck, and the concert was postponed. However, a week Friday I shall be dad dancing without a care in the world to their music, my first live concert in two years+ and yes, that’s another reason to be cheerful! 

Once you start actively looking, there are so many reasons to be cheerful, so many little positive wins to each day, and in each week – you just have to start looking.

The world is a place of abundance, the world is full of lovely things all waiting to fill your fuel tanks and give you a positive energy boost. It’s easy to get caught by the fog of fear, easy to feel isolated, get a bit negative and lose your bounce-back ability like I did. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been feeling like this. But with a bit of re-framing, a bit of conscious choosing what we look for, we can reconnect with the abundance and beauty that’s all around us. 

There was an interesting piece of research done by the University of California, looking at mental health and well-being, that I overheard on Radio 4’s ‘All in the mind’ programme – about what they called ‘awe-walks’. 

We all know that a walk in nature is good for you, we all found that out when we had our government prescribed ‘hour of exercise’ each day during the first lockdown. So many people in the workshops I’ve been running around resilience have talked about one of the positives to come out of this Covid experience is that they’ve reconnected with nature and found so many green spots in their local communities that they didn’t even realise were there! 

The research took three groups of people. One group went about their day normally, they were given no extra tasks to do – this group was the control group. The second group got to walk for 30 minutes every day; and the third group were told to find something beautiful, something that made them go WOW on their walks (these were the ‘awe-walkers’). What the researchers were exploring was the wow effect that we get when we are in awe of something. Now, they were keen to highlight that, actually, you can find something awe-some anywhere! It didn’t mean you had to be half-way up the Himalayas, or on a rugged beach, or deep in a wild forest. They were essentially talking about noticing, on a deeper level, the beauty that was all around you. So, for example, maybe taking the time to look at a leaf, look in real detail, then hold it up to the sun see its intricate design and perfect beauty. Maybe to watch the rain as it dances upon a river, allowing yourself the time to get lost in its ripples and dancing droplets. To watch a bee as it happily hums and moves from flower to flower, buzzing its own happy buzz! 

What they found was that those who went for the 30minute walk expressed a greater sense of well-being than the control group, and those that went on the ‘awe-walks’ expressed an even higher sense of well-being.

As you know, at Meta we’ve talked for many years about how important it is to fill your fuel tanks, and to me an awe-walk is an ultimate fuel tank filler. 

I’ve started making most of my most of my walks ‘awe-walks’ (although not every one). The other day as I was out it started to rain, but rather than run for cover, I decided to turn my face to the sky and feel the rain gently pitter-patter onto my face. It felt like a blessing from the sky, and after all the intense heat we’ve been having recently – a blessed relief! 

I didn’t worry about getting wet and I watched the rain as it fell from the sky, dancing on the pavement and creating little puddles that I could jump in and splash around in. I’m sure there were a few raised eyebrows at this 6’7” tall adult splashing in puddles, but you know what? I’m sure there were a few smiles too. 

Right now we all need a bit of picking up, a bit of positivity and oomph. So, I’ve decided that now there is no better time to find happiness, no better time to choose to be happy. I saw a brilliant sign in a café in India – it was so simple and yet so profound. 

“If you choose to be happy no-one can stop you” it said. And you know what? It’s absolutely right. 

When we find our reasons to be cheerful, when we count our blessings, or just choose to look at the world differently – it’s amazing what we can find, it’s amazing what a difference it can make. 

I’m choosing to be more positive; I’m choosing that the world is a place of abundance, I’m choosing to pick myself back up and find plenty of reasons to be cheerful. 

What do you choose? 

I hope today’s blog was useful to you, and I’d like to finish by saying that it’d be lovely to hear what reasons have you found to be cheerful. Send them to me direct at jo@metapositive.com if you’d like to – I’d love to hear them! 

Have a wonderful summer, 

In peace and love – Jo xxx

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LEADERSHIP TEAM AWAY-DAYS: Why NOW more than ever you need to find the time to reflect, re-set, re-focus and, most importantly, get RE-SULTS!

We’ve been working with a quite a few organisational leadership teams in the first half of 2021, running away-days to help them review, reflect, re-set and re-focus after the challenges they faced in the 2020 Covid pandemic. It’s reminded us of just how important it is to get your team away from the office, especially leadership teams, so we wanted to share why we think now is absolutely the perfect time to book in your leadership team away-day. 

During the last six months we have found that we get the same feedback, over and over again, from the leadership teams we’ve worked with:  

  1. How useful it was to get away from the office (be that your virtual one at home or indeed your organisation’s office now).
  2. How good it was to have some time for reflection and how it helped them to re-gain perspective.
  3. How important it was to reconnect properly as a leadership team and remind themselves how much they have in common – the goals they share.
  4. How they felt re-charged as leaders and how the day away really had re-invigorated the team spirit.
  5. How it helped to give a renewed focus and set clear priorities for the year ahead – a chance to re-set after the difficult year they’d had.

We take that as pretty positive feedback, and of course we love doing these away-days, because it’s absolutely part of our purpose and mission at Meta to help support leaders to be at their best, no matter what sector or organisation they come from. 

Yet so few leadership teams give themselves that time away from the office. Why? 

Simply put, most feel there just isn’t enough time to go away for a day, there’s too much to be done and not enough time, so how can you possibly justify taking your leadership team away for a day? 

There is no doubt that 2020 was a trial by fire for leaders of organisations. There is no ‘handbook for dealing with a pandemic’ in most organisations’ risk analysis and so, as many of our leadership confided in us, most were making it up as they went along, doing the best they could to make things work in incredibly challenging and ever-changing situations. Every leader we’ve talked to said they’d used pretty much every tool in their leadership toolkit to try and get themselves, their staff and their organisation through the unprecedented, unrelenting, non-stop challenges that Covid brought. 

And you know what? In our opinion, you’ve all done an AMAZING JOB! We have been astounded by the incredible resilience of the leaders that we know in our Meta network, and we’ve been so impressed by how you’ve got through this. You made it, you got through – sometimes by the seat of your pants admittedly, but by gosh you DID IT. You should be incredibly proud of all that you’ve achieved in the last 18 months and you absolutely deserve to celebrate now we’re starting to come out the other side of the Covid tunnel. 

But of course the world of work doesn’t stop, and indeed the pressures and demands that were put on you before and during the pandemic haven’t gone away. Many of you had to postpone work or projects because of Covid, and now you’re having to play catch-up and get the organisation back to where it should be. The simple fact is, the rest of 2021 is likely to be as challenging as 2020 for the leaders in organisations because, although we are nearly through the tunnel, Covid will continue to cast its long shadow. 

As a result most of you are still running on empty. You gave 100% and more to get things done and, frankly, now there’s not much left to give. Sure, finally you’re starting to take the holidays you never had in 2020 and yes, you are managing to re-fill your fuel tanks with your week-long stay-cations. However there’s still a way to go and most leaders I know feel that they’re not able to give as much as they’d like to, and know they’re not being as effective or performing at the level they’d like to be. 

That’s where an away-day really does pay dividends – it really is worth your investment of time. Getting away from the office, literally physically moving away, helps you to get more perspective, get out of the detail (or ‘out of the weeds’ as one leader expressed it to us recently) and reconnect to the broader vision. It’s a chance to think more strategically, be less re-active and more pro-active. You can identify what really should be a priority, what needs to be done and when (as a leadership team) rather than just doing things (as individual leaders) because it’s the next urgent thing that comes across your desk. 

This is why it’s so important for leadership teams to get away from the office: to re-gain perspective, re-set priorities, identify potential obstacles and issues that may lie ahead and do a real RE-SET of what really matters and what really needs to be done.

Even just one day away (when properly facilitated), can make a world of difference. It helps remind you that you ARE a leadership TEAM (not just a bunch of individual leaders all trying their best but ultimately not really being a team) and that actually you have a shared vision for how you’d like things to be. There’s a reason you’re working where you are, and there’s a reason why you got to the leadership level you have. One of the great joys of facilitating such days is that we can help remind the leadership team just how much they have in common. How they want the same things, share the same fears, have similar issues, and how between them they have enough knowledge and combined wisdom to sort out pretty much ANY ISSUE that comes their way, and THAT TOGETHER THEY ARE ALWAYS STRONGER.

It’s not easy being at the top. It can be lonely, with everyone looking to you for the answers, for direction, for inspiration. It’s not easy being part of a leadership team either – no-one really teaches you how to work together at the top table. This is made even harder when you’ve been working through one of the most stressful experiences for many generations! However you DID make it through and we think that now, as the return to the office begins in real earnest, and the new hybrid models of working begin to be implemented, is a really GREAT time to take time out for you as a leadership team. 

You’ve given everything to your organisation to get through this Covid pandemic, so we would encourage you to give a little something to yourselves. Not because it’s a nice thing to do, or the right thing to do (although both are true), but because your business, your organisation, your share-holders and your staff NEED YOU TO – it makes sound business sense to. Now, more than ever, you need to be firing on all cylinders, you need to be strategic, future focused and working effectively, not only as individual leaders but also together as a leadership team. 

If you are to make your post-Covid leadership recovery quick and relatively painless, you need to be able to up your game, not just as an individual leader but as a leadership team too. It’s about further developing your way of working together, using the Covid experience as a truly great opportunity to grow and learn and be the best leadership team you can be. That can’t be done at the office with everything else that needs to done, you need to get away, you need… to have an away-day. 

In just one away-day you can re-view the Covid period, reflect on your successes and learn from your Covid experience, re-connect as a leadership team, re-focus on the year ahead, re-invigorate the team spirit, re-prioritise and have a complete re-set. It’s amazing what you can achieve – one day really does get you RE-SULTS. 

So then the question becomes – why the heck WOULDN’T YOU? 

We’ve been facilitating leadership team and team away-days for over 20 years (and Di has been doing this for over 35 years!). We know how to get the most out of your time away, making it practically useful and ensuring that you get the outcomes YOU want from it – it really is amazing what you can get done in just one day. We also do it in the ‘Meta way’, which means not only will you have a lot to take away from the day, but you’ll also have had fun and enjoyed yourself along the way. 

Why not use this blog as the excuse to prompt your boss, your CEO, or your director to start thinking about getting your leadership team away-day organised. Or if you ARE ONE of those bosses, senior leaders, directors or CEOs or CFOs then get in touch and give your leadership team an away-day to remember. 

On Tuesday this very week, we did an away-day with the senior leadership team of a manufacturing organisation, we asked the leader if he’d give us a few words of how the day had impacted him and his team – this is what he sent us: 

“Today we had a day as a leadership team where we focused on how to be an excellent team which was facilitated by Jo from Meta.  It is my belief that people can do anything they set their minds to, so when a collective team are all focused on how they want to work together, then targets will almost certainly be surpassed.  Having worked with Jo and Meta a number of times over the years, this was another great day where he was able to stretch the thinking of the team in a positive and engaging manner that left everyone extremely motivated and wanting to deliver more together. If you want to be part of and lead excellent teams I cannot recommend Jo highly enough to help support you on that continuous improvement journey.” – Simon Coss, Fauretia.

Have a wonderful rest of your month and we look forward to working with you and your team soon!

In peace, Jo and Di xx 

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15 TOP TIPS TO MAKE WORKING FROM HOME WORK FOR YOU: And your organisation too!

In last months’ blog we talked about working from home and how our own empirical evidence collated from those we’ve worked with in the past year, suggests that it’s become something which is less heavenly and more hellish during the last 12 months. Many of us feel that work has now fully invaded our home life and it’s difficult to switch off, we feel we must be permanently switched on. Of course, this isn’t the case for all of us, some of us have done a pretty good job of making the reality of working from home WORK for us, but here at Meta, we felt it would be useful to share what WE have learned over the years about working from home.

Meta has always been a virtual company. 20 years ago, that was VERY unusual but now, especially during Covid, it’s become more normal to be working from home. We’ve essentially been a living experiment in home working since our inception, and so we’ve probably experienced most of the things that you’ve experienced in the last 12 months. However, NOW you have the extra dimension that is the technology which comes into your home too, with the advent of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and data collection programmes that can measure how often you’re on your screen; now there IS no escape from the office (even though you’re at home!).

Over the years we have not only been virtual workers, that living experiment, but we’ve also spent a lot of our time researching smarter working techniques and have been developing simple but practical tools that enable everyone to work at their best and maximise their personal performance to allow them to get through the increased workloads without extending their working hours. There is SO MUCH research and scientific data now that highlights the effectiveness of smarter working, and so we felt it was time to share what we’ve researched, experimented with, and learnt about creating a working from home routine that works for you.

We did the hard work, we did the research, so you don’t have to. We can promise you, that if you implement even just five or six of these simple and practically applicable tips, you will have a significant improvement in how working from home feels for you.

And of course, the likelihood is that we will be managing a hybrid model of working in the future (probably by the end of this year for most of you), where we work sometime in the office and sometime at home. But if you can implement these smarter working techniques, you will you improve your home working practice and also your office working practice too. It’s a WIN-WIN scenario.

Work life balance

Here are our 15 TOP TIPS for making working from home, work for you:

NUMBER 1: FIND A WORK SPACE THAT WORKS FOR YOU – Ideally you want a separate space just for work. We understand that, for those of you in smaller homes, this may not be possible; however, you can still organise a smaller working space where you are comfortable and which fits our recommendations, even if this is just a temporary set-up at your dining table. You will still be able to ensure that the other tick box list is implemented too. Make sure that the desk (or table), if at all possible, is by a window, lit well, and has a comfy chair (i.e not the kitchen stool – ask your organisation about possibility of buying you a chair). Your computer/laptop should be at head height (my computer has been, for years, on top of four encyclopaedias of art books – thank you Britannica); and do make sure, if possible, you ‘put away’ your laptop/computer/work phone at end of day – this is especially true for those of you working in a shared space. Remember the old axiom “Out of sight, out of mind” – if you can’t see the flashy lights or hear the email notices you don’t tend to go back to your technology.

NUMBER 2: KEEP SET WORKING TIMES – We all feel that work has creeped into our homelife and, according to recent research done in the USA, during the first six months of lockdown the average working day had increased by 48.5minutes (that’s over four extra hours a week!) The best way to peg it back is to create realistic ‘work-day’ times and stick to them. Use your technology to help remind you, until it becomes a habit, by setting an alarm one hour, 30 minutes and 15 minutes before your agreed end time.

NUMBER 3: CHECK YOUR ENERGY LEVELS EACH AND EVERY MORNING – How is your energy fuel tank this morning? Make sure that, if you’re not in the right state, you give yourself either a boost of light (and caffeine!) in your garden or even on your doorstep if you don’t have a garden, or have yourself some treats BEFORE you start work. Also, don’t forget the most important meal of the day is your BREAKFAST, your brain just doesn’t work without it (seriously! see note on EATING and BREAKS).

NUMBER 4: HAVE SET BREAKS DURING THE DAY AND MAKE SURE YOU DIARY THEM IN – So much research says that taking breaks increases productivity – our brain gets saturated very quickly and it struggles to work effectively beyond a two-hour window of constant focus. So, make sure you keep your breaks (use your online diary to make sure they are blocked out), doing so will help you get more done, not less. Remember the saying, “Move your body, move your mind”. Once you’ve gone past your peak working time in your day, you’ll find you can get easily stuck on stuff and this is why taking breaks is important. Even micro-breaks have been proven to work, so get up move around, get a breath of fresh air and a cuppa, as it helps the brain to ‘clear capacity and re-set.’

NUMBER 5: MAKE A CLEAR DISTINCTION BETWEEN ‘WORK YOU’ AND ‘HOME YOU’ – Wear work clothes for work (sounds daft but it WILL help you to distinguish between work you and home you when you’re at home), and have a routine at the end of the day: take a shower, change your clothes, read a paper or listen to a podcast. If you’re working at home the likelihood is you’ve lost your commute home time, so ‘reclaim your commute time’ and go walk the dog or exercise at the end of your working day to re-create your commute.

NUMBER 6: MAKE SURE YOUR’RE GETTING AT LEAST 45 MINUTES OF DAYLIGHT EACH DAY – The more I research I do into daylight, the more importance I have given it in my working day. Daylight helps you stay alert and helps you to get into a natural circadian rhythm essential for good sleep. Just 45minutes of daylight each day will help you sleep that night; morning light, especially, can help you produce melatonin later in the day and this promotes a natural tiredness and better-quality sleep.

NUMBER 7: MAKE SURE YOU ARE EXERCISING EVERY DAY – Our bodies are not designed to be as sedentary as we have become. We’re not meant to spend eight hours in front of a computer screen, we’ve still got the same bodies as when we were hunter gatherers, so we need to make sure that it’s not just our minds which are worn out, but our physical bodies too. You don’t have to be a gym bunny, or a fitness freak, but you can combine your exercise with your 45 minutes of daylight, or re-create your commute, or walk the dog. You don’t have to do a whole one-hour workout but, especially if you are feeling stressed, a good intensive interval training type of workout can be very beneficial, to not only tire you out, but also dissipate your stress hormones in your body and close down your stress factory (which is essential for getting a good night’s sleep). We were much better at this in the first lockdown but we’ve let it slip. Now is the time to get it back INTO your working from home routine, it’s good for you!

NUMBER 8: EAT!! YOUR BRAIN NEEDS FUEL TO PERFORM AT ITS BEST – This might sound basic, but so many people are not fuelling themselves enough in their working day. As we’ve heard previously, it’s important to take your breaks, but taking breaks without re-fuelling is performance suicide. Your brain uses 20% of your calorific intake just to FUNCTION normally – 20% of nothing = frankly, a rather useless brain. Eating the right things helps too – LOW GI food stuffs are better to avoid sugar spikes (as you get sugar dips after which can make us lethargic); nuts, seeds, protein, wholefoods, fruits are good, and avoid high fat or sugar foods.

NUMBER 9: MAKE USE OF YOUR PEAK PERFORMANCE TIMES (AND DEAD TIMES) – We all have peak and dead working times in our average working day. Our peak working time is a consistent three-hour window where our brain is performing at its absolute peak. It’s the same three-hours every day, so if you can identify that peak working time you can maximise your performance. Put the more complex, challenging tasks that require real processing power in that three-hour window. You can get up-to-twice as much done in that three-hour window than you can in the entirety of the rest of the day. Your dead working time is a two-hour window, normally towards the end of your working day, when your brain has an inability to function at a high level. That’s the time for admin and simple tasks that don’t require a lot of brain power. Now we’re working from home this is a great time to experiment and collect your own evidence about your optimum working times, so you can organise your workload accordingly. Block out the diary and assign your work tasks (or types of tasks) to each performance category – this is our most powerful smarter working tool.

NUMBER 10: CLAIM BACK CONTROL OF YOUR ONLINE DIARY – Your online diary IS YOUR ONLINE DIARY, not everyone else’s! You own it, and so it’s really OK to say no sometimes. Online diaries have meant that we can end up, if we’re not careful, being at everyone else’s’ beck and call. Back-to-back meetings just DON’T WORK – especially now we’re doing things over virtual technology. We need time to recover BETWEEN meetings, so make sure you have at least ten-minutes to do a re-set between meetings. And don’t be afraid to say NO – if you don’t think you should be at a meeting, it’s OK to ask why you’ve been invited.

NUMBER 11: RE-SET YOUR HARD (AND SOFT) BOUNDARIES – There is no doubt that the tide of work has now fully invaded our home life too. It’s not our fault, it’s just gradually seeped in over time. So now is as good a time as any to re-set your boundaries. There are two types of boundaries: HARD boundaries (these are your non-negotiables, the boundaries you won’t change unless it’s an emergency), and your SOFT boundaries (these are the boundaries that have a little flexibility or give and take in them). Everyone’s boundaries will be different: for one it might be to not work at all on the weekends, for another to not answer emails in the evenings, for me it’s being able to tuck my daughter into bed at night and read her a story. Whatever they are for you, make sure your team/bosses know. You’ll find that, when you dare to re-claim your boundaries, people will respect you for doing so, not judge you.

NUMBER 12: IN THE LAST HOUR/HALF-HOUR OF YOUR WORKING DAY, START TO WIND DOWN – At the end of our working day, our brain’s performance is at best 50% (and for many people less than 20%) to where it was at its peak earlier in the day. To put that into simple terms, a task that might take 15minutes in the morning might take a whole hour at the end of your day. So, make sure the last 60minutes, or at least the last 30 minutes, of your working day are spent on less meaningful tasks that require less processing power. Or you could celebrate your successes from the day, or prepare your to-do list for the next day. Set an alarm (or multiple alarms if you’re not good at stopping!) to make sure you DO actually stop on time.

NUMBER 13: UNWIND TIME AT THE END OF YOUR DAY – According to research done at the University of Surrey, we have lost a very important time in our day, gradually, over the last ten or so years – it’s called our UNWIND TIME. Work can be stressful and can get us ‘wound up’, so make sure that, at the end of your working day, you take time to unwind and de-stress BEFORE you start on your home chores (see note on ‘creating a restorative space’ below). Our body and mind need time to recover after a busy day; our system needs to shut down the stress factory and get back to its normal biochemistry. It’ll make your evenings much more pleasant and enjoyable, and you will be much more enjoyable and pleasant to be around too – so it’s not just you that will notice the difference from this, but your partner and children too!

NUMBER 14: DO CREATE A RESTORATIVE SPACE – We all need a sanctuary to unwind, a restorative space to recover ourselves. It could be in the garden or a study, your bedroom, or just a comfy chair you love. Spend at least 30 minutes there ‘unwinding’ before you launch into the ‘what next’ – be that looking after the kids, starting cooking, or doing some household chores. It’s a great excuse to get yourself some new comfy cushions or buying some new garden furniture. Creating your restorative space is almost as much fun as being in it! Use the 30minutes or so doing non-work-related things: do a hobby, read a paper, listen to a podcast or your favourite music. In my household I call it my “wine down” time (as I’ll go outside into my garden restorative space, listen to some music and have a glass of wine!).

NUMBER 15: GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP – The most important thing you can do when it comes to your working routine isn’t actually found in any of the above, it’s something more fundamental than that, it’s getting a good night’s sleep. So, if you’re someone who suffers with your sleep (you’re not alone by the way, there is a real ‘sleeplessness epidemic’ going on right now in this country), it really is something worth focussing on, because put very simply, SLEEP is your greatest resource of all. With a good night’s sleep, you can be your amazing, brilliant best; without a good night’s sleep, everything is just harder work! If you want some tips on getting a good night’s sleep, then just get in touch as we’ve been researching and delivering workshops on #performance sleeping for years!

At Meta, we’re passionate about helping YOU to be the best you can be, and helping organisations to support their staff to be the best they can be. So, we hope these 15 top tips help you to create a working from home regime that works for YOU (and if it works for you, it’ll work for your organisation too!)

Have a wonderful month!
In peace,
Jo xx

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IS WORKING FROM HOME REALLY WORKING?

I’ve been talking to a number of leaders and friends in our Meta network and it seems to me that virtual working, especially now most of us are working from home, isn’t working.

We’ve talked before here about how, actually, since we went into lockdown in March 2020, we’re ALL working longer hours. About 48minutes more every day on average according to a massive piece of research done in the USA. Combine that with a 12.5% rise in virtual meetings and the fact that many of us are also home schooling our kids – is it any wonder that we’re all running on empty?

I’ve heard many organisations say how happy they are with the productivity of their staff as they work from home. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that they will get rid of offices in favour of virtual working and ‘collaborative spaces’ – but that happiness is not necessarily shared by those who are doing the virtual working. There’s a reason why productivity has stayed the same or even improved, it’s because most of us are working longer hours to get it all done.

I have yet to talk to someone who says that working from home really works for them. I think it’s time to admit that the working from home experiment isn’t the overwhelming success some organisations think it is – far from it – it definitely needs some tweaking and improving if it’s how we’ll all be working in the future.

That said, there are some GREAT benefits in working from home if we utilise them. The problem is that many of us feel guilt around using the flexibility of working from home and end up working more to ‘make up’ for the time we may have taken putting the washing out, grabbing a cuppa outside in the garden, or taking a walk or exercising during the day. Sure, we’ll do those things (because instinctively we know they work for us) but then we’ll come back to work later on in the evening perhaps, after we’ve put the children to bed, or after we’ve had dinner. The vast majority of people want to do a good job and do their best to get everything done on their to-do lists and, as a result, they tend to work longer than the time they actually took out during the day.

I’ve been working from home for 20 years now – Meta has always been a virtual organisation from its outset, we have always had home offices and consequently worked from home. Our working has always been flexible, with no set hours, as we felt it important to give ourselves free rein to work when worked best for us. Yet I know from my own experience that it’s hard to stop working when you’re working at home – I have a fierce ‘protestant work ethic’ that it’s taken me years to tame and overcome!

Cat desk

The first thing we need to do is take away the GUILT. It’s time to say that FLEXIBLE WORKING, or AGILE WORKING (for those of you in the world of agile) means that we work when WE ARE AT OUR BEST, not that we work longer hours, so that we can have the flexibility we need when we are working from home AND home schooling for example.

Flexibility is a TWO-WAY street. If you’re answering emails on a Sunday evening, you absolutely should be able to go for a long restorative walk on Wednesday morning! It’s not just about putting in the extra hours, it’s also about being able to exercise at lunchtime, being able to pick up the kids from a minder or from school (when they return to school) and spending quality time with the family.

I’ve heard many people, in the resilience workshops that we’ve been running during the pandemic, say how much they’ve appreciated having more time with their family. That has been a real boon of working from home. I also hear how people have enjoyed the freedom of going for a walk at lunchtime, or going to the park with their kids after work – but I’ve also heard from almost everyone that they now feel that work has fully invaded their home life. It’s hard for them to SWITCH OFF, because they feel they must be ALWAYS ON.

It’s time to make our working from home routines work for us. We need to re-evaluate and analyse what really works for US. Most organisations are genuinely trying to do the right thing, and understand they must be much more flexible, the 9-5pm work-day just no longer exists. But we must also play our part and feedback to them our experiences, so they can tailor their future plans to reflect the real needs of the home worker. Your organisation will be happy as long as you get the tasks done, and it’s up to US to figure out how best to do that, how working from home works best for us.

It’s been a virtual trial by fire, a massive global experiment in virtual working. As with all experiments, we need to analyse what did and didn’t work, so that we can improve the experience and refine the practice to make it easier for us to give of our best.

So why not spend a few moments now to figure out what WORKS for you and what DOESN’T in your current working from home routine? Have you slipped into the habit of just working harder? If you have, don’t worry, don’t beat yourself up because you’re certainly not alone! However, DO look back over the past year – maybe you started off well, you DID take your breaks, you did get some exercise, and some daylight! What did you do that WORKED and what have you ended up doing that perhaps doesn’t work so well? Now is the time to re-evaluate and get into some good habits again.

The likelihood is that we’ll all be mainly working from home for at least the next two-three months, that’s plenty of time to get into a WFH routine that really works for you. And here’s the brilliant thing, if it works for you, it will absolutely work for your organisation. Because if you feel good, you are much more productive, you are less stressed, you sleep better, and you’ll produce higher quality work. Smarter working is one of those things that is a REAL WIN – WIN!

If you’re not sure HOW to improve your working from home routine, or you just need some proven practical tips on smarter working (when home working), then please feel free to get in touch and ask us! At Meta we’ve been researching smarter working techniques for 10 years+ now and, in the last year, we have been specifically focussing on how to use those smarter working tools to ensure we all can perform at our best when working from home. We’ll happily help you or, indeed, you and your team or your organisation to get the best out of the virtual working experience.

We love sharing our research and it’s part of our purpose, our mission at Meta to help change the way we work to a more sustainable way of working. We want to help inspire workplace and working practices which enable everyone to give of their best and work smarter not harder. This pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate the way we work, and we want to ensure that as many people and organisations as possible make the right changes, so please do call on us and we’ll do what we can to help you.

Have a wonderful month everyone,

In peace,
Jo xxx

Jo Clarkson, Meta CEO

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IT’S TIME TO SAY THANK YOU

The new year is upon us, and yet it feels very much like just a continuation of 2020 doesn’t it? Back in lockdown, back having our lives dictated to us, our freedoms suppressed, change forced upon us, things feeling out of our control.

It may be a bit depressing, but there is good reason for it: there is no doubt that we are at a very challenging time in this COVID crisis. We’re near the top of the mountain, we can see the top but it’s often that last stretch which can be the most difficult and demanding. We’ve done the hard work; we can see the end in sight and that’s when our guard can slip and the last few steps can become a real struggle.

I remember being with my dad on one of our many trips together to climb Snowdon in North Wales. He was a youth leader and a keen mountain-walker. He was always prepared for every eventuality as he climbed a mountain. In his backpack he had a tent, sleeping bag, emergency supplies of food, waterproofs, a little stove and a first aid kit. He never underestimated the mountain, and there is no doubt that, as a 9 or 10 year old, there was a point in the climb where a handful of nuts and raisins or a dextrose tablet (magic energy booster) were like manna from heaven, the little extra boost needed to get to the top.

It’s a strange story to share it might seem, but a valid one, I think – we’re near the (COVID) mountain top, but it’s not yet in reach and we’ve run out of gas, we’re running on empty. It’s been one heck of a climb to get to where we have, it’s been a struggle – let’s be honest here, it’s been so challenging to get up to this point, so how do we get ourselves to the top? How do we keep ourselves driving onwards and upwards when our legs have had enough of climbing? How do we catch our breath and fuel ourselves to continue this arduous journey to the summit?

Mountain

I think it’s time to say THANK YOU.

Odd thing to say – but actually a THANK YOU goes a very long way. Back it up with action, and a thank you can be transformatory, it can be healing and it can be energising.

It can be a PERSONAL thank you, to those who have helped you through this year. Who do you need to thank? A friend? A work colleague? A family member? A loved one? Who has been the rock to you? Who has been there for you during this last year? One of the loveliest things to receive (and I know this from my own experience) is a little note or card or email or text or WhatsApp message that says:

“THANK YOU for being you”, or “THANK YOU for being my friend”.

It’s not hard, but right now there is someone who is in need of a thank you, of your thanks, of your GRATITUDE – so why not use this prompt to send them that little something?

We all have things to be grateful for, and when things are bleak, when things are tough, it’s important to remind yourself of just how much you have to be grateful for, and to thank those who have been gracious, kind and supportive to you. As I’ve mentioned in the last posted blog, kindness is infectious, so spread a little kindness and give a little thank you to someone who you are grateful to.

That’s the personal thank you – but this is a business blog, written by a business consultancy, it’s about business best practice, it’s about excellence in action, in organisations. So now let’s talk to you organisational leaders out there, those who have teams and line manage people.

We have a very diverse Meta family – we are unusual in that we work in all sectors (corporate, public and third non-profit/charity) and with all kinds of sizes of organisations (from 10s-1000s of staff). We work with all levels of managers and leaders, from team leaders, to shift managers, to directors, executive directors, CFOs and CEOs. So, over the last year we’ve heard many different approaches to the pandemic and working practices. There’s been some AMAZING practice (I’d like especially single out CRISIS, SQUARED and BDHT here as organisations who have been AMAZINGLY supportive and appreciative of their staff and that it’s been our pleasure to work with).

We’ve also heard of organisations (mostly in the corporate sector if we’re honest here) who have carried on pretty much as though it’s business as usual, treating staff (who have been home-working, home-schooling and coping with the rather large challenges we’ve all been facing during this crisis) as resources rather than human beings. Restructuring, putting people at risk of redundancy, carrying on major projects that maybe could have been put on hold.

Now we understand that business must carry on. It doesn’t stop because there’s a pandemic going on and, at the same time, an acknowledgement of the human side of things is incredibly important, and will ensure the loyalty, and dedication of your staff. We’re ALL struggling, whatever your level within an organisation – we see an end in sight, but how do we get there when we’re running on empty?

The good news is that it’s not too late. As leaders we have tremendous power and a little can go a long way indeed. Remember that handful of nuts and raisins my dad would dish out as I thought the mountain path would never end? The dextrose tablet for those last 100 yards to the top of the mountain? Well, the organisational equivalent is a THANK YOU – a heartfelt thank you can make all the difference.

Has your organisation THANKED its staff? I mean REALLY THANKED its staff for helping the organisation to make it through last year? Even if your organisation hasn’t been particularly vocal about it, YOU can, as a manager or leader of people.

The new year is a great time to hit refresh, to start again, to set the tone for what is to come. It’s a great time to put behind us things that need to be put behind us and focus on the what next, what is to come. It’s a great time to say THANK YOU and to help lift the spirits of your staff to cope with the coming 3-6 months of uncertainty.

Right now your staff will be struggling, like the 10 year old me near the top of Snowdon. They need a boost, some motivation to keep doing the work that they need to do. So now is the time to really THANK them for all that they have done – and do it in a way that will stick in their memory, will really energise and delight them.

So spend time TODAY to think about how you can THANK your staff. Be you someone who has one person in their team, a whole directorate or a whole organisation – how can you really say a BIG THANK YOU?

Most people just want to be appreciated and valued for the work they do. They don’t need big gestures, small ones will do, but it needs to be genuine and heartfelt.

Let’s be honest here, there is no doubt that, without your staff doing what needs to be done, your organisation would not have got through the year as well as it has. This pandemic has been an unprecedented event – no-one leading an organisation has ever been through something like this, and so there has been extra pressure, extra demands put on both leaders and staff to just get through this as safely and securely as possible. It’s been a mountain to climb and, if we’re honest, many of us have been winging it as we go along, but now we’re through the worst of it (hopefully) so this is a good time to stop and say THANK YOU.

Have a think – get creative with your THANK YOUs, make your THANK YOU memorable and fun. Perhaps it’s time to do a silly awards ceremony, or to break out the virtual coffee and doughnuts. Is it time to give everyone a voucher as an appreciation of their efforts? Or how about this? If your organisation or team has had to work all the way through this pandemic, how about giving them a long weekend? Or an extra holiday day? If you can’t give it now, then give it in lieu to be used when work schedules allow? How about doing a Friday afternoon virtual pub quiz with real awards? How about having a virtual lunch? Or giving everyone an extra-long lunch break one day?

I remember, many years ago, I worked in the West End (of London) for NEXT. I was a deputy manager of the menswear floor in the Regent Street store. I don’t know if you remember, but NEXT was famous for its Boxing Day sales. All the stock would be 50% off or more – everyone went to the NEXT SALES.

I can remember sitting on the number 30 bus going into work at 4:30am on the first day of sales, and knowing that the people who were on the bus with me were probably headed to one of our NEXT stores to start queueing!

The downside of having a sale so quickly after Christmas was that all the SALES preparations had to happen in the run up to Christmas (as if Christmas wasn’t busy enough!). As a manager I was expected to stay behind to finish up the prep. It was Christmas Eve, and I’d been working all day – it’s fair to say that I was pretty annoyed by the time it was dinner time. I’d been working for hours and, although the end was in sight, I’d lost all motivation and was getting rather irritable and grumpy. To top it all off, our manager had buggered off somewhere – he hadn’t been seen for nearly an hour, and the ‘minions’ had been left to do the hard graft – that’s how it felt anyway.

Then there was a knock on the stockroom door. We could see our manager’s face through the small window. As we opened the door, the waft of fresh cooked takeaway pizza hit our nostrils, and from behind his back he pulled out a plastic bag full of cans of beer.

Our manager sat us all down in a circle, and said a heartfelt personalised ‘THANK YOU’ to each one of us that was left. As we sat and scoffed the pizza, and drank our well-earned beer, all grumpiness had disappeared. We laughed, we shared jokes, turned the music up in the stockroom and cracked on with the remaining sale stock prep. I didn’t get home until about 10pm that Christmas Eve, but I didn’t go home angry, I went home happy, content at a good job well done, and knowing that all my hard work was appreciated and valued.

My manager wasn’t an amazing manager, but he did something that I never forgot that day. He reminded me how important, healing, restorative and transformative a simple THANK YOU, followed up with ACTION (the pizza and beer) can be.

NOW IS THE TIME FOR US ALL TO SAY THANK YOU – and follow that up with an ACTION. How you do that is up to you, but it’s important to start 2021 with an acknowledgement of just how much you value and appreciate your people.

Let me start us all off – I want to say THANK YOU, to all of you in our Meta family. Thanks for being there, thanks for doing the wonderful work that so many of you do.

It’s been a tough year for us here at Meta, but there are many of you (you know who you are) who have offered me personal support and words of encouragement this year, and I want to say a HEARTFELT THANK YOU to you all – it has been so appreciated and often just what I needed when you gave it.

And, every one of you who is reading this deserves to be THANKED just for getting through this last year – it’s been a bugger to put it mildly, but you made it, and that is something to be celebrated too!

Together I believe we will make the top of the mountain, and get down safely again. TOGETHER we are ALWAYS STRONGER – TOGETHER WE CAN ACHIEVE ALMOST ANYTHING.

Wishing you all a much better 2021!

In peace and love,

Jo xxx

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KINDNESS (IS INFECTIOUS TOO)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to recharge and top up my batteries and I definitely am missing being with friends, family and loved ones.

I MISS HUGS. I MISS THE PHYSICAL TOUCH OF OTHERS.

I know I’m not the only one.

As we get into the eighth month of this pandemic, and are entering into another enforced lockdown, we’re all feeling the strain. We’ve been amazingly resourceful. I think we’ve been amazing to get this far and not gone completely nuts! It’s safe to say that almost everyone I come into contact with right now is running on empty. We’ve just run out of juice and that’s to be expected when we’ve had so long in isolation with all the COVID-19 stuff happening all around us.

I thought I’d use this Meta blog, to remind you of the POWER OF KINDNESS, how kindness is a gift that keeps on giving.

Kindness

During this pandemic we’ve seen the best of behaviours in people and we’ve seen the worst. I think many of us have just run out of positivity or optimism and now, more than ever, we need something that helps us feel good, helps us feel better than we are feeling just now.

There is no better FEEL GOOD thing to do, than to BE KIND. Kindness spreads, it’s infectious (in a good way) and right now I think it’s something that we can all be doing more of. Kindness not only benefits those who we are kind to (it literally increases the happy chemicals in their body and brain), but also benefits us too (we get a good chemical hit too!). And here’s the nuts thing, it also benefits people who observe us giving that kindness to another.

So surely that’s the definition of a GIFT that keeps on GIVING?

Three gifts in one, a triple whammy from a single act of kindness – BOOM – *drops the mic*

The other thing about being kind is that it’s really, really easy. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; it doesn’t have to be big – it’s about the small kindnesses too.

It’s about making sure that you smile and say hello to someone on the street as you are having your daily exercise. It can be about engaging with the lady at the checkout at your supermarket or saying thank you to your postie next time you see them. How about sending a ‘thanks for being my friend’ type of card to one of your friends you’ve not seen in a while (or who lives in another country?)

And let’s not limit kindness to just our friends and family! Many of us are working from home now, and we miss the contact and comradery of our team-mates. So many of the people in organisations I’ve been doing resilience workshops with say it’s the simple things that they miss – the informal chat in the staff kitchen as they make a cup of tea, the office banter amongst the team, sharing a joke or meme, being able to laugh with your work colleagues and just the buzz, the noise of the office! So make sure that those of you who are working from home check in with your work colleagues, make sure you’re showing you care, to those in your team – maybe set up a WhatsApp group for your team, or just randomly check in once a week with someone in your team.

How about a virtual lunch break? Or a virtual cuppa and catch up? Friday team quiz anyone? There are plenty of ways of making sure that no-one feels alone or isolated in this next lockdown period and plenty of ways to show kindness to those we work with.

I went down to my local foodbank last week to offer to volunteer and the lovely manager there told me that they’d been inundated with offers of help, so much help that they were overflowing with volunteers and they had to create a rota to ensure that everyone who wanted to volunteer got to! It reminded me that, as human beings, we want to help those who are less fortunate than us, and it really re-established my faith in our common humanity. I think that when we are struggling, we tend to think of others – I know I personally have been thinking to myself that, if I’m struggling with all the tools I have in my personal toolkit, then my word how must it be for others?

I’ve also been running quite a few resilience workshops and, of the many themes that come through, one of them is the fact that CARING for ourselves and others really MATTERS. Caring and kindness are sense-siblings to show we care. It is in itself an act of kindness to show that we are thinking beyond ourselves and our own self-interest, to reach out to others and show our willingness to help and support them any way we can.

The thing about showing we care is that it’s not hard to do. It’s about reaching out and saying, “Hey I’m here should you need me”, it’s about sending an email that checks in with someone you’ve not heard from in a while. It’s about taking time on your weekend or evening to go through your phone contacts and send a random text to a friend to say, “Hello and how are you doing?” It’s about sharing that YouTube clip that brought a smile to your face, or the meme that a friend shared with you on WhatsApp.

Whatever the format, whatever the platform you use, whatever the technology, every contact DOES matter. In times when we are all struggling to be positive, receiving a text, an email, a WhatsApp message, or indeed a phone call or Skype/Zoom call from a loved one or friend (or, let’s face it, from pretty much anyone!) is always something that touches us, and more importantly something that helps us FEEL GOOD. And we all need to feel good now – especially now we’re going back into the hibernation and isolation that lockdown brings.

There is so much research that highlights how important our social network is (no not THAT online Facebook type social network, but our actual friends and family network). Our social network is our support network, and those who have more a more ACTIVE social and support network with more connections tend to feel significantly more positive and have much better mental health than those who don’t.

So now is the time to be reaching out, to be reconnecting and re-enforcing our social and support networks. Let’s reach out not just to our nearest and dearest, those in our inner circles, but to those who are further out, those that we know may be by themselves or in an ‘at-risk category’, or just someone we’ve not spoken to in a while. What I can GUARANTEE is that the simple act of kindness of just reaching out to say hello and check in WILL give them a boost to their day. It’ll take you just five or ten minutes, but it might just make someone’s day.

In the coming months on the run up to Christmas, let’s ALL make a concerted effort to be KIND, to show that WE CARE, to as many people as we can.

I know from my own doing of this as an exercise, that it’s good not just for those who I write to or contact, but it’s good for me too! Just recently I got in touch with my first ever best friend – Gary McCausland. When I first went to infant school, Gary gave up his place on the cool kids table (the orange table) to be with me at the back of the class on the black table. We became great friends and shared a love of the Beatles, playing guitar together and were in our first ever band together (the Bulrushes – I still have an audio tape somewhere :D), but sadly we had lost touch over the years.

I wrote to him near a couple of months back, as I’d found an old email address for him. Then just a few weeks back I got a response out of the blue… and it delighted me so much to hear from him. It was a real GIFT just to get that email and, although we’ve not quite got together yet, just hearing from Gary was like having a piece of who you are returned to you. He was the one friend I thought I’d lost that truly mattered to me – and now he’s not lost, he’s re-found – and in these uncertain and challenging times, that makes me very happy indeed.

So, do what you can this month to be a positive ripple – kindness is a gift that keeps on giving, so give what you can, when you can.

Please do remember that if you’re receiving or reading this blog, that you are a part of the Meta family, part of our network, so feel free to reach out to me or to Di – we’d love to hear from you!

In peace and love

Jo xxx

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