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Sport psychology

How sport psychology can help customer service teams during coronavirus


Sport psychologist Martin Perry explains how an athlete's mindset can help remote service teams address the psychological impact on employees working from home.

13th Apr 2020
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The COVID-19 crisis is a marathon not a sprint.

As the UK joins the world in the Herculean effort to slow the deadly Coronavirus down, businesses have been urged to facilitate their staff to work from home where they can. This is, no doubt, easier for some businesses than others to obey – but we are all ‘in it together’ – and even customer service and call centres have had to adapt.

Implications for customer service and call centre staff will no doubt be more acute than, say, marketing professionals who may have more opportunity to work from home in their daily lives. These teams usually sit near each other and operate in a high-performing environment where their fears and setbacks are managed on a minute by minute basis. The potential drop-off in performance for these roles outside of that bubble is considerable. There will, of course, be peak performers who thrive in the new environment – not everyone likes to be overheard when making calls or dealing with a challenge.

With my sports psychology hat on, I see how these challenges resemble those that athletes are currently undergoing. Take footballers for example. We have seen teams playing games behind closed doors: some players adapted to the new circumstances better than others – look at how Cristiano Ronaldo greeted invisible fans as he got off the Juventus bus. Some mocked him but I see something quite special in his psyche here; he was able to tune his mind and to him it was business as usual.

Those used to working in teams and in a bustling atmosphere should take note. The psychological effects of working in isolation when one is not used to it can be significant. They manifest themselves in different ways including: a drifting mind and an inability to stick to a work schedule; low energy levels which can lead to poor productivity; a loss of motivation; a sense of feeling unsupported and alone; and not feeling a part of the team and excluded.

Very few people who work in these energetic environments would chose to sign up to working in isolation.  Here are some tips for those finding it difficult to keep motivated:

  1. Develop an overview about what is happening and why it is happening.
  2. Think about situations where they have adapted well before.
  3. Consider what qualities you drew on to handle that adversity
  4. Drawn on those moments when you have demonstrated those qualities
  5. Become aware of and sensitive to a ‘woe is me’ mindset.
  6. Notice how this mindset impacts on you
  7. Recognise that this mindset might be because you are missing certain things that make life feel normal.
  8. So don’t be too hard on yourself about it.
  9. How can you create things in your new routines, that you start to like?

There are also ways where team leaders and employers can help their co-workers perform at their best whilst working from home. After all, a team is a team whether you are together or not – team spirit should always prevail: an injured Vincent Kompany was still captain of Man City whether on the field or at home.

Ideally, managers and leaders in office jobs wouldn’t allow the physical distance to affect performance either. A close psychological connection that is supportive and encourages peak performance is by far the most important. Today’s managers tend to try and inspire rather than manage teams, office culture 21st century is very different to that of the past.

Technology has definitely made life and work communication simpler. Team meetings can still take place face-to-face, be it on video rather than in the boardroom. This technology has made it much easier to pick up on behavioural signals; more so than down a telephone line or through email. Managers and leaders will now have the opportunity to spot those team players that may be struggling with isolation and support them in ways that will help.

A happy workforce is a productive workforce. Employees like to feel appreciated and valued. A large part of that is feeling that their managers understand certain difficulties they may be facing. 

In this particular crisis, it would be of value to have a clear understanding of your workforce’s home commitments in these extraordinary times. 

  • Do leaders need to make specific allowances?
  • Do they have children at home that they are responsible for home-schooling?  
  • Do they have elderly or sick relatives that they need to look after? 
  • Fundamentally, how flexible can you be around their caring needs versus the hours that you need to have people perform? 

These are all important questions that leaders and managers need to ask themselves. A little less time of work carried out by a happy employee is a lot more productive than a full day by a resentful and unmotivated one.

The clarity with which managers communicate these issues is going to be essential.

Likewise, the behaviours that leaders demonstrate will also be mirrored by the workforce. If managers are able to show their teams that they are willing and able to prioritise their own family’s needs but also remain productive for the job at hand, then the workforce will do so too.

In conclusion, whether you are an employer, manager, leader or member of staff there is much you can learn from a sportsperson’s mindset. An athlete adapts to any situation, they are able to perform on the field or encourage others from a subs bench. At the end of the day they are very adept at compartmentalising. 

Much like an office environment, homeworking should have structure. Athletes, after all, are settled once they have structure. For them structure is king. They perform better with structure and within that settled structure, are better able to find solutions to new arising problems – whatever challenges they face.


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