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Building resilience in the world of virtual work
Pic: Shutterstock

23 Nov 2020 / employment Print

Building resilience in the world of virtual work

An MH&C LPP in-house counsel masterclass on managing remote teams heard last week that psychological safety is the key component of a good workplace. 

Dr Melrona Kirrane, (small picture), associate professor of organisational psychology at DCU Business School, discussed strategies for managing oneself  and one’s team while working remotely.


On lockdown and remote working, Dr Kirrane said we should never under-estimate the capacity of the human spirit to respond to adversity.

Life has always presented difficulties and stress, and things we cannot change, Dr Kirrane said, but we can always choose our response to stress.

With COVID, our back-up resources, such as office structures and colleagues, are now much more limited, so we must leverage what is inside ourselves. 

“We often massively under-estimate how we are able to dig deep in order to respond to challenges that come our way,” she said.

With fewer external resources we must rely on our inner selves.

Resilience or psychological capital is not something we are necessarily born with, but it can be developed, Dr Kirrane continued.

The four components of psychological capital are:

  • hope,
  • efficacy,
  • resilience, and
  • optimism.

Hope involves approaching life in a goal-oriented way, believing you can achieve those goals, and finding different pathways to get there.


“What gives you far more solidity in your self-belief in your capacity to do things … is actually having done things,” she said.

Therefore, a track record of getting things done fosters the self-belief to take on the next task, Dr Kirrane explained.

Both hope and efficacy, the first two components of psychological capital, are within everybody’s bandwidth to adopt and see the results from, she said. 

“We can tackle our mind-set and that is what resilience is all about.

“Our thoughts determine our behaviour and a negative inner thought pattern will determine the nature of one’s world.


“Tuning in to the temperature of one’s thought patterns can help determine where one is being disenfranchised with negative thoughts. 

“Often, we think in a very unfavourable-to-self manner. 

“We generalise, we catastrophise, we engage in black-or-white thinking, and the chances are that none of those thoughts are actually an accurate reflection of reality,” she said.

Searching for a new way of looking at something allows an alternative and more favourable-to-self manner of looking at things.

MH&C LLP employment law partner Melanie Crowley said that lawyers tended to be hard on themselves but were also trained to challenge facts. 

Dr Kirrane said we build on our strengths, so it is very important to know what they are, because this gives power, and a platform for growth.

Finally, Dr Kirrane said that an optimistic outlook on life can be learned.

Positive outlook 

A positive explanatory outlook on life will allow a person to own their role in things going well.

A pessimist will connect good outcomes to fluke and will not plant themselves inside success, and lose the opportunity to flourish, she explained.

Scrutinise how you explain success and failure to yourself, she advised.

We are all part of multiple teams simultaneously, but optimism is learnt by sharing and owning success.

On building a sense of virtual community, Dr Kirrane said that a basic human need is the quest for relatedness.


We have to lean on extra features of human communication now, in the virtual world.

Managers should show both humanity and that they are personable, with an acceptance that life is difficult for everyone at the moment.

Back away from micro-managing, she urged, by specifying outcomes, but not necessarily the process by which tasks must be completed.

“Trust is a huge thing is any team but especially so in the virtual world,” she said, advising managers to share aspects of their identity.

Trust builders

Richer communication will always follow from introducing humanity into the work situation, she said.

Other trust-builders in a virtual environment include:

  • prompt responses to messages,
  • acknowledgement of information posted,
  • stable levels of communication,
  • public exchange of group member support mechanisms, and
  • establishing and following group norms.


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