By Andrés T. Tapia, From the Korn Ferry series: Inclusive Leadership in a Time of Pandemic
As we enter another week of shelter-in-place let’s reflect empathetically on the many different situations our work colleagues, clients, and each of ourselves face.
The overnight shift to work from home 100% has been seamless for many but not for most. It is not even close to a level playing field. The inequities of people’s lifestyles are now more vulnerable than ever to being exposed.
A few examples:
Online. There is wide variance on wifi bandwidth availability due to different household budgets, as well as the number of people in the home needing to get online at the same time. Computers also have a wide range of ages, speeds, and memory affecting a user’s ability to seamlessly jump from app to app.
Space. Not everyone has a living place with a private office. People are working from bedrooms, the dining room table, the kids’ playroom. They are sharing the space with other adults trying to do the same thing, with teenagers doing homework, toddlers toddling, pets roaming.
Comfort. Others don’t have the expensive, ergonomically sound chairs they have back at the office. And with the cramped quarters, and in many urban neighborhoods, limited chances to truly get out and stretch and get fresh air, this will take an increasing toll on people’s bodies.
Family. Parents with younger children have no recourse. They can’t leave the children at day care or have a childcare person come to the house. They literally are juggling kids, laptops, cooking, and disinfecting the grocery delivery all at once. Others can be dealing with caring for a sick parent or a teenager with substance abuse problems.
Culture. Workers of various different ethnic backgrounds who may have carefully cultivated career survival tactics of assimilation in the workplace may have cultural customs or other lifestyle differences such as how they drees, wear their hair, use make up, etc. that are now harder to keep private.
Aesthetics. Our taste in aesthetics, our priorities for what we spend money on, our financial circumstances that are influenced by a myriad factors means different choices about how we will fill our spaces. Our choices are now online for the whole world to see.
Living Alone. Many colleagues, including many young professionals have been happily living alone. But for many, this was balanced by frequent face-to-face social gatherings, at home, at someone else’s place, or at public venues. Now that social distancing and stay-at-home orders require severe curtailment to such activities, having the whole place to oneself can devolve into feelings of isolation and loneliness. This is a very vulnerable emotional state to be in.
The collapsing of the walls between our professional and home lives add another dimension to what inclusive leaders need to take into account.
We must ensure we are caring for our colleagues pragmatically and empathetically.
A few things to keep in mind:
Companies like State Farm, when they were about to close down their facilities and send everyone home, let everyone take whatever they needed – monitors, printers, chair, supplies. One leader shared that “well, we’ll have to figure out inventory when this is all over but right now people need what they need to get the work done.”
Other companies who didn’t think about this when they shut down are offering to ship supplies and updated technological tools to their people by sending teams – who are adequately protected — to do this very thing.
Companies would do well to think about offering to reimburse employees to upgrade their bandwidth and internet speeds or to buy that ergonomically safe chair.
Empathetically, we must all be more mindful that the increasing sense of emotional turmoil not only due to the fears of the pandemic’s ravages, but also due to the emotional ebb and flow within families and significant others, continues to run its course now under greater pressures and stresses in confined quarters that limit even the most basic important conflict management tactic of “I need some space.”
Pull up the office or team roster and see who you have not heard from in a while and reach out to them to say “Hi.”
We have witnessed hundreds of interactions in this spirit. People checked-in before team meetings “get down to business” to see how everyone is doing. As babies cry and felines walk across keyboards, let’s keep offering latitude.
So each Zoom meeting we log into, let’s be mindful and respectful that it’s not just a work environment. We are actually entering someone’s home. And in that we need to be caring, sensitive, appropriate.
Conversely, we now have an opportunity to get to know each other better in a good way, with a greater sense of our common humanity. As we see and learn details about each other’s private lives, we can build more caring feelings about each other. As we are in each other’s homes in a new way, we can get to know our co-workers better.