COVID Conversations - How workplace language & behavior is changing during the pandemic?
I went from no-virus to virus in less than 2 hours on a Friday evening, right after work. Come the next day, all the symptoms which I had read in innumerous articles and social media posts suddenly became all too real. The inevitable had finally happened, not just to me but as well as my family. What they don’t tell you about COVID is how it has a more mental impact on you, than just physical. The fear is real.
There are two things that you need to get onto. First, is the personal element where you are trying to chart out the course of action for you and your family.
Second, on the back burner you are constantly thinking about how to manage your professional responsibilities. How do you break the news? How often do you keep your co-workers updated? Which tasks to delegate and to whom? - these questions and more constantly crowd your mind, specially while WFH.
It is what I experienced and would like to call, the double-edged sword of anxiety.
In this particular piece, I would like to share certain things I encountered in the past few weeks and learnt from on how to tackle my professional responsibilities, whilst parallelly focusing on my family. I noticed some critical changes happening in workplace communication and behavior which can help us in creating safe and positive work spaces, which is crucial at a time like this.
So here we go:
Conversations of “I don’t” and “I can’t”
In pre-COVID, how many times could we utter the words “I don’t know” or “I can’t do it” in a workplace without adding an acceptable rationale behind it or without feeling like you aren’t doing enough or doing it right? This has changed now. As my symptoms were mild, I tried to be available as much as I could. During this time, I remember often just relaying to my team “I just can’t do this,” or “I really don’t know,” as the fatigue is real. What I got as a response was understanding. There were no questions asked, something which was a workplace commonality before. They just took things in their stride, worked accordingly and told me to take rest. Now I realize how the pandemic has altered our expectations, and positively made our communication more empathetic. In the words of a brilliant article in Harvard Business Review, we are embracing “the discomfort of not knowing.”
Breaking the productivity bubble with some help
Remember the double-edged sword of anxiety I was talking about in the premise? Yeah, that is not good. Like many, I am a victim of this productivity/hustle culture where I’m seemingly not able to shut myself off from work mode. During my affliction, this compromised my mental health to a major extent. Earlier, I thought that breaking out of this bubble was largely a personal process. However, I realized that at a time when we are anyway isolated while surrounded by negativity, we might need the help of our team mates to take this journey. We have to share a transparent relationship with our co-workers. This overtime can lead to a sharing of accountability which is crucial at this hour. My head felt two tonnes lighter when I knew that in my absence, things were taken care of and I actually had nothing to worry about.
Trust and Empathy - A required repetition
This is a fact. I wouldn’t have been able to get through COVID without my team, some of whom by the way were also afflicted with the virus. Both of the above points are only existing because of two elements - empathy and trust. I know, these may sound repetitive, but taking into account the recent news in the industry, it seems a lot is left wanting in this department. Trust and empathy are the keywords when it comes to a company’s external communication these days. What is the measurement metric to understand that both are being practiced as well? It’s the conversations. How you are discoursing with your co-workers and how they are replying. In such times, actions not only do, but have to speak louder than mere words.
We usually try to keep our personal and professional lives separate. In my view, we often overlook how interconnected and overlapping they are (even before the pandemic ridden work from home situation). What happens in either sphere directly affects our sense of being in the other. Especially now, when there is a physical overlap between work and personal, our communication and behavior should also alter accordingly. You co-workers are no longer “that acquaintance” but are very much a part of your extended circle. Hence, don’t hesitate to share your situation, be transparent, be real. If you do it right, you are sure to receive empathy and a virtual hug in return, which now feels as warm as a real one.