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Intrinsic Optimism Through a Pandemic
by Alissa Miller, Benefits Consultant

I think we can all agree that the last six months have been nothing like we’ve ever experienced before (aside from creepy movies and nightmares).  We are navigating through a global pandemic where our society has suffered profoundly and endured significant economic loss.  The ominous negative vibe that comes with COVID-19 is real and is proving to be longstanding.  It would be a lie to say that I personally have not suffered the damaging effects of this pandemic both personally and professionally.  That being said, have all the changes and adaptations we’ve made as a result of COVID-19 been destructive?  Not necessarily.

I’m going out on a limb to say that earlier this year most employers did not have a “Global Pandemic” section in their employee handbooks ready to provide a solid solution and guidance through what was about to come.  Communication strategies may also not have been ready. Many employers were limping along on a communication strategy that had been in place for years, simply getting by, but not efficiently.  Finally, the average Wisconsin resident spends 44.4 minutes in the car commuting to and from work per day resulting in irritated employees, before they even start their work day.  Employee handbooks, communication technologies, and commutes are all tangible things that some would say, have changed for the better because of the work environment over the last six months.  But how have the tangible changes in your organization affected you as an employee, coworker, and on a personal level? 

It’s our natural response as human beings to look for assuredness and familiarity during a time of crisis.  Actions are amplified during these times, organizations’ culture and employer brands are being defined now, for better or worse.  Much to everyone’s surprise, according to a recent survey done with hundreds of companies nationwide, 75% stated that the pandemic has positively affected their organization’s culture during the pandemic (i4cp COVID-19 Response: Culture Pulse Survey http://www.i4cp.com/coronavirus/survey-results-covid-19-response-culture-pulse-survey). 

As professionals working in the Human Resource arena, we have always been people focused.  Whether that was job related, or being part of a committee, a book club, chatting with your cubemates, happy hours on Friday’s with your clique, etc, it’s in our nature to be around and helping people.  Oh, how that has changed!  We now have virtual interactions- attending meetings, clubs, committees, and even happy hours via our laptop cameras and speakers.  We are getting to know our coworkers in a much different light, through a window into their homes.  We get to see an actual live picture of what competing priorities our coworkers are dealing with!  Nothing brings you more into the space of a coworker’s reality than having an inquisitive child pop up on the screen with a face full of breakfast, a cat jumping up on the keyboard knocking the laptop askew, a view of your coworkers messy kitchen, or a spouse nonchalantly wandering in the background oblivious to what the camera is capturing.  It’s allowing us to connect with our fellow employees on a personal level that we never could from the half walls of our cubes or closed office doors.    The balance between work and personal responsibilities becomes very apparent and at times intersected, which gives a heightened sense of relatability, empathy, and understanding.

I also believe that working virtually gives a greater sense of inclusion and brings a new level of equality in the workforce.  A recent study conducted by Edelman Intelligence on behalf of Catalyst, surveying over 1,000 employees in large multinational companies states that, “…performing tasks remotely will be evaluated on pure merit and not be impacted by appearance (gender) of the person (catalyst.org/research/workplace-inclusion-covid-19/).”  Throughout the last six months employees have had to prove themselves with competence and not presentation.  Less in person, face to face exposure eliminates pressure on expensive flashy attire, big corner office, pungent cologne, and relying on the “dog and pony show” to grab coworkers/management attention.  Now we are all resorted to tiny, often pixilated, head shots on the screen.  Workplace accolades have become more about how you communicate your expertise, emphasize talent, and having the opportunity to speak up without feeling apprehensive. 

There is no question that COVID-19 and its destructive wake reminds me more of a bad movie than our new reality.  That being said, there are opportunities to look for encouraging outcomes in this nightmare.  Many tangible positives have been identified such as better communication strategies, more in-depth procedural structures, and a lot less pollution due to our cars being parked for months.  All great things. 

What especially strikes me and gives, dare I say, a shred of optimism through the last six months is the intrinsic changes I’m seeing in the workplace due to COVID-19.  A window into my coworker’s work/life balancing act that they maneuver to get things done.  This evokes incredible empathy that I would have never known before the behind the scenes sneak peek into their intersecting responsibilities.  These are the takeaways I hope we can remember in the workplace moving forward from COVID-19. 

 
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