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Caution: Working While Human

Caution: Working While Human

Four ways you can bring more humanity to work and emerge “better than normal” post-COVID

Heather Hiscox, Pause for Change & Brandy Ferrer, Pathfinder Strategies

Human: representative of or susceptible to the sympathies and frailties of human nature.

There is a very strange thing we do with work and what we expect from people. We expect the person who shows up (usually and pre-COVID, to an office) to shut out every other element of their lives for the next eight+ hours that they will be at work. We expect people to compartmentalize and fit the pieces of their lives as partners, parents, children, siblings, community members, etc. into discrete, clean boxes that do not interact or overflow. We all know this is a ridiculous expectation that causes great stress.

As our lives have switched to Zoom calls and mostly online interactions, we are seeing more than ever how our lives are super complex, diverse, distracting, and that each and everyone of us is juggling so much, while we try to work, in a global pandemic. The line between our personal and our professional lives has been blurred. Being human at its core is to be vulnerable, susceptible and frail. Stepping into vulnerability is what true accountability, authenticity, empathy, and hope for the future is all about. What if we took this opportunity to see people in the fullness of who they are and use that to our advantage in how we create the future of our work?

We are not all “in this together”

As we explore the fullness of who we are as humans at work, it is very important to understand that how we show up at work and what we deal with in our daily lives as whole people, is deeply impacted by how we experience the world. We are hearing a lot of people share the sentiment “we are in this together”, but the virus has highlighted how inequities in our society, which have always been present, impact the health, safety, and power of people of color, people from immigrant and indigenous backgrounds, women, and women of diverse backgrounds very, very differently.

These inequities impacted the daily lives of many people pre-COVID and will continue to do so post-COVID. While we are in the same storm, we are in different boats.

It is essential to analyze how your culture shows up and how you design solutions and strategies that acknowledge and address the needs of everyone, and design for the most vulnerable first.

Four strategies for how you can emerge “better than normal” post-COVID and bring more humanity to work.

1. Empathy:

When we practice  empathy, we are making a conscious choice to be curious, ask great questions, and listen intently with the goal of walking in the shoes of another person to understand their pain, point of view, and the why behind their words and actions.

Empathetic practice connects us to the humanity and core of others and their needs so that we might find amazing ways to create value for them.

We often do not view each other internally as key stakeholders, or “customers”, but to employ empathy in your work culture is essential.

  • None of us can operate at our highest and best when dealing with sustained high levels of anxiety, stress, or fear so remember that you are human and so are the people you work with. Operate with patience and with grace.
  • Be realistic with expectations and performance. When it comes to performance, the focus should be on keeping people safe, healthy, and making sure their well-being is intact. Forget about pre-pandemic production levels; instead focus on being as productive as possible in the current environment.
  • Understand where your team members are. Create a safe space in your conversations to check on well-being and address tough questions.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what people are experiencing during this time.
  • Listen without judgement and without the intention to fix or problem solve.
  • When considering safety, understand what will make people feel safe. Consider needs for both physical and mental safety, and design for the most vulnerable first.

2. Flexibility:  

Maximum flexibility is one of the most important responses you can have in this time of unprecedented uncertainty, and flexibility will keep you nimble, agile, and open to learning as you move post-COVID.

  • “Normal”, the way we remember it, no longer exists. Now is the time to be revolutionary or evolutionary.
  • The ability to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances reduces stress, helps with decision-making, and keeps you and your team moving forward.
  • Remember, systems will fail because they were designed for environments that no longer exist. Old processes won’t necessarily work. That’s ok. We are all learners right now. Embrace the opportunity to learn new lessons and try new things. Right now we’re all building the plane while we’re flying it. Not one of us has all the answers. This is a great time for experimentation.
  • The show must go on. If your organization is operational, then you must continue to look forward to best serve your customers and stakeholders, regardless of what changes have been made to strategy, operations, or the workforce.
  • Be on the lookout for new leaders and new opportunities to emerge.
  • Look outside traditional channels for ideas and support. This could be internally with other departments or externally with different networking or mastermind groups. Look outside your industry as well.

 3. Transparency & Communication:

Pre- and post-COVID, people want to know that they are supported and seen as valued key stakeholders, understand what is going on, know the North Star and how their work relates to it, and want to see everyone in the organization align their talk and walk.

Transparency and communication are more important than ever and can only elevate your culture and success when your organization and all of its beautiful humans feel connected and informed.

  • Provide consistency and structure when communicating. Updates should be sent on the same platform at the same day or time. It should be clear how to communicate on different platforms. This is applicable both online and as people come back to work.
  • Provide realistic reassurances. Don’t paint an unrealistically rosy picture.
  • Be transparent. Share as much information as possible, including changes in sales and outreach strategies, strategic focus, changes to the workforce, etc.
  • Encourage discussion. Prepare for tough questions like, “Why do I have to come back to the office?”, “How will you keep me safe?”, and “Will I still have a job next month?”
  • It’s ok to say “I don’t know.”

4. Connection:

With 1 in 5 Americans feeling lonely or socially isolated, connection is vital. And not just for collaboration and the ability to get work done, but also for their well-being. While some employees will head back to work in the coming weeks, others will stay working from home for the foreseeable future. Either way, you’ll need to continue to prioritize connection.

  • Get to know the factors that drive each member’s productivity and work style. Motivating factors may be different now than they were 7 weeks ago. Doing this allows you to coach and support team members accordingly.
  • Connection isn’t as organic as it once was. Be intentional about creating opportunities to connect online or create new routines in the office that bring people together.

We have the opportunity to emerge from this pandemic crisis “better than normal”.

When we recognize the fullness of all of our complex lives, we leverage untapped potential and new possibilities. These four strategies of empathy, flexibility, transparency and communication, and connection, create and support a working environment where well-being and productivity are balanced. This approach decreases stress, improves certainty, and helps us embrace and leverage the human workplace.

Heather Hiscox, Co-founder of Pause for Change, helps nonprofit, local government, philanthropic organizations address challenges in less time, for fewer resources, and with greater impact.

Brandy Ferrer, President, CEO of Pathfinder Strategies, helps organizations create

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