While the impact of COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives; I think one of the most profound nuances for many of us has been the shift from boardrooms and meeting rooms to our dining rooms and makeshift offices.
As businesses around the country plan for the reopening of the economy and figure out how they’ll need to adapt their office structure and ways of working, for employees who have now been working remotely, the blurring of work and home life is more than just a temporary side effect.
The office-to-home transitions have resulted in people sharing more of their lives than they might ever have before. You may have found yourself and your colleagues breaking down emotional barriers, giving each other a real glimpse into who you are once you leave the office—a side you may have never shared prior.
This is especially true for parents who are trying to balance the demands of their jobs with the newfound responsibility of helping to home school their children.
Recently, one of my clients was telling me about a conference call with one of their employees that got interrupted by the employee’s young child needing their attention. While the employee apologized profusely, my client was really struck by this apology. He considered himself a people-minded leader, so was surprised to find his employee somewhat fearful of interrupting the meeting to help his child. My client vowed to speak with his team the next day, to check in about how they were managing, and that interruptions in meetings right now were not only ok, but expected.
What I’m seeing more than ever is that embedded in the hardships of this lockdown there is a silver lining that can be applied in the impending “future of work.”
With this direct line of sight into each other’s lives, we’ve been building our empathy muscle. Which I view as one of the most highly effective leadership traits – especially in periods of uncertainty. If you can put yourself in your employees’ metaphorical shoes, you will be better able to communicate messages that land, motivate them in meaningful ways, and address issues that may be hiding beneath the surface.
Of course, business leaders will always have an obligation to focus on the bottom line, and the good news is, empathy and the bottom line aren’t mutually inclusive. In fact, they go hand in hand.
Embedding psychological health and safety
Research shows that leaders and businesses who prioritize and embed psychological health and safety have healthier profit margins.
Two ways to address psychological health and safety as you contemplate the return to work is to focus on providing psychological support to your colleagues and team members, and being mindful of the organizational culture.
Psychological support can be as simple as checking in
Psychological support might sound like an intimidating term. But it is simply demonstrating to colleagues and employees that you care about them personally, and that you are willing to create an environment where it is safe for them to discuss challenges they may be facing – be it work or nonwork-related challenges.
You’ve likely strengthened your empathy muscle since the onset of social distancing. How can you intentionally continue to stretch that muscle as you return to the physical office environment? Perhaps it’s continuing to have quick daily or weekly check-in’s, or creating more space for an open dialogue with your team where people can bring forward challenges.
The post-pandemic return to work is also a great time to reconsider your organization’s culture and team dynamics. Ask your teams what has been working better as a result of remote work and discuss how some of those learnings can be applied upon returning to work. We know the return to work won’t be a return to “normal” so you can use this transition as an opportunity to speak with your team about how you work together and get intentional about what you’d like to continue or change.
Finally, it’s also important for you as a leader to model self-care while supporting and responding to your employees’ needs during the pandemic. On an airplane, passengers are told to put on their oxygen masks before helping others with theirs. The same is true here.
Modeling healthy habits requires you to show, through your own behaviors and actions, how you’re integrating work-life obligations and engaging in self-care during a crisis.
How are you responding to stress? How do you keep balance between work and personal time? Simply put, don’t forget about yourself. Your team will notice and take their cues from you.