Since the pandemic hit, we’ve been experiencing an unprecedented level of collective anxiety. For some, the sudden shift to working remotely has only exacerbated that anxiety, adding a whole new set of challenges to an already uncertain situation.
But it’s not all bad. The fact that we’re going through this together has increased our empathy for one another. People are connecting with their teams and coworkers more intentionally than ever before to make sure everyone is doing okay. We’re holding virtual happy hours and playing Pictionary over Zoom. As the line between professional and personal blurs, we’re becoming more accepting of one another. We see our colleagues in their homes with kids and pets popping in and out of video conferences. We’re showing up in casual cloths, not worrying about hair and makeup. In a sense, we’re truly bringing our authentic selves to work for the first time.
Kindness is a core value at my company, so the question I’ve been asking throughout all this is: How do we continue to embrace this newfound kindness at work when this is all over?
First, we need to take stock of what we’re doing differently and the positive impacts of such. Then, we need to think about how we can bring these practices back to the office when it reopens.
Make Room for Feelings
Every meeting, every conversation, now starts with a real check-in. We no longer dive straight into the agenda. Asking how everyone is doing is more than a mere formality now — it’s a genuine question. We linger, listen, and discuss what’s going on and how we’re feeling.
The beauty of checking in is that people can share what’s on their minds. They can honestly acknowledge how they’re feeling — and, in doing so, they connect more immediately and more fully with their team members. Whether someone’s spouse was just laid off, their kid is now potty trained, or they’re feeling especially down, being able to share these things with colleagues creates an environment of greater trust and team cohesion, which leads to more effective teamwork and more engaged employees.
If a full check-in feels like too much for every meeting, another option is to give everyone the chance to share a one-word description of how they’re feeling at the beginning and end of each meeting. This still allows for meaningful connection, without taking up time that isn’t always available.
Include All Voices
Virtual meetings feel different than in-person ones, and lots of people are currently learning how to use tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts for the first time. As we learn best practices for effectively facilitating online meetings, we can also pick up some tips that can help us run better in-person meetings when we return to our offices.
I’ve been in too many meetings where people forget to be polite and respectful, meetings where only the loudest, most extroverted people get the floor. Take advantage of the fact that people are eager to discuss what good facilitation looks like. Technology can help us practice good behaviors like raising your hand to make a comment and putting yourself on mute when others are talking so you don’t interrupt.
Now is a good time to establish new meeting guidelines. Brainstorm proper meeting etiquette and ground rules with your team — and be sure to keep those guidelines in effect when you head back to the office.
Give People Flexibility
When my kids were young, my manager was ahead of his time. He encouraged me to telecommute as much as possible and leave work early to beat the traffic. Those small concessions were lifesavers during that hectic time.
Parents have long known that workplace flexibility goes a long way, but it’s not only parents who can benefit from it. There are times when we all need to modify our schedules, cut our commutes, or simply find a quiet place away from the office to buckle down and get to work.
Though remote work has been possible for years, many organizations remained skeptical of it. They thought people weren’t “really” working if they weren’t in the office and that in-person meetings were the only way to truly get work done. Those skeptics, however, have now seen firsthand that remote work is real work. We all know from experience that people can still meet, make decisions, and accomplish a lot from home. Sometimes, working from home makes us even more productive.
The pandemic is pushing the boundaries of how we work in so many ways. People are already thinking about how this moment in time will shape the future of work for years to come. No doubt, there will be changes in how we think about distributed teams, office space, and the toll commuting takes on the environment. I also hope we’ll choose to embrace the many acts of kindness and inclusion that have become regular parts of the workday. We’re building the muscle now — don’t let it go to waste.
Mikaela Kiner is the founder of Reverb and the author of Female Firebrands: Stories and Techniques to Ignite Change, Take Control, and Succeed in the Workplace. Connect with Mikaela on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.