Last year, before the pandemic started, I penned “Grief: The Silent Obstacle.” The blog reviewed five recommendations on ways to engage with empathy and compassion when a colleague returns to work from bereavement. COVID-19 is causing a different kind of grief, and I’m witnessing many of the same lessons applying to this situation. While settling into week 8 of the stay-at-home order, my fellow Stratacomm colleagues are communicating and connecting with one another on a deeper human level.
We have lost the normalcy of life, and are now unsure of how normal will be defined in the future. Even more concerning is we are not in control of it – we are only in control of our own actions. While we’ve always known the importance of humility, flexibility and inclusion in our workplace culture, it’s front and center while working from home.
Here are some examples of how Stratacomm employees are coping with COVID-related grief and redefining our experiences in a positive way.
Compassion and Empathy
Stratacomm’s culture is carefully nurtured and fiercely protected. We pride ourselves on being human, meaning it is not weak to show compassion and empathy.
With the impact of this pandemic, the level of care moved up another notch virtually overnight. In the past few weeks, we’ve lost family members, friends and pets. One employee had an emergency requiring an ER visit and surgery. Another had concerns about a family member dealing with a long-term health issue. And this is all overlaid by the feeling of grief caused by the world around us coming to a screeching halt, all while the national death toll climbs well into the six-figure range.
Part of my job is keeping a pulse on the emotional toll that the workday may take on the team. My touch points with colleagues, while therapeutic for me, also reveal how meaningful the small things are during times of high stress. A quick note to check in, flowers, food delivery or just listening can be so impactful. The next time someone crosses your mind or you hear of personal distress, take 10 minutes to dash off a quick handwritten note, send an email or text, or make a phone call – it will go a long way to helping your co-worker community feel supported from all angles.
With compassion and empathy comes the opportunity to connect. Pre-pandemic, we lived our lives where work was work and most of our personal lives were kept at a distance. Now we know who likes to cook, who hates to cook but is great at crafting, and who is an avid bird-watcher. Nothing is more humanizing than seeing colleagues in unguarded and unscripted situations from the comfort of their homes. We’ve come to accept – and even look forward to – a kid screaming in the background, a dog busting in to give a lick or sniff, a spouse waving to everyone on the video and us all shouting out their name to say howdy. The human connection is key!
I find work is more uplifting and fun now that I can see my colleagues wearing their favorite hat, t-shirt or sweatshirt, growing beards, or showing their personality through a goofy Zoom background. Real personalities are being shared and a valuable lesson is being learned – taking down the walls has helped strengthen our culture, focus on the common good and embrace all of our differences. As you navigate relationships in a COVID environment, do so with authentic intent and not because you feel obligated – being disingenuous is pretty easy to spot and could damage the culture that is helping us weather this storm.
Value and Purpose
Our core values – “The Stratacomm Difference” – are posted on the walls at the offices we have not been to in months, but we are living them daily, modeling behaviors and amplifying purposeful action in light of current events. Our values include priding ourselves on delivering excellent client service, desiring to succeed as a team, looking for new ways to create value for our clients, pursuing learning opportunities and mentoring others, conducting business to the highest professional standards and most importantly, having fun.
Instead of using the pandemic as an excuse for doing half-hearted work or brushing these values aside, I’ve seen us double down and become even more resilient in the face of change. Living our values is showing us not only how to survive this pandemic, but also how to thrive in it. Each one of us accomplishes this in different ways, and seemingly small daily decisions can allow for reserves of mental fortitude. For example, some of our colleagues have made a habit of stepping away every afternoon for a stroll to decompress, while others may turn off their cameras during Zoom calls. We’ve found that it’s crucial to allow yourself those concessions to protect your overall well-being.
At the end of the day, the physical and mental health and safety of our employees are the top priorities, and we have policies to support and protect our team. But through this experience, we have leaned in to embrace humanity as a way of maintaining connection, momentum and focus. The increased human connection and behaviors are making a difference, and we will be stronger and a more authentic individual, team, culture and organization as we come out on the other side.
The post-COVID world may show us what kind of person we want to be in a new world. This quote sums it up best:
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.” Abraham Lincoln
Shannon Hartnett is a vice president and partner in Stratacomm’s Washington, D.C. office, where she oversees HR, office management and company-wide administrative projects.