Every single one of us has been impacted by the disruption to work and life resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s a powerful, unsettling reality that continues to take on new meaning every time we catch up with the latest news or hear from a loved one or colleague about how they’re adjusting (or not) to their “new normal.”
This struggle may not feel real to everyone yet, but it will. Even if our containment efforts keep us from contracting the virus, we can’t escape the stress and anxiety triggered by living during a global pandemic, compounded by the changes we’re learning to live with — and learning to work with. Whether we’re sheltered in our home offices or braving our way into our workplace, most of us don’t make it more than a few minutes without wondering, “What’s happening now? Is my family safe? What am I supposed to be doing?”
I’m finding myself taking deep breaths throughout the day to re-focus on the myriad things I’m doing to manage my company and take care of my employees. I’m feeling the pressure, feeling the fear, feeling the strange isolation of sudden confinement at home, away from my colleagues and clients. One of the most important things I can do is help my team cultivate and sustain a sense of community — support, understanding, togetherness — when we’re physically apart from each other. This starts with sharing my own experiences, being honest about missing our usual in-person camaraderie, and inviting them to join me in making the best of things.
How am I doing this? Well, like most teams, we are pretty much living on video conferences. I’ve asked my team to start each video conference meeting with ten minutes of free form personal chat and then delve into a 50-minute business session. 10 minutes to check-in, talk about how we’re doing, have some laughs; much in the way we would at the coffee machine or walking around the office on a normal day. It’s these small, personal moments of interaction without agenda that we’re going to miss the most after weeks of remote working. We have plenty of time to “get down to business,” and we’ll enjoy it more if we spend some time connecting as people, not simply transacting as colleagues.
I’ve also scheduled a daily 5-minute stretch break every afternoon. We all hop on a video meeting and first we chat a little about the day. Some people have pets or kids in the room which is really nice and feels like we are sharing personal glimpses into our lives. Others have gotten fancy with changing their green screen backgrounds daily, which is a topic of great excitement. One teammate was on the Death Star with lightsaber in hand, she was a big hit the other day. Then I lead the team in a group stretch. Sitting on the floor or in my chair, I do some much needed back, hip, or shoulder stretches, in which everyone joins me. Or I play a short Grokker stretch video by sharing my screen — it’s great fun taking time to literally unwind together. It’s a true break, time we can spend together and feel a little bit better. There’s a touch of smack talking (OK, so we’re a competitive bunch) and a lot of encouragement (lots of coaching behaviors in our corporate culture) but most of all, we’re connecting.
My hope and expectation is that as a team — as people first — we can support each other and truly get through this together. This is a time when we need each other more than ever.