I’ve found that in the past two weeks, all my meetings start and end with a conversation about the pandemic. It doesn’t matter if the meeting is internal, or with a long-term customer or with someone brand new I’ve just met over Zoom. Every single meeting has acknowledged this shared human experience in some way.
Sometimes it’s cute stories about working from home with kids, pets, and partners. Other times it’s heart-wrenching, an active sharing of emotional pain as people we know begin to know someone who has been diagnosed or hospitalized or, devastatingly, has died. More often, we find out we know someone who has begun to show symptoms, but who cannot get tested.
We listen to each other. We reassure each other where we can, and we laugh where we can, because we have to. It’s a good thing. A warm thing.
We are allowing our human need for connection and our ability to express compassion and empathy to infiltrate our professional personas. Nobody seems to care much about whether we’re wearing a professional outfit or have styled our hair for the videoconference. It’s all about connecting as humans, and being professionally productive together, and connecting as humans again.
Afterward, we take deep breaths and focus on our gratitude that we’re even able to have these meetings. Not everyone’s job transitions well to working from home. Not all companies have put infrastructure into place to support remote workers, so while the job duties could be performed from home, the access just isn’t there.
We still have a long road ahead of us. As I write this, 6.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Almost 300 million people in the U.S., including Puerto Rico and the Navajo Nation, are under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders.
Almost overnight, videoconferencing has become the mainstay of how we do business. It’s also how we’re sharing birthdays, anniversaries, scholastic awards ceremonies, and music. People are making the effort to connect through technology because it is the best option we have right now, to stay connected while protecting ourselves and others from COVID-19.
Conference comes from the Latin conferre, which means “bring together.” I hope that when the crisis has passed, we’ll remember this part. That when we were unable to come together in person, we still managed to come together in spirit. And when we’re able to work together in person again, we’ll still be able to come together in spirit.
We’ll remember that we have the capacity for connection and compassion for our shared human experiences, even at work.
P.S. If you want some tips for staying productive working from home, check out my boss Val Swisher’s article here.