Why I believe this crisis has made the workplace more human
I recently attended a zoom meeting with my Toastmasters club — yup, online speeches and all — which was pretty fantastic. Some of us were sitting in their kitchen, some of us in their bedroom, someone outside with an amazing view in the background. While I was busy giving my first ever online speech, I had a realisation: all these backgrounds give a much more intimate view into a person’s life than I would have had a chance to get otherwise. Has this crisis made the workplace more human?
Safe to say that we are all online meeting pros by now. We have trialled what feels like a hundred different tools, we’ve optimised our home office set up as much as possible and we have all had our funny and embarrassing moments. I’ve seen children needing attention and curiously eyeing the camera while the person was trying to talk about a roadmap, pets “helping” with the meeting or hidden significant others who bring their loved ones a cup of tea or coffee while they whisper “Thank you” to the left of the screen. I have even seen people’s partners or roommates in their undies, squeezing past them, believing that they are out of the angle of the camera. In a weird way, these glimpses into a person’s private life, their home or even just of their weird favourite coffee mug, have made me see them in a different light. Even if I only see them on a screen, I have learned a little more about who they are (or might be) outside of work.
In his book “Reinventing Organisations”, Frederic Laloux talks about the concept of wholeness — bringing your whole self to work. Traditionally, the idea of bringing your whole self to work was not embraced by organisations. In an attempt to show up professionally, people have created a version of themselves, or a mask for themselves, that they wear to work. All other parts, that don’t fit in this professional image, were left at home, especially the part that shows vulnerability.
Now, while Laloux takes this concept as far as a spiritual level, the very unspiritual COVID-19 global crisis has forced many of us to be vulnerable and open with their co-workers and managers about challenges they currently face. With lockdowns in place, children at home or helping out others or the community, many of us have to juggle a busy ‘bubble’ life with working from home and getting stuff done. Uncertainty about the world after, job security or worries about the health of loved ones and friends are piling on the pressure. We simply don’t have a choice to not bring our whole selves to work anymore, because work-life and life outside work have started to blend.
However dramatic this sounds, finally, I have experienced a workplace where it is ok to log off at five to cook dinner for hungry children, where it is supported to go grocery shopping for the elderly parent to help them out and check in on them. People are encouraged to share their feelings, be vulnerable and ask for help. In fact, many meetings I attended over the past three weeks have started off with a check-in round to give everyone a chance to share what’s going on for them. And while I wish it would not have taken a pandemic to get to this point, I hope that we can learn from this experience. That, in a post-COVID-19 world, however it may look, we can continue to strengthen the human connection we forged during this time of crisis — over VC no less! — and bring our whole selves to work.