Working with your colleagues and coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic brings up communication challenges that we’ve (thankfully) never dealt with before. I’m sharing tips for how to minimize conflicts and enhance your communications during the coronavirus emergency. This information is directed at those of us who are not on the front lines. Most likely you are able to work from home or in an office while social distancing and taking safety precautions.
We’ve already covered the dangers of assuming you know what is going on with your coworkers. The next tip builds on this. It’s about allowing time to be social, and well, human.
While riding the current wave of urgency and stress, we’re in triage mode and adopting a “cut to the chase” mindset. This is a normal reaction in an emergency. In this case the emergency is continuing for months and months. Goodbye to the small, friendly exchanges that used to pepper our days. We’re missing out on discussions of the weekend, shared dreams about vacation plans, and awkward chatter at forced office parties. Previously you may have thought these were unavoidable time wasters. Yet now we are lacking the messy social ‘glue’ that reminds us of our similarities, differences, and shared experiences.
Allowing space for social interaction with your colleagues and coworkers is important. This responsibility doesn’t rest solely with managers and leaders (who in some cases seem to have missed the message). You can do this by briefly and occasionally chatting with people when possible. This could be as simple as building time into a meeting to ask “How are you?” and “How is your family?” Perhaps in a text message you can check in with a coworker before you launch into your work request or question. Your boss will likely be pleasantly surprised if you say, “I’m checking in to see how you are holding up. How are you doing with all this craziness?” If you're missing chats with a particular work buddy, suggest having 10-minute virtual coffee breaks where you can just catch up.
You can also take this opportunity to contact colleagues you've lost touch with. It can simply be an email, a text, and or a message through LinkedIn or some other form of social media. It needn't be complicated. Try a short note saying, "I know it's been awhile, but I was thinking of you and hope you and your family are doing well."
Admittedly, it's frustrating to have to initiate friendliness. It feels even worse if it is not reciprocated, which will happen. I’ve been surprised, and honestly saddened, but the cold, sterile (no pun intended) exchanges I’ve had with people when reaching out to set up meetings and discuss projects. Despite this, I’ve been writing back asking how they are doing and how things are going. About half of the time I receive responses showing they are happily surprised and relieved by the question. The other half return robotic, cold, "I'm fine" responses. I can try, can’t I? Just the process of thinking about others helps remove me from the self-pitying quagmire that is so easy to get stuck in right now.
By taking some small steps to check in with people and socialize, you are rebuilding trust and teamwork, while helping yourself get centered and connected. We’re allowed to be human and treat others as humans.