By Christina Fox
As summer comes to a close, schools and businesses are opening up with renewed caution due to the variants of Covid. In July, my family emerged from our shelter-in-place restrictions feeling liberated. We went out, worried less, felt invincible, but maybe too quickly. We followed all the Covid protocols for safety. With aging parents who are vulnerable, we were cautious. I have work colleagues with small children too young to be vaccinated and did not want to risk any possible exposure. We felt confident and we slowly dropped our guard. My family traveled to Southern California in July and we came back with a sore throat. We thought, well, we have been isolated so our immunities must be down, we must be more susceptible to the common cold. We tested, just be safe. Sure enough, despite the vaccine, and likely due to one of the contagious variants, three out of four of us tested positive with Covid. It hit us harder than we expected...it is very real. Thankfully, after our quarantine we recovered, and are all fine now.
My family’s experience is a small example of the same issues that our communities and workplace environments face. The difference is in how it impacts us. We do not all react the same. We each bring our unique experiences and concerns. It leaves us to wonder, what impact has the last year and a half of social isolation and working at home, meant to us individually, and in relationship to others? With our core safety at risk, many people are thinking about fundamental safety issues, on Maslow’s first level on the hierarchy of needs. The focus is on physical safety, protection, and shelter away from potential infection. It is difficult to concentrate on work if you are worried about yourself or a loved one getting sick.
As we return to work, employers, leaders and managers may want to consider what will help their employees thrive. Google’s Project Aristotle research on teams concluded that teams need the following five pillars for team success: psychological safety, dependability, structure, and clarity, meaning, and impact. Companies have mixed policies on return-to-work protocol. Some are requiring employees to come in, some are keeping flexible, some have a hybrid approach. And these policies keep changing as the global covid variants sweep through our communities. More than ever employees need to feel personal safety and protection before a collective safety can be fathomed. And what this idea of safety is can be different for each person, for each team. What does safety mean to you? What does engagement mean to you? The flip side of staying at home, which for some is the overwhelm and exhaustion of being in front of a camera for eight hours a day or longer, being “zoomed out.” Others have enjoyed not having to commute and having more time alone, if they are introverts, or more time with their families. Some people cannot risk the potential exposure to others because of health concerns.
There is a call to managers and leaders of companies to support employees with empathy and flexibility as we navigate our changing work environment. It is our common biological core need to connect with others. Managers and leaders can bring this connection to teams, even in our virtual worlds, and create a common sense of purpose and meaning to the work that teams share. Simple steps such as regular team check-ins, allowing for flexible hours, hosting virtual social options, and creating opportunities for people to engage meaningfully can go a long way to build thriving teams. How can you feel better during this ongoing time of uncertainty? How do you feel with uncertainty? How are you supporting yourself? How are you supporting your team? Do you really know the needs of your colleagues and team? What can you do better?