When the COVID pandemic hit, I was already voluntarily socially isolated – other than when managing various business events and attending necessary face-to-face meetings.
As an "ISTJ introvert" I found it easy to transition into social distancing. I enjoyed having a mandated six-foot radius of personal space!
Unlike the overwhelming majority of people, my primary struggle during the early part of the pandemic was not that I missed a routine of sharing an office with colleagues. It was getting my hands on enough effective personal protection equipment and sanitizer, and getting enough groceries and home goods before supplies ran out.
For many people, a basic pre-pandemic routine was eat, work, sleep, repeat! They were caught in a rat race, and their employers didn't really care. The goal was to produce, produce, produce!
Some organizations didn't demonstrate an "employee-first" environment. They seemed to value their employees less before the pandemic. Staff had to get to work the best way they could, do their hours, go home, and do it again the next day. The employer's attitude seemed to be, "You came to work, so everything else in your life must be OK."
With social-distancing mandates, the hospitality and service industries took massive blows as in-person and face-to-face events and gatherings had to cease. Extroverts, and those who loved their daily routines, had a harder time adjusting to staying home.
From Face-to-Face to Remote Working
Remote working became a more popular term, and many companies had to embrace or expand this option to all employees in the name of safety.
What were some of the challenges and threats of social distancing? Here are just a few problems faced by people and organizations:
- Isolation. Level Three of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs discusses our need to belong and connect with other human beings. The separation took a heavy toll on many people's mental health.
- Technological pitfalls. Being physically apart meant that communication methods had to evolve, or businesses (and relationships) would fail. People without access to appropriate technology experienced additional challenges.
- Financial loss. Without people in place and working, there's no production! And without foot traffic, there's no one to serve, and revenue collapses.
- Miscommunication and misinterpretation. People had to make extra effort to communicate clearly and effectively, as virtual meetings replaced face-to-face ones, and body language and non-verbal cues were lost.
U.S. author and speaker, Vivian Greene
"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning how to dance in the rain."
The Opportunities of Social Distancing
But on the flip side, there were opportunities during social distancing:
- Creativity. We had to develop clever ways to maintain friendships and business relationships. For example, teams and organizations created interesting and fun virtual activities, such as quizzes and virtual dining.
- Empowerment. Many of us learned new skills as we got to grips with new tech and software.
- Rest and free time. Removing the need to commute to work freed up more time for people. They developed new skills, explored more hobbies, or enjoyed more time with their family.
Since the focus on the pandemic has greatly decreased, governments have cleared workers to return to work in person. That time away from the office may not have been a vacation, but it has reminded or taught us that life is short and we only have 24 hours in a day.
What Must We Relearn, Face-to-Face?
What are some skills, practices or tactics we need to relearn or implement for success in a post-pandemic, face-to-face workplace?
- Acceptance. Recognize that some colleagues may need an alternate work schedule to maintain work-life balance.
- Grace and patience. Show kindness while adjusting to a faster or slower pace in the office than at home. We should not penalize ourselves if we don't immediately jump back into the fast lane at work.
- Assertiveness. Build self-esteem by courageously and effectively saying "No" to a request.
- Understanding. "Self-care is not selfish."
- Clear direct communication. State what you mean concisely to ensure "message encoded equals message decoded."
- Gratitude. Thank people when you see them.
Useful Resources About New Ways of Working
You may like to take a look at the following Mind Tools resources, then join the coaches' events to share your thoughts, ask questions, and learn more.
How to Run Effective Virtual Meetings (Article)
Written Communication (Skillbook)
Virtual Team-Building Exercises (Article)
Working face-to-face is more than a physical presence. Listening, showing appreciation, and being open-minded improves our awareness of others so we won't take them for granted.
About the Author
Sonia is an experienced meeting and events manager, with over 20 years' experience in conferences, exhibits, and corporate social events. She also owns a visual branding company.
Sonia joined the Mind Tools coaching team in 2021, and enjoys connecting people with resources to help them reach their goals. In her spare time, she's a photo enthusiast, reviews products, completes store scavenger hunts, and explores nail art/design.