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Has COVID-19 Unmasked the Workforce?

It’s now no longer a courtesy but instead an expectation to ask people if they are okay.

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Faced with a global pandemic, the entire world flipped upside down – and so did the workforce. Some businesses went under. Others went remote. And our entire population learned to work from home with only Zoom to guide us.

Many might argue that the Coronavirus has inhibited our ability to connect professionally. Video conferencing platforms have taken the place of coffee meetings, in-person networking events, and even engaging with coworkers in the break room. Consequently, doing business behind a screen can, in many ways, feel very cold and impersonal. After all, this new way of life prevents us from staying physically present with others.

But what if COVID-19 actually unmasks the workforce, allowing us to show more humanity than ever before?

Before the pandemic, I often felt a disconnect between my work life and my personal life. I felt like it was somehow unprofessional to discuss anything other than work, including my weekend, my family, and my hobbies. I didn’t think I could bring my emotions — my humanity — to work with me. And I struggled to see my “higher-ups” as imperfect people with homes and kids and pets and struggles. I just saw them as my bosses. 

However, all of that changed because of COVID-19. 

As a result of this pandemic, everyone is juggling countless new responsibilities and stressors. Many people remain stuck at home with their families, trying to act like full-time employees while simultaneously caring for their children and keeping their video call-loving pets at bay. Others feel completely isolated and crave conversation more than ever before. Regardless of which side of the spectrum you fall on, these conversations come up more than ever in this “Zoom Era.” 

The “new norm” of working via video platform gives us all a new look into each other’s lives. In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to say “hello” to quite a few colleagues’ children (and curious cats). I have witnessed the intriguing subtleties of co-workers’ lives, like their home decor and the inspiring quotes on their coffee mugs.

None of this was possible to this extent before the coronavirus pandemic consumed the world.

In addition to seeing how people live their lives, the COVID-19 era brings emotional connection into the workforce in a new way. It’s now no longer a courtesy but instead an expectation to ask people if they are OK when you begin a meeting. We’re also more willing to offer support and encouragement to our fellow coworkers who share their struggles. Thanks to COVID-19, workers everywhere are bringing their vulnerabilities to the table, and it’s powerful.

As much as I long for the day when we can all safely return to meeting publicly and working in-person once more, I believe there is value in our remote work experiences. I sincerely hope this shift towards authenticity continues long after Coronavirus vanishes. In fact, I hope that expressing our humanity becomes the “new norm” in our professional lives.

Originally published in Unwritten Magazine.

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