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One Pandemic Upside: Humanity on Display

humanity in newscastWhat a difference a few years (and a pandemic) can make. Remember the 2017 CNN World news clip of a live interview during which two children came into the room (and camera angle) while their father was speaking? They were waved away and ignored until a caregiver dove frantically through the door to remove them – all while their father apologized repeatedly.

Contrast that with this week’s CNN Business interview with Trivago CEO, Axel Hefer. When his son crashed the conversation, he was welcomed, included, and snuggled into his dad’s lap. While there are likely many factors accounting for the dramatically different response to similar interruptions, I have to believe that at least in part the pandemic is to be credited. More accurately, the humanity that’s been infused into the workplace as a result of the pandemic.

If we’ve learned nothing else over the past year, it’s that humanity absolutely has a place in the workplace.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in business in the era of ‘leave your personal life at the door’ thinking. And I prided myself on a buttoned-down, bulletproof professional veneer. It felt right and respectful to build a firewall between work and home. (Now, in retrospect, I recognize the exhaustion and fractured sense of self that resulted from such rigid boundaries.)

But the recent crisis, shift to working from home for many, and the resulting isolation have tapped something deeply human. This humanity has found expression in the workplace and workplace relationships in extraordinary ways. I’m reminded of the days following the disaster on 9-11 when Americans came together and connected deeply in grief and solidarity. Yet, the experience passed as we rubber banded back to old habits.

This time is very different. This time, we’re sharing a sustained experience. Think about it. We’ve been invited into each other’s homes via virtual meeting technologies. We’ve seen (and heard) each other’s kids and dogs (this time without the shame.) Conversations start with a checking in on family. Emails now begin with, “I hope this finds you well,” and we genuinely and literally mean it. We’ve shared worries and mourned losses. We’ve let our hair down and demonstrated a new level of vulnerability. And we’ve done it now for nearly a year.

Is it possible that we’ve been at this long enough that bringing our whole human selves to work is becoming a new habit – one that will stick once the crisis has passed?

I, for one, find myself hoping so. I believe that my work is better as a result of the deeper and more human connections I enjoy with clients and colleagues alike. And I know that work is more joyful these days – despite the challenges, fears and restrictions we’re living under.

It’s undeniable that the pandemic has brought fear and loss that must be honored. But it also may have brought us closer to ourselves and to each other, offering permission to be human, and infusing some much-needed grace and humanity into the workplace. And that’s a pretty welcome and wonderful silver lining.


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