Letting it Out in the Time of Staying In

You ever try to hold your breath underwater for as long as you can?

Social distancing, school cancelations, and teleworking have created this cloud that workers can’t seem to escape.

Here’s how to change that.


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The State of Affairs

At first working from home was novel. Working in your sweatshirt, using your home computer for high tech Zoom calls, grabbing a snack whenever you want…this is great right?!

But it got old…fast.

With connectivity and system access that is not the same, kids demanding attention for home schooling needs, an ever present “funk” seemed to hang over all of these workplace and social restrictions.

I’ve had my staff on a half-on/half-off rotation for the past couple months to minimize people in the building. While this seems to be beneficial in allowing folks to social distance as well as to help at home more, it seems to be chipping away the family environment that I have worked hard to create.

As a leader, good communication, workplace rhythm, and co-worker socialization is important to me. A unit is most cohesive when one department can anticipate the needs of another…and this “togetherness” is essentially halted when telework is predominant.

Communications are not the same via chat or email, rhythm is lost, and socialization…is (of course) distant.

The Question

Photo by Ilkka Kärkkäinen on Unsplash
Photo by Ilkka Kärkkäinen on Unsplash

How are you feeling about all this?

As a leader, it can be difficult to pull this kind of thing out of your people. At least for me it is.

Now that I am the person that signs evaluations, makes decisions on big ticket items, and is overall responsible for the health and well-being of everyone…it feels awkward walking up to an individual and asking him/her “How are you feeling about all this COIVD19 stuff and all the social restrictions right now?”.

Or maybe it’s easy and that just an issue specific to me.

For a while I thought that might be the case… a me issue. But my staff lead and I were talking about day to day operations when we ventured to this “funk” we had been sensing. I am fortunate to have someone I can be so open with…and after just a minute or two of talking about this dark cloud hanging over our staff…we began brainstorming.

The Next Steps

Photo by Nic Low on Unsplash
Photo by Nic Low on Unsplash

Over my years as a leader in the military, I can say that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that humility and honesty go a VERY long way with those you lead.

I was fortunate to learn this lesson early and to this day it is both surprising and satisfying to hear junior folks tell me how refreshing it is to have someone so open and honest in charge. Not to say that I don’t have things to keep learning, but I feel like I worked those attributes in to my leadership style and it has seem to work well.

With that, I decided that if I feel awkward asking my folks directly how they feel, that I will have a forum of openness…and I will kick it off with my own struggles.

What followed was more emotionally charged than I had expected.

The Opening

Photo by Amy Lister on Unsplash
Photo by Amy Lister on Unsplash

I dove straight in.

I kicked our weekly meeting off with the reality of what we had been sensing,

“I feel like there is some sort of cloud hanging over us” I stated, “and I do not know how everyone is dealing with this or feeling about it…so I’m going to go around the room and if you want to talk you can. You don’t have to…but I want you to know that we’re here for you and potentially hear what others are feeling too.”

It was pretty quiet and I saw questioning looks…not surprised…but unsure.

Without giving them too much to overthink it, I led off with the slightly depressive feeling that I had been sensing. I talked about how hard it has been for me not to see them everyday at work, and how difficult it is for me to work at home while also helping homeschool my kids.

I often consider myself an extrovert with some strong introverted tendencies (I need time alone to recharge, etc)…but this has been different.

As we went around our conference room table, some folks I didn’t have much to initially say so I tried asking some open ended questions to challenge them a bit…push folks a bit out of their comfort zone.

Some of my staff are “geo-bachelors”…live away from their families.

– “How do you feel about not being able to see your family?”
– “How is your family doing?”
– “How do you feel about all this?”

At a couple points folks got choked up. As we opened up you could really feel the emotional toll this social isolation was taking on some of us.

“This has been hard”
“It’s been tough for my kids…they don’t understand”
“I’m hanging in there”

The Other Side

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash
Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

You ever try to hold your breath underwater for as long as you can?

Then you have experienced that feeling of intense pressure that is lifted when you surface and take a deep breath.

That is almost what it felt like at the end of our meeting. All of the pressure wasn’t gone, we are all still treading water in these uncertain times…but it felt like some pressure had been lifted.

It’s one thing to know that “we’re in this together”, it’s another thing to hear it from other people in the same room as you (albeit socially distant by 6 feet).

Opening up in this time of staying in is more liberating than you may realize…if you have the chance, ask someone that question:

“How are you feeling?”

Both of you will appreciate it more than you know.

Author: Scott

The mountains are calling, let me grab a jacket and my kids.

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