Work, Life and Communicating in our Current Normal

    If you’re like me, there are several phrases you have probably gotten tired of over the past 6+ weeks – “unprecedented times,” “abundance of caution” – but the one that I like least is probably “new normal.”  Though I’ll admit to using it myself in at least one leader communication in the past month, I don’t like to think that this is our new normal, but it is our current normal and I think it will have a lasting impact on what our future normal looks like.

    It is a unique time for certain. We’ve seen convention centers turned into hospitals, homes turned into schools, offices and gyms and watched healthcare, retail and delivery workers step up as true heroes.  This is like nothing most of us have ever seen in our lifetimes and as professional communicators, this will most definitely be one of those moments in our careers that we will never forget. 

    As someone focused on internal communications, I can tell you the past several weeks have been filled with challenges and many late nights. But I feel like my team and I have been doing some of the most important work of our careers. Initially, the information was changing so fast and as employees were becoming increasingly anxious, it was tricky to find the right balance between communicating openly and frequently enough, while still being cautious to avoid communicating inaccurate or outdated information. At first, it felt very clumsy, but we quickly came together as a team, connecting daily to ensure we all had up-to-date information and that we were communicating consistently. We also designated one leader to be the primary voice and source of information about the pandemic and our response, which was critically important in such a large company with many locations. 

    By the middle of March, 90 percent of our employees were remote and today more than 95 percent are working from home. Our technology team did an amazing job equipping employees with what they needed to work from home in a very short amount of time. That was no small feat for a company that was not only not equipped for a large remote workforce, but also had not traditionally embraced it, given the regulations and requirements we face as a financial services firm. That rapid shift dramatically changed how we communicate with employees and clients. 

    It has fueled so much innovation and creativity across our firm. We’ve transformed many of our large events and meetings to virtual experiences. We’ve used technology like Pigeonhole, VBRICK and WebEx to stay connected with employees, but we’ve also found ourselves going back to some old school tools like operator-moderated conference calls and having senior leaders make one-on-one calls to frontline managers to say ‘thank you’ for their efforts in leading through this crisis. We’ve also sent weekly messages from leaders to share gratitude and help employees stay connected; we developed a hub on our Intranet called “Standing Together” to share stories of teamwork, working remotely and how we are serving our clients. 

    On the personal side, like many others, I am balancing working remotely and learning to share my office space with my husband and three dogs while helping my boys as they finish the school year from home.  I focus a lot on finding ways to help my high school senior celebrate his accomplishments without the traditional senior year milestones. I miss my dual screens and faster web connection at work and still get a little embarrassed when my dogs bark when I’m on a conference call – though that has become not only accepted, but expected in this time when we’re all working with our furry co-workers.  I worry about my high risk family members and miss seeing my friends and extended family. However, despite the challenges, I am grateful for the time with my boys. Slowing life down has given me the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors as well time to do more of the creative things I had put off like playing music, finishing art projects and doing puzzles.

    While I’m anxious for this current normal to end, I do hope I take some lessons away from it and continue taking time out to be creative, focusing on time with my family and reaching out to those I can’t be with more often. In the office, I will continue to embrace technology while remembering the power of simple communication tools, relationships and gratitude. 

    We will all get through this together and I believe we will be stronger and more connected than ever before. 

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