Respect, Patience and Compassion Essential in the Shifting Landscape of Work

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Barbara Roberts, Ph.D, Director, WLO

An opportunity for profoundly positive culture change has landed in our laps with the onset of COVID-19 restrictions.

Where we struggled with allowing people to work remotely, we suddenly faced stay-at-home orders. We learned. Where we struggled with flexible work schedules, we suddenly reconsidered how important particular hours are (or aren’t) to both work and families, not to mention pacing our brains in a new medium all day long. We learned. We adapted. We still struggle, but we are making positive shifts in our abilities and in our thinking about work and personal lives, and how they intersect.

Now, we will be trying to come back together, in ways that are unfamiliar on another level - safety. Some of us will return to campus, and some will not. Sometimes on the same team, in the same unit, committee, or class setting, people will participate remotely and in-person together in real time, all the time. 

We need to be more intentionally inclusive and mindful of how we each participate for our best wellbeing and productivity. We will need to develop new norms for turn-taking in meetings, ensuring all are heard. We will coordinate electronic communication venues across email, text, Teams, and messaging or file systems. We will be wearing face coverings to protect one another on campus, obscuring our mouths and facial expressions - so important in communication. We will work harder, pay closer attention. We will learn. We will adapt.

Most importantly, however, we will have to exercise patience, respect, and compassion for one another in this new world of procedures and practices designed to keep one another safe. There will not be cookie-cutter answers that work for everyone’s situation. We will be challenged to find individual solutions and approaches to unique questions, always with the goal of keeping one another safe, putting others’ safety first - because others’ safety is our safety. We will have to redefine quality education and workplace experiences, question assumptions about what “quality” really means - the significance of in-person interaction vs safety through online venues. We are called to exercise our creativity to build the best experience with new, perhaps previously under-utilized methods. We will learn. We will adapt. And we will protect each other. 

Like a seatbelt, we can in fact make you wear a mask, but we shouldn’t have to. Since when does our personal preference outweigh public safety? We cannot drive drunk because it puts others at risk. We wear seatbelts, helmets, and life jackets by law. Those are not infringements of our rights; we have a responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe for the public good of a healthy community and lower healthcare costs, not to mention the caring community we can create. Masks, online learning, remote advising, working from home, all are strategies that we must adapt to in this “next normal” in hopes that fewer of us sicken and die, so we live to learn, work, and teach another day. Respect one another. Embrace individual decisions. Work with imagination and flexibility. And wear your mask, for the rest of us. I’ll wear mine for you.