Belonging, Connection, and Inclusion Amid COVID-19

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In a short span of time, we have gone from thinking about the virus as a distant concern to working remotely from home as we have been asked to help flatten the curve by social distancing. We are daily bombarded with news and perhaps have more questions than answers. Our need for connection and belonging likely hasn’t been greater at any other time in our lives. Our irreducible and primal needs are to connect, belong, and be loved. Right now, many are experiencing loneliness, anxiety, and increased stress. And so I asked myself, how can we make sure we connect, cultivate belonging across all our firm and our profession, and make sure people know they are valued?

We know this period is stressful. Some who already suffer from anxiety and depression may find their conditions amplified. Those who struggle with addiction may find themselves needing more support. We all deal with uncertainty, illness, and bombardment of news differently. And that is perfectly OK. We all process issues differently, and that is OK too. Some of us may have switched to survival mode and may be in a scarcity mindset; some of us may be focused on abundance to get us through. This is a time where we must meet each other where we each are.

As such, we must also support one another in the rising xenophobia and racism against our Asian American community members. We have seen reports that hate crimes have increased, and this is a source of anxiety for many of our Asian American community members. This is a time we can all be upstanders—speak up when racist stereotypes are peddled in your presence and seek ways to be supportive of each other.

Our ability to stay connected and cultivate belonging is critical during the pandemic and beyond, as social distancing and economic after effects continue. Connection is key factor that impacts our well-being, productivity, engagement, and reducing stress levels. We may have to shelter-in-place and practice distancing but we can still connect and practice inclusion. Here are ways we can stay connected to each other, preserve a culture of belonging:

  • Show interest in and empathy toward one another. Social distancing impacts us all. Note where you may be reaching out to only those you have affinity with. We each are in different circumstances, ranging from people working remotely with small kids or kids who have to now learn online to people caring for elderly parents, to people who may worry about meals their kids typically received at school. Please enjoy this short film on empathy (2:53 minutes). I use this film in my inclusion and diversity sessions to convey what true empathy looks like. It is powerful and what we need right now.
  • Cultivate trust. Research indicates that during crises and when people are separated, trust can go down. That doesn’t need to happen. Set up ways to communicate what you are working on and build trust across your teams. Share information and communicate frequently. 
  • Exercise patience. Remote working is new to many and we are all learning as we go. Even those who are used to remote working are doing so in different circumstances that may involve accommodating the needs of children and partners who are also social distancing. 
  • Use technology.  Our ability to collaborate and share ideas via technology has never been better. Go outside your comfort zone to connect with your team and with others. Be creative in your use of business technology and social media to enhance belonging. If you have a smart phone, you have the ability to connect with others via video. Try it out. 
  • Express concern and gratitude. Send simple messages to others on your teams to check in on how they are doing. Send messages of affirmation to show people that you recognize their value even if we are not in the same place.
  • Prioritize intimacy. Pick up the phone and call as much as possible. Hearing someone’s voice allows us to feel more connected. Think about how you can re-create the “watercooler” and the hallway chats we have on the way to refresh our coffee. I will be having virtual coffee (tea for me, please) chats with the folks I work with.
  • Laugh together.  Laughter has the power to communicate belonging and create shared experiences. Share respectful and appropriate jokes and experiences. 
  • Keep learning. Avail yourself of resources out there on how to stay focused and productive and work well remotely. Here are two resources I like: Podcast from Harvard Business Review on Adjusting to Remote Work During COVID-19, and this article from Paula Edgar of Inclusion Strategy Solutions on 6 Tips for Working From Home Amidst the COVID-19 Outbreak.
  • Use employer resources. Many organizations have resources to support employees. Use your Employee Assistance Program services if you need to. At Seyfarth we offer to all employees Mindful Pause sessions with Jeena Cho. Practitioners like Jeena Cho and others are offering free webinars and sessions virtually during this time. Take advantage of wellness resources on working effectively remotely, supporting loved ones during this time and more.
  • Finally, let’s be kind. “Practical, useful acts of kindness are good for humanity, and good for business. Acts of kindness are also good for the people who do them—and the more tangible the act, the better.” You can read more in this HBR article highlighting how good can come from crisis.

While many things remain uncertain, we know a few things are true: we can be resilient and that we will come through this by being agile. Show up, have real conversations, check on each other, and tell others how they can support you. We truly are stronger together. Wishing you all health and ease as we navigate this new normal.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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