Things I’ve Learned From Social Distancing

Glizcel Ditto is a Senior Strategic Consultant at HRsoft. Glizcel contributes weekly with her insight on our industry today.

We are certainly in unprecedented times for most of us. Even for those of us that have lived through other major world events, I don’t think anyone remembers a time that has brought the entire world to its knees quite like this. It seems like everyone has had to basically push “pause” on so many aspects of their lives. But over the course of the last few weeks as these events have unfolded so far, here’s what I’ve observed:

We are generally more nimble and versatile than any of us thought.

For some, that means working from home on a regular basis for the first time and having to make that change overnight. For others, that means teaching our classes virtually when we were trained how to corral a room of kids that you’re standing in front of. I’m amazed at how quickly some of these changes have been mobilized and how many of our children are already getting into the regular routine of on-line learning. For many of us, it means splitting our time between our work and our home lives and learning to switch gears at a moment’s notice. Whatever our situations have been so far, I can almost guarantee that your day-to-day routine is drastically different from what it was just 2 or 3 weeks ago, and we should be proud of ourselves for our ability to adapt and roll with the changes.

In the face of major disruptions, we hunger for information and we want to talk it out.

Even the most introverted of colleagues and friends tend to come out of their shells and want to talk about what’s going on. For some, it’s a means of getting more information to help process what is happening. For others, it’s almost therapeutic – the more we talk about it, it may calm our nerves. But what I’ve really noticed is that when someone asks, “How are you doing?”, they genuinely want to know the answer and are interested to hear about your current situation. We know more about our colleagues’ home lives – whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, if you are also struggling with suddenly being a home school teacher, if you have adult children that have decided to hunker down with you, or if you are having to educate your elderly parents in how to fact-check the information they are receiving and almost parent them into understanding that staying in place applies especially to them. All this disruption has made us a little more human to each other. And even though our situations may be different, we can appreciate those differences and empathize and engage with each other a little better.

It’s hard to keep different parts of our lives in their respective buckets.

Many of us are accustomed to compartmentalizing our lives. We all have our different groups – family and close friends, work colleagues, social groups – all generally separate in our minds, and crossovers may be limited. But the reality is our lives are very fluid, and especially now, our different buckets tending to spill over into other buckets. We may still try to schedule a portion of our day to be work-focused and other portions of our day to be family-focused, but life is happening all around us, and our family life is now spilling into our work life and vice versa. This is also forcing us to potentially prioritize differently or at least more dynamically as the days progress. Perhaps the fact that our buckets are co-mingling in our lives is an attempt to offer us more of the balance that we have all been seeking and giving us a chance to reset our priorities. And we are all learning to go with the flow as best as we can.

People generally want to help others, and isolation has ironically brought us together.

As the new isolation has created new challenges for people who can’t get out on their own to obtain essentials, people are rallying together to do their grocery shopping and pick up their prescriptions for them. Many companies are offering free delivery services for those that aren’t leaving their homes. Even though we can’t go out to our favorite restaurants for dinner anymore, some are making it a point to order food from our local establishments to help support them during this tough time. Church groups have quickly rallied to offer online services and a means of gathering virtually to help keep the communities connected, and we are fortunate to live in a time when technology is available to support these efforts. And I’d have to say that even when faced with standing in lines waiting to get into the grocery store, people are generally friendly while still keeping their distance, and are even encouraging those that are struggling to go to the front of the line. Common decency and respect seem to be winning out over impatience and rude behavior which is always encouraging.

HR is in the middle of all the changes.

These rapidly changing times have no doubt challenged the HR world to not only react quickly and sensibly, but also to start to think outside of the boxes that they are so used to functioning in. How do we accommodate for the families that are now having to deal with other responsibilities in the middle of their normal workday? How do we ensure that our employees are safe and are given the proper equipment and training to handle their new challenges? How do we ensure that we are considering that their job responsibilities may be shifting drastically because of what’s happening in our companies? And if we predominantly had a policy of remote work being the exception rather than the rule, what effect does the paradigm shift have on all our other policies like PTO, tracking hours where necessary, etc. And how do we ensure that our now completely remote teams stay engaged with each other and still stay as productive as possible in these trying times? We are all rallying together and searching for answers where “best practice” may not really be available as that book hasn’t yet been written.

Interestingly, even the Compensation arena is seeing an impact. Some companies were in the midst of their annual compensation cycles as they were being forced to shut their doors and not allow people to work in the office. Others were budgeting for the coming year and are having to make some tough decisions about originally planned pay increases, new hires, or, as many have unfortunately seen already, drastic reductions in their workforce. And I’ve even had conversations with some companies that are now considering hazard pay for jobs that weren’t previously dangerous, but the current environment is now necessarily putting them in harm’s way. In the wake of all of these changes, market data models will need to be adjusted and general expectations in terms of compensation and total rewards will be shifting drastically.

It’s no doubt a whole new world for all of us. But so far, collectively we’ve done a good job at being agile and resilient while also maybe being a little kinder and compassionate and aware. We are all in uncharted territory, but together we will not only overcome but succeed, and this too shall pass.