Silver Linings

The year 2021, much like 2020, is another for the history books. Future historians will tell stories of tumultuous times. We’ve all heard the dire statistics and felt the pangs, some more than others. And though it seems cliche to admit, there is still a silver lining. Perhaps, American writer Laura Ingalls Wilder said it best, “There is good in everything, if only we look for it”.

Consider COVID’s positive impact on workplace culture. In a survey conducted by Erica Pimentel, a PhD candidate, workers suggest that what it means to behave “professionally” has changed, and that the pandemic has made clear the necessity of being able to bring one’s authentic self to work.

The survey also suggests that work from home, at least part-time, is here to stay, and will likely have a lasting impact on how work is conducted. While some research suggests that remote work can be isolating, it also makes the competing priorities that workers are juggling very visible. This has the potential to unite workers with the feeling that they are in this struggle of balancing work and personal responsibilities together.

Working from home provides a bird’s eye view into the personal lives of our colleagues, clients and even our bosses. With every Zoom call, we find ourselves being allowed into the private spaces of our co-workers in unprecedented ways.

Whether it’s kids or pets that are popping up onscreen, remote work has caused a relaxation in the traditional rules of professional presentation and resulted in a virtual workplace that is not only more flexible, but also more humane.

Additionally, research suggests that rather than detracting from how one is perceived professionally, these glimpses into co-workers’ personal lives can improve workplace interactions.

Seeing a colleague’s cat or meeting their child on-screen provides a sense of community that people used to get at work and are now desperately craving. These on-camera interactions allow workers to reconnect or get to know one another in a new way.

They also enable employees to see their colleagues as human beings with competing priorities, and they consequently become more flexible and understanding as work and personal lives overlap. This may mean being more tolerant of a missed deadline or more understanding of an unconventional work schedule.

Tom Spiggle, a Forbes contributor, says, “Perhaps a greater acceptance of remote work will be the new normal for many jobs. This in turn could enhance the work-life balance and make it easier for individuals to raise a family while also achieving their professional aspirations.”

That would indeed be a silver lining!