I realized during the pandemic that a phone call goes a long way when you have zero face time with anyone at work. A few of my colleagues called or “Skyped” to check in on me. We talked about work also - but it felt like the main purpose of their call was to see if I was OK and I really appreciated that. Talking or text messaging is better than an email – it’s easy for an email to hide in the large pile of email already in your inbox. A few people scheduled short video/Skype conferences – these were half social half work meetings. Once most of my colleagues started to video call, I felt comfortable joining in with video – seeing everyone on the call made it more personal.
If you have access to instant messaging or texting then send your co-worker a quick message of encouragement, or a happy emoji. In order to engage your co-worker further, follow this up with a personal antidote of how you are adjusting to working remotely. Don’t be too emotional or descriptive with this note, and keep it positive.
Everyone likes to hear the sound of a human voice. So, finally set-up a time to talk one-on-one, use video or Facetime if available to you. Use your co-workers voice to further gauge how they are doing, and use the video to read their body-language. When connected one-on-one is a time to get more detail on really how they are responding to the pandemic.
A good way to check in with your coworkers, and show sensitivity and concern, without being obtrusive, I believe, is to communicate carefully by email or messaging. Rely on common ground; we all have lots of this because of SARS-CoV-2. For instance, one thing that I have missed are visits to our favorite restaurants. We (my wife and I) have tried to maintain contact with our favorite places by ordering take-out food and then going through the pickup process. Thus, we are able to maintain some limited contact; financially support the restaurant; and enjoy the cuisine.
A conversation with colleagues around this topic, with suggestions on how or where to order take-out, is not work-related of course, but it is a non-threatening conversation starter, and one that may lead to a mention of any job-related issues that might come up and be useful to discuss.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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