Q: Our office has asked us all to work from home for a few weeks, at least. How do I stay connected to my co-workers and clients when I'm not in the office? What are the longer-term implications of separation from my team?
A: You can stay connected as you work from home and help avert the spread of coronavirus infection by using technology combined with good interpersonal skills.
My extroverted clients are especially disappointed in having to work from home right now, as they get energy from the social energy from others. My introverted clients are pretty delighted to have a superb reason to reduce social interaction.
If you are extroverted (gain energy from others), explore Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, old-fashioned phone calls and more to maintain social relationships and conduct business. For many Americans, our workplace is our largest social community. Not having daily human interaction can make extroverts feel lonely and depressed.
Realize you are not a wimp if the idea of a month with only your own company is demoralizing; you are an extrovert. If you are introverted, you still have to stay in touch. Miscommunications and misunderstandings multiply when we reduce interaction too much.
Also realize with fear and ambiguity flying around, human contact is especially important. Experts on anxiety recommend three antidotes to fear: 1) Never worry alone (a worry shared is a worry halved); 2) Gather detailed information about what you worry about; 3) Take all action in your control over what makes you anxious.
I would add a fourth suggestion and that is to acknowledge and accept what you have no power over so you don't take foolish actions trying to deny what you cannot control.
Remember after 9/11 how everyone was kind to each other for about a week? My hope is that after being separated from our teams for a long spell, we'll rejoin our communities with greater gratitude and kindness acknowledging the gift of the company of others. We will also have the time to examine and shuffle our priorities.
Lastly, we'll have developed the confidence that when we work together, we can solve even big problems. We'll take much less for granted and go into our future more prepared than we were before this crisis began.
Work together, stay calm
Q: People in my workplace seem paralyzed by virus fear. Many are telecommuting, but online meetings center on virus conversations. I'm glad we're taking the threat seriously but concerned about how this will play out. What are you telling clients and how are you personally thinking about the virus?
A: What I am telling clients and thinking is that the three emotions human beings find hardest are powerlessness, fear and vulnerability. All three are going on. Within the next 30-60 days we will have a lot more data. Right now there is no crystal ball that can comfort us with certainty.
I read an article on the psychology of panic toilet paper buying. The article pointed out how frightened people desperately seek power over anything. Stocking up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer is something we can do. Preventing a microbe from disrupting our lives is not something we can do.
There's no doubt the world will not be doing business as usual. The good news is we're demonstrating we can cooperate globally. Anyone who ever wanted to get telecommuting approved will be getting excellent data. We will also wake up from ordinary habits and unconsciousness and pay attention to problem solving in new ways.
These changes are not bad despite the fact our rapid change is being forced by a bad event. A wise adult learns there are burdens during times of blessings, and importantly right now. there are blessings during times of burden.
I suggest to clients that thinking too far ahead right now is futile and overwhelming. Obviously this is not an ideal time to retire, go to a rock concert or take that big international trip. Obviously, daily life for most people is going to have little or no community engagement.
Instead of attempting to predict where you and we will be in 60 days, give experts, scientists and government a chance to catch up with the challenge. Follow prudent advice and don't make dramatic decisions assuming we are now in viral Armageddon — we aren't.
Life and work will go on with necessary changes. An adversity from a novel virus will not be the last or only new threat we face. Our ability to find solutions on a problem of this magnitude is good practice for the other difficulties. There is international clarity that we cannot solve the complicated problems of the modern world without everyone working together.
If there was ever a time to come together, it is now. If there was ever a time to use every interpersonal skill in your repertoire, it is now, and if there was ever a time to take hope in the reality that working cooperatively we can solve even large problems, it is now.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006).