There will be a time – though it feels too far away to grasp – that this current situation will all be over. We will not be stuck in our homes, unable to travel, work, or play when and where we want, and as we please, at some point. Although I wish for so many lessons to have been learned and so many things to change, there is one thing I truly believe happened instinctively. People have become a little more human through all of this. We are all a little more approachable and a bit more understanding as if someone has reached inside and cranked up our empathy setting and then paraded us around walking in each other’s shoes.
It was the first Monday morning we were working with the kids home. I was about 4 minutes into my first meeting and mid-sentence when I looked through the French doors and saw my daughter come barreling towards them. She slipped just short and fell onto the hard floor. My husband walked over to scoop her up, but not before those big baby sobs could seep between my doors and fill the background of my call. I was mortified. I was fallible. Unprofessional. Human.
Before the COVID-19 work from home orders were in place, somewhere around 30% of our workforce (including me) worked from home, so it’s not uncommon on a video call to see someone’s cats or hear a dog bark or a doorbell ring. But there is rarely a child playing or a baby crying. I still remember the handbook from the first remote company I worked for ten years ago, “working from home is not a replacement for childcare.” It’s something I strive to maintain.
My career has been spent in the technology industry, wherein nearly every role I find myself surrounded by men. As the minority in the room day in and day out I learned early on that I needed to play ball, I had to know my stuff, stay on top of things, and prove that I was just as good. No one was necessarily making me feel this way; it’s just my defense mechanism kicking in and my need to prove everyone wrong (even if they weren’t really saying women can’t do the same things men can). I was out to show the world and fight them all!
Because of that fight in me, I decided that having kids couldn’t change me or my work ethic. I put rules and boundaries in place for myself that I felt were necessary (not to seem too human). I wouldn’t ever use my kids as an excuse, even if it was a real one. I avoided saying things like, “my son has a thing at school,” or, “I have to take my kid to an appointment.” Instead, I’d use generic phrases like “I have a conflict” or “another commitment.” I would try to keep scribbles off my work notebooks and keep my work and mom-life separate to reach my vision of being “professional.” I’m not saying I never talk about my kids, I’m just saying only to my manager if necessary, or of course to work friends or in the break-room (even a virtual one).
So on that Monday, when my daughter cried out for all to hear, I was shocked by what happened next. I apologized quickly, finished my thoughts, and found the mute button immediately. But then several people jumped in with encouragement. It was ok, we’re all in the same boat, everyone gets it. No worries! Lots of smiles, a few laughs, even a question asking if she was ok. In fact, on that first day working with everyone home, in every meeting I was in, at least one child appeared, one baby cried, or one puppy jumped into someone’s lap. No one cared.
It’s not that I thought my colleagues weren’t real people, but when you’re all in different countries and places and don’t meet in person, you stick to work talk. Suddenly it was like we had a reason to talk about other things, a common struggle to make it all work. Everyone wanted to know about whose kids were in the video and who was saying hi and how things were going and best of all when someone was running late to a meeting, others were quick to jump in with forgiveness because “oh, he/she’s doing the kid and work juggling” thing.
People became more human. We weren’t just coworkers solving problems, spitting out updates, and taking action items. We had a commonality, and an ability to bond from every side of the world as we all worked through this together. We’ve seen it in so many applications.
So many people have put themselves in the place of others through this, wondering how someone else can do all they are doing, leaning out to help and assist where they can, when they themselves are in similar positions. We are all just trying to figure it out, and survive at this point. We laugh about it almost every day in at least one meeting. Globally, we get it. Globally we are empathizing. Globally we are together, becoming a little more human.
Let’s hold on to that. Don’t give it up. Think of others and what they might be going through before we speak. When we’re all back in offices or staying home with our kids or all the other things we do, life isn’t perfect. Others sometimes have bad days. Let’s remember that. Let’s be kind. Let’s be human.