1 Year Later: Communications in the Age of COVID-19

It’s been a year since COVID-19 turned the world upside down. Things once considered normal now seem odd, even outdated. Sitting in a conference room with co-workers. Dining in a crowded restaurant. Grocery shopping maskless. Shaking hands.

We’re stressed out, Zoomed-out, burned out and drained by the whole pandemic. Teleworking has provided some obvious advantages — no commuting, no suiting up for work, more flexibility. But it’s also led to longer hours, increased angst, less camaraderie and more claustrophobia. (Is this room shrinking or is it my imagination?)  

Technology has mitigated some of the impact of social distancing. We text, tweet, post, chat and even use our phones to talk (yes, talk!) all from the comfort of our homes. We “attend” virtual weddings, baby showers and happy hours. And of course, we sit in lots and lots of virtual meetings, trying to look interested, engaged and “put together” as we smile and nod, wondering if anyone will notice that we didn’t wash our hair, brush our teeth or change out of those sweatpants we’ve worn since President’s Day. (When was Presidents’ Day?)

For me, this pandemic has revealed something surprising — and it’s not about my hygiene; rather, I’ve discovered that the less we’re together, the more we communicate. It’s constant. And it’s exhausting, leaving us distracted and distressed, Zoom-fatigued, foggy-brained — and maybe a little cranky. We’re like pandemic pressure-cookers (or should I say a Pandemic InstaPots?) building up steam.

As traditional office settings move toward hybrid work environments, we’ll increase our time with technology and decrease our face-to-face interactions. We’ll send more messages and multitask our way through each day. We’ll improve efficiency, or so we think.

As Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw once penned, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” We’re already communicating more than ever — but is anybody really paying attention? To be fair, technology is only partly to blame. Our behaviors and our habits contribute to the problem. Let’s embrace the future, of course, but let’s get back to the basics too — with these simple communication tips:

  • Talk less. Listen more.
    • People love to talk. But who’s listening? Now, more than ever, it’s important to pay attention
      (Can you stop texting please?) to what people have to say. Next time you’re in a meeting, on a call or in a conversation, talk less, don’t interrupt and try actively listening. You might learn something new.
  • Follow up, please.
    • Respond to that email, message, phone call or text in a timely manner — especially if it’s time-sensitive. Don’t take so long to get back to a colleague on a shared project. It’s a simple courtesy. And speaking of courtesy…
  • Mind your manners.
    • Maybe it’s the stress of life these days, but common courtesy isn’t all that common. “Please,” “Thank you” and “How are you?” are in short supply. And yet, we need these pleasantries more than ever. A kind word or simple sign of appreciation takes little effort but can create positive results for you and your colleagues.
  • Reduce virtual insanity.
    • Another virtual meeting? Hide your speaker view. Others will still see you — but you won’t have to stare at yourself all day.
    • Turn off your webcam intermittently to give that forced smile a rest.
    • Look away now and then. Constant screen watching causes eyestrain.
    • Get a good microphone so people can hear you clearly.
    • Make sure the lighting is good. Light from above or in front of you — never behind you.
    • Don’t sit too close — or too far from your camera and position it so you’re at eye level. Trust me, nobody wants to see up your nose.
    • If possible, switch to conference calls on occasion. Your tired eyes will appreciate the break.
  • Step away from that screen.
    • Get up from your desk once an hour to stretch your legs, step outside or take a break. You will feel more engaged and energetic when you return.
  • Phone a friend.
    • Sometimes, there’s nothing better than making a phone call. Whether personal or professional, talking can eliminate endless emails, resolve issues more quickly, prevent misunderstandings and create opportunities for deeper, more satisfying engagement.
  • Give it a rest.
    • At the end of the day, give yourself permission to unwind. Turn off your electronics. Take a stroll, read a book, unplug. You’ll be more relaxed and better able to handle life’s stressors.

I’ve said enough for now. I’m following my own advice and heading out for a walk — without my phone. (Brave, I know.) But I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to share your thoughts or opinions. I promise I’ll respond — in a timely manner, of course — when I return.

Carole Bober Gentry is the managing director of communications for Maryland Lottery and Gaming. She is also a frequent speaker on communications issues in the workplace. Connect with Carole at cbgentrypr@gmail.com or visit her website at cbgentrycommunications.com.

[Photo credit: michael d. edwards]

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