Crisis Management (the Personal Edition)

The shift to remote working changed the nature of what each of our colleagues knew about each other.

This special COVID-19 issue of Briefings is available online and at selected newsstands.

It was late at night and the text to a friend was simple. “Call me. I’m scared.”

Depending on where you live on the globe, this year’s horrific pandemic may only be worse or may have eased a bit. I happen to be based in New York City, which outside of Italy had become by early spring something of a ground zero for COVID-19 in the US. And yes, I was scared.

Scared of the mad fight for food supplies that had become a common ritual at my once very polite grocery store. Scared when I realized I was fast becoming the sole occupant of my building as others fled the city. Scared that doctors I saw for years weren’t taking calls but were directing patients to the CDC hotline. And then there were the sirens—you couldn’t step outside for fresh air without an ambulance racing by.

To be sure, others had it worse, particularly if they were ill or faced other hardships. But in a corporate context, most of us wouldn’t dream of admitting whatever fear we had to colleagues. That is, until the world changed. As we reported on our website in the article “Your Home Life—for All to See,” the shift to remote working for millions changed the nature of what each of us might know about our colleagues.

Very quickly, we discovered how much harder it is to hide so much of our home life from them. With work calls or video meetings constant, the fact that you might live in a home too crowded for a work space, or might be dealing with a disabled parent or child, often became apparent. “The inequities of people’s lifestyles are now more vulnerable to being exposed,” said Andrés Tapia, a Korn Ferry global diversity and inclusion strategist, at the time.

So too were many of our more personal traits, including our coping mechanisms. For sure, it was my job as an editor to lead writers forward during such hard times. But I’m not ashamed to say I wasn’t shy about telling at least some of my workmates how I was feeling (just not in late-night texts). I noticed that many of my colleagues were equally open. I appreciated those who were, and understood those who were not. Somehow, it seemed to me, working remotely had brought us closer.