While all of us are eager to return to our pre-pandemic lives, there are aspects of this time that provide good lessons for how to engage more people and learn from one another.
With everything canceled, it certainly makes it easier to attend meetings for nonprofit boards and community engagement activities on internet video platforms. Often these meetings are interrupted by children or pets or, even on some more embarrassing occasions, a partner or spouse using the restroom in the background. What these incidents capture is the reality that many young professionals have: living in small quarters with small children or furry friends that require attention.
Going forward, workplaces, professional associations, and community associations can learn from these interruptions and provide online opportunities for engagement.
Many publications have reported on the burdens this time has placed on parents, particularly mothers, who are trying to balance schooling their children, their work commitments, and managing a household. It is important to remember, however, that while this time enhances those challenges, they always exist.
As parents of young children, many young professionals want to engage in professional associations and community organizations but can’t balance those opportunities with the logistical demands of their family’s schedule. The online meeting option allows parents to participate in professional association meetings or a community board without having to juggle the logistics of a commute or babysitting or helping with bedtime and homework.
Many young professionals have valuable insights and the desire to be a part of these groups, but the prioritization of in-person meetings undermines the inclusive goals of many of these organizations. The restrictions of this time have shown that while in-person meetings certainly have their place, allowing for online alternatives can be a great opportunity to engage more people.
In addition to engagement outside of the office, even in the office we sometimes easily forget the burdens people are facing at home. While engaging with one another professionally is important, this time has served as a reminder that people’s lives have a lot of demands.
Every interruption I have witnessed in an online meeting thus far — a screaming child, a cat jumping onto a screen, an elderly parent in need of immediate assistance — is a good reminder that we are all in this together with different realities and complications.
As workplaces and society reopen, continuing to allow people the opportunity to work remotely to address these challenges is something supervisors should consider. In addition, we should be more willing as a professional cohort to listen to and raise family issues.
While women have historically faced a disproportionate amount of this burden, this experience has shown that this balancing challenge is a burden on men as well. Men and women alike should feel comfortable expressing the complexities of their lives when addressing timetables, deadlines, etc.
Of course, work needs to get done, but this time has shown that there is a place for honest conversations about our lives and schedules — even in the most demanding professions.
This pandemic will end (eventually), and we will want to go back to the way that things were before. However, it will serve us all to remember some of the lessons that this time has taught us about understanding balance in all of our professions.
We should strive to remember that all the interruptions we were able to endure at this challenging time and be compassionate toward the same causes of those interruptions as we return to everyday life.