The Great Pause: Reflecting on our future workplace

By: Kathryn Tremblay, Co-Founder and CEO Altis Recruitment, an affiliate of excelHR

On our Mind
Over the past few weeks, I find myself sitting back and calmly taking stock. After 17 months of leading a business at full tilt while dealing with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic, I realize I need to cool my jets for a bit.

It’s not burnout—I still have energy. Nor is it depression—I’m still very keen to enjoy life. And it’s not the oft-cited “languishing”—I’m not “joyless and aimless.” I’m also thankful it’s not post-COVID Stress Disorder, a condition akin to PTSD that affects many people directly impacted by COVID (i.e., those who have lost loved ones, work in healthcare, etc.), resulting in a range of symptoms, including depression, anxiety and prolonged sleep disorders.

Instead, what I’m feeling is more like the sense of calm and quiet after a big thunderstorm. And I think what I need at this point—and what I sense many others in my network and workplace need—is an extended, virtual “quiet day,” an opportunity to step back from the frenetic pace of work and life to reflect on what our future workplace could be.

While it’s natural to take a bit of a breather in the summer—business typically slows, emails dwindle, and the news cycle becomes lighter—this time it’s different.

We’ve all been riding an emotional rollercoaster over the past year and a half.  

From the constant barrage of grim updates, the never-ending fear of the unknown (Could it get worse? Will it ever end?) and the Zoom fatigue to the blurring of one day to the next (“Blursday”), the anxiety of making small talk… and sorting out what elements of the pandemic’s changes were necessary and positive.

Like many other business leaders, I’m in the process of working with my team on a Return to Office—or a Work from Home—plan that meets each individual’s needs. Our employee survey results can be found here. You’ll see that each person has distinct desires for their future.

Through their input and in my day-to-day conversations, I’m seeing more frank honesty and raw emotion, more people asking for changes in the way they work and live, and more people showing up as humans and acknowledging that maybe they’re not okay. Most importantly, I’m seeing more people conceding that it’s OKAY to not be okay. Last month, for example, we saw an outpouring of support for Simone Biles after she decided not to participate in the Olympic all-around competition to prioritize her mental health. We likewise saw widespread support for Naomi Osaka after she determined not to play in the French Open recently, also citing mental health challenges.

As our economy rebounds and business picks up, I think we have a collective need to care for ourselves and for each other. Before the busy fall season is upon us, now’s the right time to acknowledge the needed quiet. It’s a perfect time to disconnect from Zoom and MS Teams, and to set aside our mobile phones and tablets – making space for creative thought. It’s a great time to ask how others are doing and listen more attentively than we did before. This opportunity to reset our future plans makes way for a new sense of positivity, one that is more grounded in self-care and less “busy” work.

The pandemic was horrible for the loss of life, for the impact on healthcare workers and their families, for students who missed out on learning, for weddings postponed and funerals cancelled, and so much more. AND yet, there were major gains. Growth and gains in terms of who we want to be and how we want to live, in having more real conversation and living less performatively. Retaining and nurturing these gains is what I’m thinking about in the quiet.

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