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opinion

Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary, Alta.

It’s pretty clear that we’re not out of the woods yet. If current predictions hold, the work world will get a little bit darker before we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That means we have to be even more vigilant than we were at the outset of the pandemic about taking care of one another as we continue to work remotely, and go through the stresses of riding out the second wave with even more gut-churning crests than the first.

The first way to take care of one another? Check in. That doesn’t just mean ensuring that everyone you’re expecting to show up in an online meeting attends. (Although if they don’t that’s a definite factor to follow up on.) Even when everyone is present and seems okay, take a few extra minutes to truly find out how people are doing. As a leader, it’s also incumbent to make extra time in for regular 1:1 time with direct reports, and to go beyond the business at hand.

There are any number of resources online for holding more effective check-in meetings that make sure you’re appropriately finding out how people are really coping. Be present during this time: Your attention is critical, and people need to be heard now more than ever.

If you’re part of a team, take a few minutes each week to check in with a colleague. I know of a number of workplaces that have adopted an informal virtual coffee chat time each week, either as a group or through rotating sessions in a one-on-one format. Apart from checking in, it’s also a great way to learn more about the people you work with – which we don’t always have the time or presence of mind to do when we’re passing in the hall at work, or busy with other things.

Setting up an emergency protocol

Most of us have probably never encountered a severe medical emergency at work, much less in an online meeting. But if you work for a big enough organization, there’s every chance you might. Sadly, I’ve heard of two such instances during online sessions in the past month, both of which resulted in shocked meeting participants witnessing the death of a colleague first-hand and not able to do anything to help.

What can you do?

If you’re a leader for the employee in question, quickly retrieve home address information from your HR information system and make a call to 9-1-1. Likewise, if you work for a bigger organization that has an HR call centre staffed throughout the work day, contact them quickly and state the situation so that they can make the emergency call. In either case, stay online in the meeting and make as much noise as you can to let the person in the emergency know that help is on the way. If someone else is in the house, but several rooms away, it might also attract their attention and get help to the person in need.

The times we’re in also mean that some of our normal rules of office protocol need to adapt. While it should always remain optional for employees, you might suggest setting up an emergency contact list that’s shared among team members. This can contain basic home address and phone information for an emergency contact in case something happens. It also means that, if a team member fails to check in as expected for meetings, you have options to connect and make sure they’re okay. They might have forgotten, but they could also be quite sick and not able to reach out. Not everyone has multiple family members at hand to help, so it’s a way to offer support – maybe even dropping off some supplies if a person needs to self-isolate.

In extremis, call 9-1-1 directly if you at least know the person’s cell number, which is more likely if they’re a colleague with whom you interact frequently. It might even be listed in the regular employee contact directory, or in their e-mail signature line. With cellphone location technology available to 9-1-1 services, having that number and making the call quickly might just help save a life.

The big take away? Take time to take care of each other.

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