In a LABUR Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Council meeting last year, we discussed and planned an internal survey to all employees that would offer critical insights as to what subjects the team was most interested in learning and sharing about next. After the results were tallied, the subject of mental health topped the list. DE&I is comprised of many sub-topics and mental health is a loaded topic in and of itself, but our Council members are committed to DE&I progress – not perfection.
As we began our journey and iterated on how we would research and share data to interested employees, we have Jack Lawhorn to thank for his leadership, creativity and the Council’s logo; Nick Regan for his leadership and meeting orchestration; and many others for their contributions. Mental health is the current focus of our shared journey, but many other topics will be touched on in the months ahead. Other popular sub-topics from the team survey include race, ethnicity and education disparity. DE&I is a marathon – not a sprint – and I am excited to be having these important discussions and taking action.
As I think about our current focus on mental health, especially in the context of the “Return to Work” movement, I marvel at the fact that we have been open for in-office business since August of 2020, just six months into the COVID-19 shutdown. Among the factors that went into this re-opening some twenty months ago were the need to ensure safety and compliance, restrict capacity and, most importantly, keeping in-office attendance one hundred percent optional. Safety and comfort were the backbone of our messaging from day one and will remain at the forefront of our decision-making.
We saw this re-opening as a mental health aid, above all. Since signing the CEOs Against Stigma pledge back in 2015, mental health and its effects on employees and the workplace itself have been a personal priority. Throughout the shutdowns, many firms have focused on benefits such as not having to commute but, as many of us now know, that is only one side of the coin. I often say that LABUR COO and my dear friend, Seth Burr, is the unsung hero behind the scenes and his brilliance shined yet again when he found himself focused instead on the negative impacts of isolation and lack of in-person contact. In this time when companies were asking themselves – and are still asking themselves – “what should we do?”, this focus on supporting our team our own way put us ahead of the curve.
That doesn’t mean that this transition was the obvious or most intuitive choice. Twenty months ago, I was thinking exactly what you yourself might be: “How will the employees react?” What I failed to see at the time, even after working so hard to create it, was the power of the close, optimistic culture our little family had. Parents will know what I mean when I say that you don’t always see the good you’ve done in the moment.
It has felt as normal in the LABUR office as it possibly could over the last twenty months and I feel blessed that we were able to re-enter so long ago, but I must remind myself that there is so much work ahead on this universal re-entrance in the making. For most, return to work is a far greater challenge this Spring than it ever was for our own leaner team, and employers and employees alike are weighing the all-important balance of in-office and at-home work. I have no doubt that some added flexibility will change all employers for the better, create greater fulfillment for employees and break down some old barriers left over from the old normal. We’ve seen that there are definite benefits to remote and hybrid models, and it’s no wonder that employees by and large have rejoiced in the lack or optionalization of the daily commute, added time and flexibility for child care during lockdowns, and decrease in “pop-by” interruptions – whether that decrease is real or perceived.
That being said, we’ve seen that nothing beats those moments of face-to-face collaboration to move our work missions forward. In-office work means discussing and working through constructive conflict rather than just going off video. It means having to work through differences of opinion before leaving the conference room. Crucially, it affords us moments where we can simply look into the eyes of a colleague and, without speaking, communicate that we are there for them and understand what they’re going through. These are the moments that keep it fresh for me and that I have cherished over the last twenty months of being back in-person with colleagues.
I am excited to continue to iterate and evolve our best processes and best practices around the in-office and home-office balance, and I am excited to see how my clients evolve. Rest assured, despite the path that employers and employees pick in the months ahead, we will not forget what these last two years have made of us. I am a big believer that there are silver linings in everything in life and – while some might regret being back on a train or in creep and beep traffic – the silver linings of being back together in person will bring us to a new level of consciousness.