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Opinion: Retaining what we’ve learned, regaining what we’ve lost

Opinion: Retaining what we’ve learned, regaining what we’ve lost

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We recently jumped at the chance to babysit our two grandchildren for a couple days and nights while their parents decided to take a much-needed post-vaccine vacation. Like many grandparents, we hadn’t seen nearly enough of the kiddos over the past year. In the middle of the night, however, it became painfully clear that our granddaughter had a tummy bug. I’ll spare you the details and will skip ahead five hours when she finally dozed off at 4 a.m., and Grandpa had finished three late-night loads of laundry.

During those sleepless hours, I remember thinking of my own employees and the working parents everywhere who spent the last year trying to balance unprecedented family and employment responsibilities. The pandemic made the already challenging roles of earning a living while raising children even more difficult. With many daycares closed and schools often virtual, the demands on working parents and caregivers this past year have been relentless.

So the most important message I want to convey is one of deep gratitude and awe. Thank you to all those employees who showed up and did a great job for their businesses and employers while also caring for children. Some of you worked remotely, alternating between Zoom meetings and kids’ homework, while others balanced a baby on a hip during meetings because nap schedules just don’t always go as planned. Still others of you didn’t have the option to work from home because you were on the front lines, employed at grocery stores and restaurants, in hospitals and nonprofits, and on manufacturing lines. By necessity and with the organizational prowess of a five-star general, you designed sophisticated networks of family and friends to help keep your children safe while you earned a living. You are, without a doubt, superheroes of this pandemic.

Just as families have adapted, nearly every organization also discovered many new ways to work more safely and innovatively over the past year. Now as we re-imagine the post-pandemic workplace, let’s lean into that spirit of creativity once again. Leaders can show their employees respect and harvest the lessons of the past year by having frank discussions about the future workplace.

At Tulsa Area United Way, we are having conversations with our teams to answer these questions:

How do we regain the most cherished of what we have lost during the past year yet retain the best from what we’ve learned?

If there were one thing we could do that would help your work and home life integration as we return more fully to the office, what would that be?

When we explore these questions, it can be tempting to respond immediately, explaining why this or that idea can’t happen. No one said designing new ways to work would be easy. Nothing about the last year has been easy. Questions of fairness, equity, productivity, profit and shareholder value are part of the complex equations. Yet in December of 2019, we couldn’t have imagined the enormous cultural shifts of the past year.

Recently, the Tulsa World shared an Associated Press report that Ford Motor Co. told about 30,000 of its worldwide employees that they will be continuing in a work-office “hybrid.” Many Ford employees will work flexible schedules from home, commuting to the office for specific group meetings or projects requiring face-to-face interaction. Ford believes the new model is an opportunity to attract talent, and no doubt the competition will be watching closely.

A sick grandbaby and the sound of the washing machine in the middle of the night reminded me how tough raising kids and being a good employee can be. Mark and I slept 10 hours the night our grandkids went back to their parents. The experience renewed my commitment to leading with an open mind, listening to the ideas of our employees, and embracing the opportunity to be intentional about the post-pandemic workplace design.

Alison Anthony is president and CEO of Tulsa Area United Way and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board Opinion. Pieces by board members appear in this space most weeks.


Featured video:

Wayne Greene reads the March 26 Tulsa World editorial: Vaccination success story.

Alison Anthony is president and CEO of Tulsa Area United Way and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board Opinion. Pieces by board members appear in this space most weeks.

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