The human side of Covid-19: Remove your mask when WFH

When I graduated from college and entered the business world, I was taught to present myself in such a way that essentially was like wearing a mask. From my attire, hair and makeup to behavior such as arriving early and staying late, my mask set others’ perceptions of my quality of work, my aptitude, and my drive for career progression. I dressed for the role I wanted, mirroring managers and executives and the masks they wore.

Over the years, the corporate mask has evolved, but it hasn’t been fully removed. Jeans and flexible schedules have surfaced, but there was still an unspoken barrier preventing the human connection — this “dreadful” mask  my colleagues and I were wearing. We had in-person interactions with leadership, but managers still didn’t seem vulnerable and relatable, as they continued to wear their own seemingly artificial masks.

All that has changed in the last few weeks, as the business world has been thrust into the remote work experience by the Covid-19 pandemic. How so? Daily, I log onto live-video calls sporting a t-shirt and athletic shorts, with less makeup on my face and my hair thrown up in a bun. Our leadership staff have also embraced a much more casual setting, showing that they, too, are real human beings, with kids who comically make faces behind them during meetings, dogs who bark at the most inconvenient times, and who also are more comfortable in t-shirts than business attire.

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And while we had office happy hours before, seeing a well-respected leader wearing an old t-shirt has probably been one of my all-time favorite happy-hour moments — even if we were on a video chat. I love it! In fact, rather than feeling completely isolated, I have been feeling a more genuine rapport with these leaders and colleagues in this more distant environment.

As I sat here trying to comprehend how I was able to generate and feel such a connection from so far away, I realized not only had I dropped my mask, but remote work has allowed everyone in my organization to drop theirs as well, letting go of what had been serving as barriers across the organization.

And I began to think, if seeing my leadership and colleagues drop our collective masks could make me feel more connected, other organizations could benefit as well. So my advice to anyone adjusting to a remote office and wondering how to improve connectivity is to remove your mask and turn on your video. No matter your level within your company, break down barriers by being willing to turn on your video without your mask.

Embrace the visible laundry basket of unfolded clothes in the corner of the room; you aren’t the only one who doesn’t have time to always tidy up. Wear a t-shirt, ball cap, introduce your pets, kids and spouses. Use these cute imperfections, distractions and vulnerable settings to strengthen your connection with managers (or anyone for that matter). No matter what level of an employee you are, be contagious with your cheerful, vulnerable, mask-free spirit, and turn on your video. As we continue to work remotely, I encourage everyone take advantage of Covid-19 and remove their masks, using this time to break down barriers, and really connect with one another. Who’s with me?

#COVID19 #removeyourmask #WFH

Brittany Reece

Brittany Reece
Brittany Reece, CCWP, is external workforce manager, Amgen Inc.

Brittany Reece

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