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Guest Column: 10 tips for coping with the toll of a lockdown

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Very rarely does change happen so quickly, and at such a monumental scale, as it did this spring. This time last year, I was scheduling a video shoot, working on new websites, planning a company event at Mt. Cuba, and allocating resources to cover staff vacationing in the summer.

Clara Mattucci | Photo c/o GillespieHall PR

Today I am doing some of the same – but we are scripting film sessions via webcam, planning virtual staff gatherings, and looking at models and timelines for reopening the office. I’m doing all of this glued to my laptop screen and headset, keeping a close eye on the staff that seamlessly transitioned to working from home over 2 months ago. But this summer I am also marking the anxiety, stress and frustration. This crisis reaches far deeper than most of us appreciate.

As a behaviorist and the VP at a well-established PR and digital agency, I am intrigued by the ways my colleagues have managed the restrictions, and the shifting client and audience expectations, brought on by the pandemic. My job has been to help them to continue being productive, energetic, optimistic, and hopeful – all this under extreme, global stress, without access to the usual coping mechanisms.

Communication is at the core of everything we do at GillespieHall. Moving our team off-site and into a virtual world was peculiar and stressful. Everyone on our staff of 11 creative communicators stepped up. We all thrive on spontaneous idea-sharing, instant feedback, direct challenges, and those collaborations that net a powerful outcome. In an instant, that privilege was gone. We have Zoomed our way through hundreds of meetings and media briefs, and as the days turned to weeks, which turned to months in lockdown, I have seen the mood surge, flicker and deflate in turns. For the most part we have done extraordinarily well and although we have missed each other, we have not missed one project deadline.

So how have we stayed a cohesive, creative virtual community? Here are some of the things we implemented to nurture connectivity, model resilience and attend to the mental health and wellbeing of our team.

  1. In the midst of so much uncertainty, we provided stability by articulating new guidelines for communication and restating the ones that did not need to change.
  2. We scheduled a weekly video meeting with the entire company, including our intern. Each staff member is encouraged to contribute to the agenda and share observations from their own lens.
  3. We have been transparent about the state of our micro economy and the big picture – keeping staff completely in the loop (and removing any speculation about the security of their jobs).
  4. As VP, I check in personally with each team member to listen to their challenges, offer resources and provide an opportunity for a personal exchange.
  5. We have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and awards… as if we were back in our conference room.
  6. We introduced our pets to our colleagues – and now we welcome an interruption from Geno the cat, Pepper the Labrador, Mew, Muffin, Ben and Zoey.
  7. We created surveys for staff to gauge what matters to them now.
  8. We still dress for meetings, even on Zoom. Everyone feels better when we look good.
  9. Keep routines – and encourage each other to eat, sleep and exercise regularly. Even though travel plans have been derailed, we’re encouraging the team to take vacation. We need it now more than ever.
  10. Say thank you! We take every opportunity to remind each other of our purpose, how our clients rely on us and appreciate the work we do, and what we have accomplished so far.

We don’t know how long we have to keep working from home, but we will keep doing it as long as it keeps everyone safe. We are all invested in the health and safety of each other, our clients and communities. By infusing our daily lives with humanity, empathy and direction, we can move forward. It’s ok to feel anxious or scared. It’s that very vulnerability that connects us all. And as long as we feel connected, we can cope.

Clara Mattucci is vice president of operations and behaviorist at GillespieHall Public Relations in Hockessin.

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