(Part 2) Lessons We Learned During the Covid-19 Pandemic – We’re Still Here. What now? by @ LeadToInspireC1

by Crystal Smith

If you told me when I closed my office door about eight months ago that

This trip would take almost a full year, I would have thought you were extreme. But here we are in the same room and it seems like we are going backwards after we have made progress.

What have these eight months taught me? What did I learn about myself and my team? What do I take with me when we open the doors again? What are the real nuggets that allow me to be my best self as a leader who is evolving?

When I wrote my first article, “Leading Teams Effectively in This New COVID-19 World,” I talked a lot about the tools and platforms I used to help the team stay connected in this new environment. I am grateful that I had these tools because they enabled us to be efficient as a team. Seven months later, I can tell you that now, instead of using these applications to connect, I am doing things that are less technology focused and more focused on things that allow us to just “talk”.

As with most organizations, we built and flown the plane at the start of this pandemic. We have tried to address budget issues, spinning amid staff and organizational changes, being present and available to others, and making important decisions about returning to buildings with new business practices.

After about four or five months, my teams asked fewer questions. I stopped receiving the 9-1-1 text messages. Software that we depended on was used less. I woke up on a Friday and what hit me was just, “Look after your people”. I realized that I was so connected to gadgets that I hadn’t just done the old version of “check-in” with my staff. I spent this Friday emailing each person. For some, I asked about their children, for others, about their parents, or their progress towards graduation. Then there were those I knew who were struggling with working remotely, so I called them and just said, “How are you?” It took me all Friday doing this for about forty-five people and ended at 8:00 PM.

What I learned from this “project” was that technology is great, but people still needed a very basic thing called CONNECTION. This resulted in “Coffee with Crystal” and I sent everyone a Zoom invitation to have coffee with me on Thursday morning at 8:00 am. That invitation wasn’t required – it was a choice. Not everyone wants to get up half an hour before the start of the working day. Others simply don’t feel like “chatting” with colleagues. Wherever people landed, everything was fine. I can honestly say that I was super nervous on the first day. Let’s assume no one wanted to join the “zoom room”? I poured my coffee, sat outside on the deck, and logged into the room. Suddenly, a message popped up informing me that there were people in the waiting room. Over time, some stayed, some left, but what it turned out was a consistent group of people who would join me every Thursday morning just to laugh really hard. Of everything I implemented during this COVID-19 lockdown, it is the “coffee with crystal” that I am particularly proud of because it gave us a sense of normalcy.

One thing remains true from my first article. People are the same people in this remote world they were in brick and mortar. Email messages became what was often done personally. This means that instead of walking down the hallway to communicate a concern or challenge, I had to schedule more virtual meetings or send email messages that communicated my preferred approach to a variety of business practices. I spent time during our weekly staff meetings asking team members to be patient, grace, and ask questions. The delete button became a gift. It allowed me not to have a fight that wasn’t worth my time and energy.

What will I bring with me from this remote world when we return to buildings and try to create our new normal?

  1. “Coffee with crystal” continues in a certain way. Maybe it will still be virtual, but I’ll give people the opportunity to just chat with NO AGENDA for 30 minutes.
  2. The delete button remains a present. Maintaining peace is much more important.
  3. Lunchtime walks will continue to be part of my daily activities. Not only did I give myself time to decompress, but I also had mindful moments that turned into amazing projects.
  4. I’ve attended so many virtual conferences for women in leadership positions. I will continue to participate and add more tools to my executive toolbox.
  5. The applications and software programs that I have implemented will continue to be used as they have enabled us to work more efficiently.
  6. I will continue to take the time to check my people out with an email, phone call, or invitation to the zoom room. In any case, this very simple choice enables us all to have a very human experience.

Crystal Smith is a lifelong educator currently serving as an administrator at a community college on the east coast. Crystal is a graduate of Hampton University and the College of William and Mary, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology. Her specialty lies in the areas of family and gender studies as well as research and development.

Crystal began her career in human resources and worked with several Fortune 500 companies, including Lockheed Martin and Arthur Anderson Consulting. This work led her to consider education and teaching as a possible career goal. After an amazing career as a teacher in the K-12 system for five years, she embarked on a career in higher education. Crystal has been a college pro for over 17 years. As a result of this work, she founded her own consultancy specializing in leadership development, strategic planning and brand development.

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