I still cannot believe the size of the pandemic in many ways: the deaths, the families, the lost jobs, the milestones that will never be (graduation from high school, college, the postponed weddings, the toddlers that haven’t socialized and so many others. The list has no end. The future is uncertain and dealing with the new normal is more easily said that done.
It has been a year and a half since we started working remotely and we all thought it would be for a short period of time. We never thought it would extend this far and that several waves of the virus would hit us. As said before, nothing is certain, and we are mostly planning short-term. We are gregarious beings, the new normal is taking a toll on all of us. But it took a long time to figure it out. Today we are looking at a balance that many of us oversaw or turned the other way from. Very few of us were able to foresee what would happen.
At the office, we sent everyone to work remotely on March 2020 and we had to learn how to do it, how to interact, looking to be efficient, find the balance between work and personal life and ensuring good habits, etc. I must say that during the first year of the pandemic I did not realize what was happening with emotions, feelings, and mental health issues. My colleagues at the office were looking for hobbies, enjoying life at home and with their families, exercising, etc. It felt as everyone had gotten a grip of the “new situation”. As a law firm we thought that we were doing a very good job with all our colleagues since we were taking care of them, weekly announcements about the pandemic, vaccination, etc. Mainly, we were speaking about physical health issues. Then it struck me. At virtual meetings people were acting and looking differently. Some were working in the middle of the night, others were forgetting things when it never used to happen, etc. Still, I was so happy that no one at the office had contracted the virus. Strict measures were slowly changed by our government, and we started returning gradually to the office. Everybody was happy to see colleagues and returning to what we used to believe was normal, having lunch together, going for a beer, etc.
We organized a small gathering at the office. We hadn’t seen each other for so long and I couldn’t believe my eyes. People who had gained weight up to the point of no recognition, people slim to the bone, people who were emotional and crying, and others who were living and working at night and I thought something had to be done to change this. We had spent a year taking care of their physical health, but we had completely forgotten about the emotional/mental side of things. Many of our colleagues live alone or with pets. They dropped their hobbies, stopped exercising and some even gave their pets up for adoption. I was shocked and didn’t immediately know how to help them; how to address these issues and moreover how to make them realize there was something wrong that had to be addressed.
The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, no doubt. It has been challenging and resilience is the name of the game. Many have been able to endure all the dramatic changes in their lives and some are really struggling. No one was asking for help, but we were sure it was needed. In my country privacy laws and issues like psychological help are still stigmatized. Also, many people don’t understand how helpful it can be, but they instead decided to struggle with depression and anxiety and do nothing for themselves. Some of them because they don’t know, others because of this bias and others mainly because it is expensive to see a therapist. So, we decided to try to help as a company, but it is difficult to address this issue, at least in our country. We tried finding solutions brainstorming with our HR team and, alas, we found one!
There is this new niche business in Mexico emerging from the pandemic. Companies created, established and operated by therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists that have created online platforms to provide virtual therapy and to offer it as a benefit to employees. At first we were very happy, but then we had to look into all the legal frameworks around it: privacy, confidentiality, therapist-patient relationships, etc., associated to these type of care givers. These are brand new businesses in the healthcare industry in our country and we had to be certain that all services provided complied with legislation, that our employees were going to be protected and feeling safe, and that they understood that the service was delivered by this company, through their specialists, and that their information would never be revealed to us. We wanted to try to make them feel safe and that they would start using these services that were so much needed in some cases.
After many meetings and chats with the managers of the selected company, we helped them with their legal structure and even did some paperwork, all in order to start servicing our team. So, we launched the program at the office. First thing was a couple of conferences related to mindfulness, as well as balance in life; the logistics of the service and how it would work for the employees. For the conferences, it was a surprise that we had more than 90% attendance and were very enthusiastic that it would work. The service is provided giving you a certain number of hours, depending on how many sessions per employee they might have in a month and other considerations.
When we launched the program, we started with their basic package, to realize that so many people were looking for support from the very first week that the package was completely used up. Today, we are trying to figure how big it should be, but we are providing it to everyone requesting it.
I know every country is different and every company is different, but the pandemic has broadened my sense of community, which I had before, but has now turned into something more important and with a wider view. This community is not only our family and friends, but also our colleagues and it may extend much more. The pandemic has been challenging on every front and unfortunately it has politized much more than could’ve ever been anticipated. All of us, as a community, must take care of each other, otherwise this show will never end. Only through caring for our neighbors will we be able to succeed and return to the lives we have enjoyed before. I want to see my friends and family, go places, travel, etc., it must be a joint effort. Caring starts at home and today we have to understand that our home is what we consider our community and have to help in every possible way we can.