Navigating post-pandemic change (yes, more) with cautious optimism

The same emotional intelligence competencies of empathy, stress tolerance, reality testing, optimism and flexibility that have helped us through the pandemic will help us transition to the next chapter.

A drawing of someone walking while carrying an armload of geometric shapes.

We’ve made so many changes in a short time. Many of us have finally adapted, or at least found a way to cope with work, education, and family and friend relationships while adhering to health and social distancing requirements. And just as we’ve adjusted, another seismic shift is happening.

The pandemic has required us to have a hyper-focus on the safety of ourselves, our families and our communities. At the same time, we have witnessed enormous and painful social upheaval and human suffering on a global scale. We have worried about our own well being, and the mental health of our children, team members, and neighbours. 

We’ve changed the way we connect, work, learn, parent and lead. We’ve (somewhat) increased our comfort level with technology mediating our relationships. We’ve converted team meetings into online platforms and we’re learning from a distance. We’ve taken, or delivered courses on how to lead a virtual team, engage customers and host conferences. Seeing people’s kitchens and bedrooms, meeting each other’s children and pets, and excusing ourselves from meetings because a contractor is at the door, have all become acceptable, and dare I say normal. 

Educators are teaching our children from a distance, and the living room is now the classroom. We’ve exchanged travel plans and holidays for home improvements and hot tubs. We talk more openly about our mental health challenges and coping strategies and our emotional responses to what is happening around us. We’ve seen benefits and shortcomings of social isolation and virtual engagement. Some of us have appreciated being able to withdraw from certain social interactions, while others yearn for in-person connections and a return to normal.

And now, more change.

Just as we have reluctantly settled into this new reality, we are once again transitioning. Will we go back to a once taken-for-granted world? Or are we forever changed? If so, what does it mean to ‘return to normal’? 

Businesses, organizations, and families now face a new set of challenges. We are all contemplating how we will re-engage – at the office, restaurants, hotels, school, family and faith gatherings, conferences and courses. 

From mask wearing, to distancing, and bubbling, it has not always been easy for families and businesses to figure out the current reality, let alone navigate the shifting realities ahead of us. This is a reality testing challenge, but it’s one that is heightened by the complexity of the medical and public health context we find ourselves in. 

There will be obstacles to face in the re-opening of our communities and workplaces. For example, how will we communicate with co-workers, friends and family about our different understandings of risk? We’ve witnessed the harmful impact that results from people having surprisingly different levels of comfort with risk, as well as their beliefs in the validity of science.

Even though COVID-19 is easing, the challenge of assessing risk and protocols is not. And while there is a lot of good information out there about vaccines, people assessing their return to work, their summer vacation or attending a social gathering might be wondering if their companions have received the vaccination.

Being prepared to have honest conversations about shared ideas of risk have become somewhat more normal, but these conversations don’t stop being fraught with difficult emotions. And now, these conversations may be prohibited in some contexts. Can a workplace require vaccinations? (no, actually). Are vaccine passports legal or discriminatory? Where is the line between the social responsibility to care for others and protecting vulnerable communities and the right to exercise personal choice? 

For all of these reasons, and more, you find yourself contemplating your own capacity to handle more change, another transition, endless micro-decisions, hard conversations. What will returning to work look like? If you can’t ask your co-worker if they are vaccinated, how do you manage your own feelings of stress or worry – maybe even some resentment or judgement? Will there be a safe zone at work for those who have received both doses of the vaccine? Can you negotiate a hybrid work arrangement – and what are those logistical implications for work and home life? What will you do for your much needed break from the demands placed on all of us this year? 

The same emotional intelligence competencies of empathy, stress tolerance, reality testing, optimism and flexibility that have helped us through the pandemic will help us transition to the next chapter. While so much is changing, what remains the same is that a large dose of emotional intelligence will shore up our emotional well-being, guide difficult conversations, support positive interactions and focus on the health and safety of others. And most of all, optimism will help us be mindful of maintaining the positive changes we’ve made, and avoid sliding back into pre-pandemic habits that no longer serve us.

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