How to Be a Better Coworker in the Time of the Coronavirus

This is a stressful time. Building positive working relationships with your colleagues can help.

Published: Mar 19, 2020

There’s nothing normal about working from home against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Between worrying about getting sick, being trapped inside the house, having the kids unexpectedly out of school, and watching the stock market go haywire, there are a myriad of stresses brought on by the coronavirus that can fray your nerves and cause you to lash out at your colleagues.

To be sure, getting along with coworkers can be tricky under the best of circumstances. It requires you to summon your patience, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness. But it’s worth the effort. According to one study, 70% of employees say having friends at work is the biggest indicator of an enjoyable work life, and nearly 60% of men say they would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with their colleagues.

The coronavirus could be bringing burdens to your colleagues that they don’t share publicly.

Here’s how to deal with coworkers in the time of coronavirus.

Drop your ego.
None of us is in charge during this crisis, and none of us knows what’s going to happen next. While it may give you a sense of control to assume that you’re handling things better than everyone else, the truth is that we’re in uncharted territory. The best thing you can do is have some compassion for your colleagues—and yourself. If your colleagues seem to be struggling with productivity, offer a helpful push instead of an interrogation. If you can’t seem to get an assignment done, let go of your perfectionist tendencies and recognize that you’re only able to do so much. “Take a moment and say ‘Ok, I’m human too,’” says Sean Carney, career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

Hit pause.
When you’re upset by something a coworker says, you can’t react like a sprinter off the blocks. Pause between the stimulus and your reaction. Remember that the tone behind written communication can easily be misinterpreted. And even if your colleague is being a jerk, remember that everyone is on edge right now. Take a pause and count to ten—or twenty—before writing back. When you do decide to address something that’s bothering you, do it with care and tact. 

Aim to make others feel better.
“Early in my career, someone gave me some amazing advice: people should always feel better after they’ve spoken with you—even if it’s a difficult conversation,” says Gary Burnison, Korn Ferry CEO. How do you do that right now? Since anxiety spreads faster than the coronavirus itself, be the person bringing positivity to the conversation, not angst. Check in with your colleagues to see how they’re doing on a personal level, or how their families are handling all the changes. If you’re a manager, reassure your team that they’ll find out about new developments as soon as you do.

Don’t assume the worst.
Your boss gives you a last-minute assignment late on a Friday and it needs to be done by midday Monday. Your coworker makes a decision without you on a project you’re both working on. Maybe they’re not really out to get you. During chaotic times, priorities shift and things escalate. Maybe the boss just got handed that assignment from on high and it’ll help the company stay relevant during the outbreak. Maybe your coworker just uncovered a problem while it’s still contained, before it becomes an even bigger issue. When in doubt, assume the better motive. You have to do the work anyway, so you might as well put a better spin on it.

Offer help—or a laugh.
The coronavirus could be bringing burdens to your colleagues that they don’t share publicly. Maybe they’re a single parent balancing work and childcare all alone. Maybe they have a sick loved one. Ask people what you can do to support them, whether it’s delivering their point of view in a meeting they have to miss or taking a task off their plate. What help can you offer to get the job done—and do a good deed? Even a simple gesture, like retelling a funny story that happened in the office or sending around a lighthearted (but work appropriate) meme might help lighten the mood.

And if you’re the one who feels underwater, don’t be afraid to reach out. People want to help in a crisis, and when they do, it builds community.

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