This March, my colleague forwarded me an email from exactly two years earlier that notified our workforce they would be working remotely in response to shelter-in-place orders. As I read through that email, a shudder ran through my body remembering those early days of March 2020, when the novel coronavirus was sweeping the world. I then reflected on the countless pivots and shifts we made as a company over the last two years and our efforts to support our people and their loved ones during this time and keep our company operating.

While it has been a massive endeavor (one that I still can’t believe we pulled off), when I take a step back, I remember that in moments of crisis, that’s what we humans do. We adapt to new environments and circumstances, figure it out, and make it work. But now, after pandemm’ing for two years and making many adjustments to our personal and work lives, many of us are now facing a massive new change – returning to the physical workplace as changed people.  

Let’s face it, none of us are the same as when we left the office in March of 2020, and the office is going to be different when we return quotation mark

Over the last two years, we shared some very unexpected human experiences with our colleagues – like witnessing pets, bare-bottomed children, and elders with dementia appear on Zoom calls. We had uncomfortable but oh-so important conversations about racism and privilege, generations of injustice, and mutual respect for those on  opposing sides of political issues. We struggled with health issues and stress, and survival mode became our new norm for operating in the world.  

We have been holding so much for so long that we have difficulty remembering what things were like before the pandemic. So as companies start to bring their employees back to the office in some way, leaders have both an opportunity and a responsibility for creating environments that recognize the shared humanity of their people. 

How can we return to the office a little more open-minded, open-hearted, authentic, and compassionate? quotation mark

I’ve written previously about Organizational Consciousness™ – an approach I developed and have used for years at Ultragenyx. To briefly summarize, Organizational Consciousness is the work within companies to intentionally evolve the humanity of both their business and their people. It’s the essential mindset and practices needed for individuals, organizations, and humanity to thrive – in this century and beyond.

As we return to the workplace, there will be a lot of talk about things that are practically and logistically necessary for the workplace. But the real call to action for us is to elevate the humanity of the workplace. It’s leaders asking the question: “How can we return to the office a little more open-minded, open-hearted, authentic, and compassionate?”

To do this, I offer five new workplace agreements that can help us transition from “pandemm’ing” to “human’ing” and create an environment where people can truly thrive in the new hybrid work environment. The 5 new agreements for how to be human in the new world of work are: 

  1. Listen more, talk less. We all want to be heard and understood – but the unlock for returning to the workplace in a more human way is to deeply and actively listen more. That doesn’t mean you don’t speak up or share your ideas, it just means that you focus a little more on understanding others and get curious. From this place of deeper listening, your words can have a greater impact and can elevate and advance conversations in a more meaningful and effective way.   
  2. Say what you really mean. So much energy is spent trying to appease and influence others that we often don’t communicate authentically and transparently, and we lose our intended message as a result. We have an opportunity to return to the workplace and communicate with greater candor – in a way that allows us to get to the heart of matters, and not leave elephants unattended in the room. And it’s important that candor is equally balanced with curiosity and compassion when sharing your perspective – so this is about striking a balance between kindness and directness and not leaving important things unsaid. 
  3. Assume good intent. Everyone has challenges in  their lives that we can’t fully know or understand. Instead of assuming that someone is intentionally trying to be difficult, or write them off as unreasonable, you can instead choose to assume they have good intentions underneath their actions (because 99% of the time they do). So, rather than getting triggered – get curious about what those good intentions are and connect with them from that place. It will be a better experience for you and will help lead to a more productive conversation and greater trust with them. 
  4. Value self-care as an essential skill. While work/life balance has been a buzzphrase for a while, the last two years have shown us how essential self-care is for our well-being – in all areas of our lives. And when we feel rested and refueled, we can show up more productively for our work each day. At Ultragenyx, we have tried to intentionally build self-care into our company culture, because self-care needs to be an ongoing conversation in the workplace that is reinforced by leaders and organizational programs, processes, and structures. 
  5. Be kind to yourself and others. We all have an internal committee inside our heads that often runs the show and leaves us feeling unworthy and not good enough. And we know from a ton of data and research that when we show ourselves more compassion instead of criticism, we have more kindness to show to others. Right now, with all the things we have lived through and the many stresses we still face locally and globally, we can all use more compassion in this world. Doing that starts with us offering it to ourselves first.  

While returning to the workplace is met with a wide range of reactions, this transition can lead to improved workplace culture if you instill some mindsets, practices, and programs to make it so. In an upcoming article, I will share more about what we are doing at Ultragenyx to transition to a hybrid work environment, with these 5 Workplace Agreements as the foundation. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing what you are doing in your organization to bring more humanity to your workplace. 

Bria Martin is the Vice President of Organizational Strategy and Development at Ultragenyx

View All Blog Posts