I have never counted, but 30 is the ballpark number of emails I write and respond to in a given workday. These emails are written to colleagues, clients, new business leads, and nearly 20% of them to people with whom I’ve never met. Being an official channel, you keep the discussion dignified and succinct. Niceties are limited to wishing each other relaxing weekends and happy public holidays or congratulating achievements.
As time-bound, sugar-driven workers, we rarely give our email conversations more time than we can afford before moving on to the next one. As a result, we don’t know much about the other person’s day or life, we only say enough to keep business in motion. COVID-19 has changed that. The pandemic is now the common denominator that has affected each one of us. It has brought us closer together, so we can look out for one another.
From starting my emails with “Dear A, I am writing this email with regard to …”, I now write “Dear A, hope you and your loved ones are well.”
The very act of acknowledging the outbreak first in an email is a sign of solidarity and makes room for the anxiety that we are all living with. It takes away the burden of pretending that things are as normal as they were previously. And above all, it allows us to be more comforting to each other.
Checking in on someone else these days is the beginning of a collective effort to keep warm the relationships that have been sapped of physical contact. We are no longer catching up over coffee or hosting a colleague for dinner, we are no longer sitting in a meeting room discussing work and engaging in the occasional banter. I can’t assess a person’s mood from the way they write an email. I can, however, let them know, that we are all in this together.
When I write “Hope you and your loved ones are well”, I am including everyone that you hold dear in life, not just family and friends.
This also includes your neighbourly aunt, your postman, your favourite singer, Oprah, your middle-school crush, the nurse that helped recuperate your dad, and anyone and everyone who has brought love in some form or another to your life. This pandemic has pushed us to recognise every actor that has brought us joy and love, and whose loss would leave a gaping hole in our lives. When I am checking on your loved ones, I am doing so knowing that love comes in all forms.
The COVID-19 outbreak has given us a chance to look at each other in a more familiar light than ever. The person on the other side of the email is also living with concerns and worries over the effects of this pandemic. Most of us have families on different parts of the planet as we speak. Writing emails with a warm touch offers a chance to interact as humans first and professionals later. It brings the much-needed ease in professional communication that would otherwise only happen over lunch.
Being isolated from one another also means limited exposure to humour and laughter — the vehicles of everyday joy in our lives. Writing out a joke does not have the same impact as expressing it in real-time. It is, thus, all the more critical to employ words that bring comfort and connection even through just a small email exchange. Light humour has been a communication gift in such grim times, and I’ve ended up feeling better for it.
In its own unfathomable way, the pandemic has demanded us to bring our more compassionate selves to work. It has helped us reign in those short, to the point, result-driven emails and give each other more time to adapt to this new normal. Above all, it has reminded us that empathy and compassion are primal emotions and, perhaps, the ones that will help us collectively get through this crisis.