Bringing your whole self to work in the time of COVID

Melissa Hill Dees
5 min readApr 5, 2020

Reading the morning tweets, I came across this image of Kate Lessard saying, “Hubs made this for me in case I need it #truelove”. She looked beautiful, as always, and the mask, I guess, made me notice her eyebrows so I asked if salons were still open where she is. She said, “I’m in Oregon… But my eyebrows are WHITE blonde so I draw them in every day… It is the one makeup thing that I am still doing every day… My co-workers can not see me looking like an alien…”

Having worked from home for the past four years, most of that time has NOT been spent with a webcam on showcasing me in my “work pajamas”, aka a t-shirt and yoga pants, with no makeup and greasy hair. I’ve put on makeup more often in the past month than in the past year. Our company, HandsOn Connect, is completely remote without a physical office at all. The only time I interact with anyone face to face is when I speak at community and Salesforce events. And, then, I have a dedicated pre-travel ritual where I color my hair, have my nails and eyebrows done, buy travel office clothes, and make certain I have packed the appropriate pearls.

Suddenly, in the time of COVID, everyone is working from home. Or, as Neil Webb more accurately stated, “…we’re at home during a crisis trying to work.” Every meeting is virtual, beamed to you live from wherever you happen to be working. And there is immense pressure for your webcam to be ON. Just as suddenly, colleagues and others are seeing a side of me I never thought they would. Have I been hiding my more whole, authentic self behind working remotely? Or, is this bringing my work home with me? Which is a “no no”. Or are we inviting our trusted partners, colleagues, and friends into a more intimate setting?

Have I been hiding my more whole, authentic self behind working remotely? For those of us that have “always” worked from home, is this true? As a disturbingly social extrovert, I’ve never felt the need to always have the webcam on; I interact with so many people on a daily basis that I’m never lonely. In the time of COVID, there is an underlying level of stress that makes me want to curl up in a ball; it’s exhausting. And, now I have to wear makeup?! That does not help. Honestly, I live for the in person events to really recharge me and they are all postponed. Introverts have very different needs. I am learning some empathy for those who feel drained by social interaction with other humans. And I am learning to accept that everyone doesn’t look like their profile picture every day, especially me. To quote everyone’s favorite sage, Amy Oplinger Singh, “when I say its about to get ugly up in here…its ABOUT TO GET Thinking of all my friends with hair, nail and eyelash extensions!!!” And what does that do to all of our carefully crafted personal branding?

Is this bringing my work home with me? With my teacher husband and my high school daughter home every day now, the lines between work and home are blurrier than normal. Founding partners like me tend to work more than most but, generally, weekends are reserved for family. Now each day morphs into another and it’s hard to remember what day of the week it is. Or even what date it is. Time constraints have ceased to exist in any recognizable way. Once upon a time, I would work on a Saturday to get caught up so I could take a Monday off to attend something at my daughter’s school. I made the effort to schedule meetings before my family arrived home. I would travel to work events and enjoy my family more when I returned. Now everything happens within the confines of our house. Where everyone is. All. The. Time! How do we NOT bring our work home with us?

Decatur, AL Nonprofit Social Hour

Or are we inviting our trusted partners, colleagues, and friends into a more intimate setting? By nature, I am not a neat freak, and my ADD induced projects tend to add chaos. My husband subscribes to the “Pile Theory” — he has piles (LOTS of piles), piles for bills, piles for supplies, piles for clothes — a pile for everything and everything in its pile. And piles cannot live in a closet; they must be seen, otherwise, they would be forgotten. Every time I turn on my webcam, you see what my existence truly is: my husband’s “nest” and its requisite piles directly behind me offset only by the glare coming in the sunroom windows because I cleaned and threw away the blinds and the new curtains haven’t shipped yet. I would love for everyone to come visit me and have offered my spare room to several #ohana friends; but, I would spend days tidying up and having the cleaner come and making everything perfect for your visit. Suddenly, people I don’t even know are in my family room with me. My computer is too old to employ all of the fun Zoom backgrounds. Are Zoom backgrounds fun? Or is that another way of hiding? Not everyone has the perfect view or the perfect room or the perfect #WFH setup. A friend from the nonprofit world is using her ironing board as a desk in her small studio apartment in Boston. Maybe it’s easier to be a potato with a fake background. How do we best allow for vulnerability and build trust?

My belief that we can create some sustainable good from all the disruption still holds true. (See my earlier blog post: “_______ Is Canceled”) In a time where nothing is certain and our circumstances seem to change by the hour, one constant is our need for other people. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can be our authentic selves and exhibit empathy and support, provide some self-care and care for our families, and nourish and expand our friendships in the time of COVID. Stay Well and Be Kind!

Mike Robbins’ TEDxBerkeley talk in 2015 advocated bringing your whole self to work. Salesforce has embraced creating a safe environment for employees to bring their whole selves to work to increase productivity and creativity and just because it’s the right thing to do.

Melissa Hill Dees

Partner @handsonconnect @llamasite Founder @Nonprofit Dreamin #SalesforceMVP Champion of #domoregood #WiT #EqualityForAll 9X @salesforce certified. #speaker

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