NASAA Notes: April 2021

April 5, 2021

Work and Well-being: Lessons from the Pandemic

As we spring into a new season, it’s exciting to think about what comes next: time with friends and family, herd immunity, ending COVID-19 deaths, time in community—especially time together experiencing the arts—and so much more. We’re all ready for some normalcy, and even a new normal. As I think about what’s next, I’m also considering what not to leave behind.

At so many levels, we’ve all learned important lessons during the past year. Necessarily we have related to home, community and work differently, and in some cases, we’ve carved out heightened opportunities to focus on what’s most important and who is most important. This is certainly the case for the team and me at NASAA. Much more than before, I carved out the space to prioritize our team’s wellness and our cohesion. I’m determined to take the lessons I’m learning about what’s best for our team forward—springing forward as we set our sights on a postpandemic time.

Here are a few of the lessons I plan to not leave behind:

Cohesion contributes to wellness for individuals and for the team. All of our agencies began thinking more about cohesion when work-from-home mandates descended last year. It didn’t take long to realize that people suddenly working from home are likely to feel disconnected from the work team, and perhaps even lonely. Individuals who experience being a valued and productive part of a cohesive team, a united whole, feel more connected to colleagues and to organizational mission. Those connections, especially the human connections, promote personal wellness for us as individuals and as a team. From the management perspective, it’s often tempting to focus on the tasks at hand. There are so many of them! However, a human-centered approach that emphasizes wellness and personal interactions is better for the team, and the team will naturally be in a better position to manage the work at hand.

I have also learned that there’s no such thing as overcommunicating when we’re working from home during a pandemic. To say the least, this last year has been progressively unsettling all across the country. Consistent and calm communications to and with the team can be quite settling and comforting, especially when so much happening in the rest of our lives may not be. Also, humanizing communications has been important for us. Workplaces excel at impersonal communications rooted in the tasks at hand—with lots of emails and texts that move projects along, reinforce deadlines and keep simultaneous trains on track. Taking the time to communicate as people who work together preserves a sense of camaraderie. Here are some of the ways we’re communicating better at NASAA:

  • Our moment of inspiration at the end of weekly staff meetings often includes opportunities for personal check-ins. We check in through staff-generated questions like: What’s up with you? Spring is here; what’s your favorite flower? When we reach herd immunity, where would you like to travel? In a six-word story, tell us how you’re feeling. Our creative team keeps them coming.
  • We’re also keeping individual wellness in the conversation. We’re fortunate that team members are offering group stretch breaks and meditation breaks. Management is reminding folks that sick leave is encouraged and should be taken as needed; working from home doesn’t eliminate it. Also, reminding team members about the availability of employee assistance program resources can be helpful.
  • From time to time, we ask the team about their remote work setups. Ensuring everyone has what they need to comfortably perform their jobs is humane, and it communicates that NASAA values their wellness.
  • We’re also ensuring opportunities for informal and formal feedback from the team. The feedback loop is key. At NASAA, team feedback has helped us amend office policies for our postpandemic workplace. We have implemented a hybrid model that allows added opportunities for remote work even after the pandemic has subsided.

Finding time for a little fun is also important; we’re human, so we need this. Ensuring fun requires some intentionality when we’re working from home. Although we use the Slack messaging app primarily for productivity, we’ve also made space within it for fun. NASAA’s Slack #fun channel is there when the need for humor strikes. There’s also the occasional NASAA-themed Jeopardy! match. Closer to our team’s “artbeat,” we make space for shared inspiration. Whether it’s shared as we close out our weekly staff meetings or on our Slack #inspiration channel, making space for a little fun and inspiration keeps us closer to some of the reasons we enjoy and appreciate being part of the NASAA team.

Flexibility has also been on our minds. I imagine that every agency has looked for opportunities to provide more flexibility for team members this past year. This is both critical and humane, as we all try to cope during these really difficult times. NASAA has been no different. We’ve been happy to extend opportunities for increased flexibility for team members to help them cope with this tough time; we refer to them as COVID accommodations. What I’ve learned from this is that heightened flexibility has also created the chance for supervisors and team members to evolve how they work together. I’m seeing supervisors take a greater human-centered approach to working with teams, prioritizing care and people over monitoring tasks. This builds greater respect and trust across our organization, and the more we demonstrate greater respect for all our team members, the more cohesion we can expect. It’s also no surprise that in turn, team members are doing a lot of incredible work.

As we prepare for the next normal (summer? fall?), building on these and other lessons learned will be top of mind for me. How we take care of our teams is absolutely linked to how our teams take care of our agency missions. Further, keeping our teams connected requires intentionality and heightened communication, and is not only the job of any agency’s leader, it’s also the job of every person on the team, as we take individual responsibility to check in with and connect to colleagues. I’m so grateful for every member of the NASAA team and their willingness and ability to remain engaged and committed to NASAA, to our team and to serving state arts agencies during this difficult year. I’m looking forward to staying the course with them as we move toward our next normal.

(NOTE: If you’ve experienced success with new strategies to enhance staff/team cohesion and wellness, I’d love to hear about them. Please drop me a line and let me know what’s working for you.)

In this Issue

From the President and CEO

State to State

Legislative Update

The Research Digest

Announcements and Resources

More Notes from NASAA




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