COVID and working in 2022: Get ready for déjà vu all over again
Déjà vu: A feeling that one has seen or heard something before.
If you’ve worked in healthcare marketing and communications for more than six months between March 2020 and today, you’ve felt the sensation of repeating a situation or action. For nearly two years, this has been the cycle that most of us have found ourselves trapped in:
Conducting regular business
Ramping up for a crisis
Dealing with a crisis
Ramping down from a crisis
Conducting regular business
That cycle isn’t all that unusual for those in our field, but what is different is the amount of time spent in each phase. We’re spending far more time in the three crisis stages than we are in the “regular business” cycles. Both personally and professionally, it feels like we're trapped in a vicious cycle of repeating the same actions and experiencing the ups and downs that COVID has brought over and over. This article from Vox sums it up well:
After a brief reprieve from surging cases in the fall, omicron, the newest and most transmissible Covid-19 variant yet, is tearing its way across the nation, causing a nearly 30 percent spike nationally in cases in a matter of days. As communities roll out eerily familiar safety measures, for some, it’s feeling like 2020 again: In the past few weeks, California and New York reinstated indoor mask mandates, restaurants from Philadelphia to Houston to Los Angeles are temporarily closing amid outbreaks, at-home rapid tests are sold out from coast to coast, and some universities are sending students back online.
Welcome to the pandemic’s “junior year,” to adopt the darkly comic term that went viral on Twitter this fall. It looks like 2022 is destined to be the third year in a row that’s marked by fear and confusion, positive tests and near misses — and a resounding feeling of failure.
Does that description sound familiar to you?
Looking back on 2021, I would say that 80% of my time at work was spent in the crisis or pre-crisis zones as we continually responded to the COVID rollercoaster. As we move into 2022, it's happening once again. That means that finding time for planning, learning and strategic thinking is incredibly difficult. Doing those things will remain challenging next year, but there will be opportunities to take proactive steps.
Strategies for thriving in 2022
Generally speaking, the most effective approach you can take is learning how to recognize when you’ve entered one of those rare “regular business” phases and then maximizing your time there for however long each one lasts. Here are a few steps to consider in order of importance.
Take time off if you can. This should be your highest-order priority. If you can take some time off – perhaps safely traveling or enjoying a staycation – it’s important to do that and decompress. Taking time to unwind when a crisis is flaring up is almost always impossible. If you delay taking time off when the opportunity to do so comes up, you’ll regret it later when it becomes difficult or impossible to do it.
Create your annual plan. If you already have an annual communications or marketing plan, make sure it’s updated and that you’re reporting progress to stakeholders. Operating in a crisis is largely a reactive exercise, so when the dust clears it’s important to be as proactive as you can. It can be surprisingly difficult to shift between reactive and proactive modes of operating, but doing that is essential.
Make learning a priority. Block some time on your calendar to attend webinars, read articles and find other learning opportunities. Dedicating scheduled time for learning is important, but so challenging to do when you are focused on more immediate needs. When we attend an online session we’re often returning emails or drafting copy at the same time. We need to try and focus on uninterrupted learning when we’re out of crisis mode. Even doing that for an hour or two a week can pay huge dividends.
Check on your team. Of course, you should do this all of the time and most of us do. However, it can become easy to miss a 1:1 meeting, not follow up on a question or just forget to check on someone who might be reluctant to let you know when they need help. When space clears to easily connect with your team more frequently, make sure you do it.
Don't ignore your own professional development. You also need to think about your career growth and how to ensure you are positioning yourself for the journey you want to take. If you want to write an article or pitch a presentation, do it when you have the time. You need to invest in yourself and sharing best practices and success stories can position you as an expert and help others.
Knowing is half the battle
We all know that the start of 2022 is going to be difficult and challenges might last for much – if not all – of the year. However, there are proactive steps we can take to still be successful. And when you do get that familiar feeling that our COVID crisis cycle is starting again, just reflect back on this timeless gem: