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Editor’s note: In her new book, Communicating Through a Pandemic: A Chronicle of Experiences, Lessons Learned, and a Vision for the Future, Amelia Burke-Garcia, PhD, MA explores the many and varied roles that communication has played over the course of this pandemic, in order to help public health professionals, marketers and health communicators, and policymakers alike understand what we have been through, what has worked well, and what we have struggled with. SPM’s Participatory Medicine Manifesto includes “I Will” statements that aim to help patients, caregivers, and providers reimagine the dynamics of their healthcare.  One of the focus areas of the Manifesto is to “Be a Teambuilder,” which includes “I Will” statements for healthcare professionals such as:

  •       Treat my patients and their caregivers like partners, peers, and collaborators
  •       Learn and respect patient goals, values, and preferences

As well as statements for patients and caregivers such as:

  •       Play an active role on the care team as a patient or caregiver
  •       Reach out to other caregivers for help and take care of myself so I can take care of others

In this excerpt from Communicating Through a Pandemic, Burke-Garcia discussion tenets of team building. These should be helpful to you, regardless of whether you are a patient, caregiver, or provider. 

Believing in the work you do and feeling that you are a part of a team’s common purpose help all team members feel like they matter and that their contributions make a difference. Asking for, clarifying, and sticking to the goals set out early on can help you feel like you know what you should be doing and that you are playing your part in the team’s success. Communicating openly and honestly can help you address issues early and more easily achieve your goals. And, showing respect for and acknowledging your team members’ efforts will help you build stronger relationships with your colleagues and can contribute to the team successfully achieving its goals.

[And] it is worth noting that these are not easy things to do. They take patience and discipline. They require thought and effort. But they are vital to building a strong and successful team. They contribute to the “heartbeat” and they help a team achieve its goals. And they help ensure that the team’s vision is achieved and that team members feel as if they have been part of something greater.

So that is Team Building and Management 101. Amelia-style. 

Pandemic or no pandemic.

And yes, while these principles do apply whether or not you are working as part of a team in a pandemic, this is a book about communicating through a pandemic. And COVID has certainly changed our world. All of our worlds (personal and professional). Quite. A. Bit.

Which has impacted how we work.

The quarantining and social distancing that the pandemic has required of us have forced many of us to do things differently than we did them before COVID. This has meant that we have had to learn to build teams, create unified visions, and solidify bonds remotely. In some cases, we have had to do these things with team members we have never met in-person before.

Even with the pandemic easing a bit at different points and some people returning to their offices, this trend of remote work seems likely to continue, in some way, shape, or form into the future. Given this, some of the tenets we have just discussed may need to be adapted for full-time remote team members—some may become more difficult in this new environment while others may become easier.

To the former—team building principles that have become harder in remote work environments—consider, for a moment, how the casual act of swinging by someone’s office to say “hi” and check-in has been virtually eliminated because of COVID. Many of us have not gone into an office space in more than two years, and even for those of us who have, we do not gather together like we once did. Those office visits and acts of collegiately that we once did so casually, are now done more often over Zoom or phone (or not done at all).

The ability to run into someone in a break room or large staff meeting and chat about an idea, unplanned and unscheduled. Well, that just does not happen when staff are working remotely. Those “watercooler” conversations have become quite rare since COVID.

As well, getting together for a lunch to say “thank you” has, in COVID, most often turned into a scheduled Zoom meeting. Even if people do try and get together in-person, comfort levels with being in-person and going out to restaurants must now be taken into consideration.

However, it is not all bad. To the latter category—team building principles that have become easier in remote work environments—consider the growth in the number of technologies that enable faster, more regular, and more frequent connections and collaboration opportunities and spaces. There are now more ways than ever before to communicate, connect, and see each other’s faces—and this does help teams with remote members connect and build bonds despite the barriers of time and space.

Knowing that this trend of remote work is likely to continue, finding virtual ways to establish collective visions, set and manage expectations, build and deepen relationships, ensure that team members are on the same page, and do these things over time, will be crucial to the success of teams and projects into the future.

Ultimately, we must get creative about how we do “team building” in this new world. We need to continue to invest in building these kinds of relationships—for the success of our projects and our people. And we need to be open to using a variety of approaches—virtual and non—to do so if we want to be successful.

From Communicating Through a Pandemic: A Chronicle of Experiences, Lessons Learned, and a Vision for the Future, by Amelia Burke-Garcia, PhD, MA, copyright © 2023. Reprinted by permission of the author.


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