As we approach the one-year anniversary of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., many businesses continue to struggle. The ones that could not sustain themselves during these difficult times have closed their doors. The ones that have been fortunate enough to remain open are trying to figure out how to meet the needs of their internal and external stakeholders.

Focusing on People

The global pandemic requires us to think differently about how people engage with one another. It is no longer “business as usual,” and it will more than likely never be “business as usual” again.

Businesses are hurt, and people are devastated. 2020 hit businesses hard and people harder. We saw social justice and injustice take center stage. We saw a political system take unexpected turns. We saw our education systems try to keep students engaged and families try to balance additional competing priorities, often with little to no additional support. While there is a need to focus on businesses, it is more critical to focus on the people within those businesses. We were scared last year, and many people are still scared.

So, where does that fear go when people show up to work? It does not stay in the parking lock. It does not stay in a purse or a pocket. It comes to the office. It shows up in an email, in an interaction or on a Zoom call. People are trying to hold it together, but let’s face it: It is not easy, and sometimes people miss the mark.

Making Accommodations

As business leaders consider new ways to meet strategic goals, they must also consider how to incorporate staff wellness as part of their goals. They must also consider how to keep business operations moving while understanding that people may be distracted. “Space for grace” should become part of the values of the business. It should not be just a statement but a philosophy modeled across all lines of business and embedded in the culture.

What is “space for grace”? Space for grace allows people to live in the moment and to feel emotions as they are happening, even if they’re at work. Maybe someone will need a little more time to complete an assignment. Maybe someone will need an alternative work schedule. Maybe someone will be a little short or delayed in responding to emails. Maybe an employee resides in a home with an essential worker. Maybe an employee resides in a home with someone who lost his or her job, and now there is only one income. Maybe an employee resides in a home with small children or school-aged children and now has to be a full-time child care provider and teacher while working from home. Maybe an employee resides in the home with three other people who are all competing for internet access.

This has been many people’s reality for almost a year. Space for grace says, ”We understand, and we will make the necessary adjustments to accommodate.”

Leaders’ Space for Grace

Business leaders are not exempt from being human, and it is especially important that they give themselves the same space for grace that they extend to their team members. Leading by example is key. It is important to show that there is no shame in needing space — that there is nothing inappropriate about needing to focus on your family or your personal well-being. This new level of vulnerability and transparency will be a value-add as this journey continues.

Keeping the communication lines open is also key; employees should feel comfortable asking for space. Senior leaders and human resources (HR) practitioners should work to incorporate space for grace into the fabric of the business. Whether you are in a for-profit or nonprofit business, sometimes, you have to put the business of programs and profit aside and focus on the people who make those profits and programs come alive.