Learnings from an It’s OK Day

Trevor Gibbons  Follow

Lawyers get excited discussing cases of first impression; matters where an issue before the court has never been decided by that particular court or region or sometimes, by any court anywhere. Deciding what to do about things when there is no precedent is often thrilling but can also be tiring. And let’s face it, we’ve all been counseling through an awful lot of “first impression” communications issues since March—and it’s exhausting. This is likely why, while putting my second kid to sleep last Wednesday, I too fell asleep … for the night! Exhaustion had caught up with me and the extra shuteye proved to be well timed.

Upon being woken up “in the 5’s” as we have exasperatingly termed it in our household when it’s even a minute before 6 am, my wife and I quickly scanned an email, received the night before, that our oldest child’s school would be closing immediately for 14 days. Details were limited, but apparently a faculty member had tested positive for COVID-19 and the lower school was thus closed. Of course, we knew in theory that things would be opening and closing frequently this fall, but in practice, it turns out that when the email actually comes in, there’s a lot more to do when you’re the one following the plan instead of writing it. A few lessons learned from my experience that I thought I’d pass along.

  1. Dominos fall fast: We have a tendency to think about management, direct reports and broader employees as part of a cascading communication plan before moving to second and third order constituencies (clients, business partners, other stakeholders, etc.) without necessarily thinking about their other roles. We sometimes forget an employee many times removed from management may also be an employer with her own obligations – shifting plans ripple to the babysitter, the person who keeps the apartment tidy and others who depend on your plan (like a friend’s younger sibling relying on a carpool).
  2. Keep track of your own health: By now, we’re getting used to taking temperatures and filling out daily forms before in-person activity, but with so many of us working from home, are we remembering to monitor our own health? It dawned on me quickly that I could tell anyone our kids’ temperatures, but hadn’t actually taken mine in months. Mental note: we also probably need more thermometers – will they become the next toothbrush? Everyone’s got one and will be using it twice daily.
  3. Be good to and learn from others: We called our other schools and employers – the news had ripped through the nursery and sister-school circuit and they were each dealing with their own challenges. The NYC Department of Education had gone from furiously preparing to open schools on Monday to announcing a further delayed in-person start before I’d even had my morning bagel. Our second child’s school seemed relieved when we offered to keep her home, even though it wasn’t required, only to call back a few hours later and welcome her attendance following a conversation with the CDC. And, of course, the school that sent the note canceling for 14 days was on their sixth communication update by mid-afternoon, seemingly mulling over investigation results and weighing the possibility of reducing the length of the closure. In short, everyone was dealing with a matter of first impression and doing the best they could. As we know, scenario plans can’t capture everything; the key is for them to be robust enough to pull from and flexible enough to be updated regularly – we should be advising clients to dust off their own, even more frequently than usual. Every time one school or firm experiences something that could have happened to any of its peers, it’s important for those peers to take stock, learn from the situation and update their own plans accordingly.
  4. Set people up for success: I could not place calls and write texts fast enough from the minute I opened my eyes that morning. To be fair, this is not a totally unfamiliar situation, and like all of my colleagues, I’ve come to expect my workday to change wildly. But, it’s when the parts of your life you expect to be constant waver, that things get disorienting. Other than dinner and a pressing call, I did not have a single plan that didn’t change at least once that day. Being able to take an “It’s OK Day” (Prosek’s version of a last-minute personal day) to sort everything out made all the difference in the world. The program predates COVID and while I hadn’t taken one before – and certainly won’t need one every time this happens – being able to focus and sort through everything for the first time without worrying about being offline for chunks of the day was, I think, exactly what this sort of employee benefit was set up for. Turns out it can also be pretty beneficial for a marriage too!  

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