The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to examine our connections to family, friends and those we work with.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are more extroverted really suffered through the work-from-home phase of the pandemic,” said Krystal Shipps, a licensed counselor at Fisher Counseling Services in St. Joseph. “Even some of those who are more introverted found themselves missing being around co-workers on a daily basis.”

In addition to relationships with friends and family, the pandemic forced those in the workforce who enjoyed socializing with each other outside of work to take a new look at those connections as well. And for those starting new jobs during the pandemic, the first-day jitters have taken on a whole new meaning.

“I feel (that) the last year and a half has radically changed what we mean by being connected to one another,” Shipps said.

Currently, the vast majority of staff and faculty at Northwest Missouri State University are back to the office, which has helped reestablish connections, said Krista Barcus, assistant vice president of human resources at the school. Employees still are using Zoom sessions for larger meetings, but more and more small meetings are in person.

“We’re hearing, ‘It’s always so good to see people and it’s so good to meet face to face,’” Barcus said. “Having that in-person communication, I think, is just great.”

Whatever the case — if you’re back full time, working hybrid or if you never worked from home — if you’re struggling with your current work situation, be honest with yourself, Shipps said.

“It’s OK to admit you don’t like the way things are now or miss being around others,” she said. “It’s OK to feel a little bit of emotional whiplash from the last year and a half. It has been a rollercoaster for all of us and none of us had a ‘pandemic manual’ to go by.”

Seek help from a professional if you feel that your experience with depression, anxiety or loneliness is at the point where it’s diminishing your quality of life, Shipps added. If you’re concerned about being around others, online support groups and telehealth visits are available.

Barcus said that as COVID-19 cases decrease, in-person meetings will be the norm again at Northwest, but virtual meetings still will be used to some extent. Face-to-face interaction is a large part of what human resources is all about, but so is adaptability, Barcus said.

“From an HR perspective, it’s very difficult working from home,” she said. “Everyone has had to be really creative. You have to be creative in what you do to keep those relationships.

“Who would’ve thought our grandparents would use Zoom?”

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