Guest Columnist: Paul Schiavone | Present and Compassionate in a Virtual Way - Penn-Mar

Guest Columnist: Paul Schiavone | Present and Compassionate in a Virtual Way

Posted on May 20, 2020

By Paul Schiavone, Chief Human Resources Officer

Paul Schiavone HeadshotWho knew you could visit The North Pole, Paris and Disney World during a pandemic?

Virtual travel via Google Earth and Zoom is one of many ways Penn-Mar is now relying on technology to help team members and the people we support feel connected and “seen,” while staying safe.

For all of us, this virus changed our world overnight and we are challenged daily to change with it.

Ironically, Friday the 13th, back in March, was the day that we as an organization had to figure out (quickly) how to be present and compassionate in a virtual way, with an increased focus on health and safety.

Since then we have made it a priority to find innovative ways to give people a safe space to connect and feel less isolated.

We have pivoted our attention and resources to design and lead virtual group interactions to unlock collective strength, creativity and resilience. Dance parties, coffee hours, chatter clubs and group lunch breaks are helping groups create a powerful connection, spark innovative resourcefulness, and build capacity to thrive virtually.

In addition, our Learning & Development team have done an amazing job converting us to a virtual training environment, facilitating online Coach Approach training using virtual breakout rooms, and Side-by-Side training on a variety of topics with the people we support.

The feedback from all of these efforts has been incredibly positive and gratifying:

“I really liked the virtual breakout rooms; they were just like normal small groups. It was so nice to hear from everyone and to get some tips and validate that we are all feeling the same things right now!”

“I am better able to face this challenge with strength and positivity – helping others to feel secure and safe.”

“I have learned that I am able to adjust and shift and do what is needed right now”.

Almost 60 group homes were invited to participate in a virtual Zoom Coffee Hour. Initially only a handful of team members logged on. But then attendance began to swell as people realized the value of connecting with their peers and friends to validate their struggles, share ideas and lift their spirits.

The Operations and Development departments have also stepped into the role of Resilient Leaders. They are working tirelessly to support those on our front lines, securing donations for emergency financial relief for DSPs and much needed supplies for the homes. They are also delivering catered dinners to a grateful workforce, organizing fun challenges like door decorating and baking contests, and sending lots of fun, free and creative resources like recipes, easy to make crafts, and free classes.

And just for fun, they have organized the wildly popular #TikTokThrowDown dance parties that keep people active and connected while challenging other IDD organizations.

Being compassionate and empathetic to people’s anxieties and fears is increasingly becoming a bigger part of our team members’ role.

With the focus on health and safety, we are continually researching and communicating best practices around safe working conditions.

We are committed to being present and available for all of our team members, those working and those out on furlough, answering their phone calls and responding quickly to their emails, helping them solve their problems while acknowledging their feelings of anxiety, stress and isolation.

At the end of the day, I truly believe there is a silver lining to all of this.

We are learning how to work, live and care for each other differently while remaining positive and healthy.  One small example is the many virtual cooking demonstrations we are conducting which have allowed us to connect together and introduce flavorful and healthy cooking and eating to our team members and persons we support.

And Gina’s team in Learning & Development has raised the bar to new heights in the virtual learning arena which will have lasting benefits long after this pandemic is over.

Optimistic and resilient people have a way of pivoting to deliver good, positive outcomes under the most challenging of circumstances.

That attitude, and those efforts, are what will continue to make Penn-Mar Strong.

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