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Putting people first post COVID-19

4 May 2021 at 7:47 am
Kate Larsen
The panic and pivots of COVID-19 have depleted our sector and left us all exhausted. As we start to return to our offices, Kate Larsen explains why it’s important not to go back to the way things were before.  

Kate Larsen | 4 May 2021 at 7:47 am


Putting people first post COVID-19
4 May 2021 at 7:47 am

The panic and pivots of COVID-19 have depleted our sector and left us all exhausted. As we start to return to our offices, Kate Larsen explains why it’s important not to go back to the way things were before.  

Managing team wellbeing can be a challenge at the best of times – and the best of times seem very far away.

As we settle into our newest new-normal, our teams are stressed and preoccupied. Many are still recovering from being distanced from the social, cultural and creative interactions important for their health and happiness. Many are still adjusting to what it means to re-engage with the world.

Those organisations most committed to team wellbeing tend to be the same that attract passionate people willing to go above and beyond for an organisation or a cause they believe in. This is often to the detriment of such people (and, for those of us in the not-for-profit sector in particular, often for disproportionately low reward).

Ours is a sector propped up on the good will and hard work of passionate, underpaid individuals. The metaphor of the graceful swan hiding it’s hard work beneath a smooth surface is better imagined as a steampunk mechanical beast that can crush those that work it in its gears. 

Like many under-resourced sectors staffed by those who believe in it most, our working practices often sacrifice our own, or our colleagues’, wellbeing for the sake of our clients or communities, or simply because “the show must go on”.

Within this context, being proactive about team wellbeing benefits everyone. Access and equity are fundamental to this wellbeing but are often considered as afterthoughts or “extenuating circumstances”, viewed as obligations rather than creative opportunities, or ignored altogether.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that inclusion has never been more critical. Making our work more accessible means more (and more diverse) people can take part in all areas and at all levels of our work.

However, full and equal inclusion doesn’t come from treating everybody equally. It comes from providing whatever is needed to make everyone equal. 

This includes: 

  • putting First Peoples first, by making sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are represented at all levels;
  • not making decisions or work about or for groups or communities without their genuine, ongoing involvement and leadership (“nothing about us, without us”);
  • making sure to budget for access and inclusion from the start of each year or project;
  • asking people what they need in order to participate or contribute (and giving it to them);
  • not just responding to requests as they come in, but committing to pro-active and ongoing outreach and relationship building work;
  • checking our representation (and our privilege). This may include asking board, staff and decision makers to self-identify demographic information in order to establish a baseline, prioritise engagement of target groups, and track our progress over time; and
  • going beyond the bare minimum and making all reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for anyone who has difficulties accessing our opportunities or services.

Taking this sort of person-centred or community-led approach will go a long way to ensuring we adequately represent and support the experiences and requirements of all of the communities we work with, and in helping us reach more people in more meaningful ways.

We have an opportunity to draw from the best of this recent experience, improve the parts that caused us problems in the past, and reimagine how we work onsite and online – in ways that are more flexible, accessible and better for everyone involved. 

Putting such measures in place can help reduce isolation, exhaustion and burnout, lead to more motivated, productive and enjoyable hybrid work environments, and help beat the mechanical beast. As loyalty goes up when absenteeism goes down, your bottom line may look healthier too.


This article was adapted from Our Hybrid Future, a free guide to working onsite and online for the arts and not-for-profit sector.

Kate Larsen  |  @ProBonoNews

Kate Larsen is a non-profit/cultural consultant, writer and fundraiser with more than 20 years’ experience in the non-profit, government and arts sectors in Australia, Asia and the UK.

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