Emma Sharma, Chief Administrative Officer, General Counsel at Valiant Integrated Services and 4word board member, opens up about how her team navigated pandemic interruptions to their normal workflow and what she hopes will continue to stick around post-pandemic.
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How did the pandemic affect the dynamic of your workplace relationships?
During the lockdown period, many team members were no longer together physically which required us to be more intentional about connecting, not only to discuss business issues but also to check in on each other and see how folks were doing. Interestingly, over a relatively short period, I observed a real camaraderie building as we found ways to creatively navigate this ‘new normal,’ and teammates and partners (sometimes for the first time) articulated real concern for each other. My experience was a greater warmth and empathy from everyone with whom I was interacting. It was actually really wonderful to see.
I also observed that some folks—those with more of a ‘command and control’ style—really struggled to adapt to working conditions being defined by health mandates and had an increased tendency to take their stress out on others. Abundant love, grace, patience, and wisdom was needed to handle those folks with kindness and understanding in addition to ensuring that their rising tempers did not hurt those who were simply trying to function in a very difficult situation.
Many of us lean on our team at work for various reasons. Have you had to find new support methods as a result of the pandemic workplace?
I’m not sure I would say we found new support methods; in reality, we used existing methods more creatively and intentionally. For example, we held more frequent team ‘meets’ and Happy Hours using Teams or Zoom technology. We pushed out more messaging about Wellness, Stress, and Mental Health and reminded our associates about the availability of our Employee Assistance Programs several times a month. I would send my teams encouraging messages as often as possible and remind them that they were doing a great job in challenging circumstances. We made it a point to laugh a lot and celebrate every single achievement.
Working at home also created opportunities to get out more often in the fresh air. Now that I didn’t have to commute to the office or to meetings, and with business travel suspended, it was possible to get outside and walk or run each day. Surrounded by nature, I’ve always felt closer to God and more able to take a deep breath. This practice helped me reset during that lockdown period and recover from years and years of ‘go, go, stress.’ I am actually so grateful for that period when it felt as if the world stopped for a while.
Did the national (if not global) workplace shift cause you to reevaluate any relationships?
Absolutely. How could it not? I know many of us really had time to reflect, amid so much sadness, loss and chaos, on the preciousness of life and the limited time we have on this earth to really make a positive impact.
For me, I came to a fresh understanding of my God-given purpose and realized that life was passing me by more quickly than I wanted. My family had too frequently taken second place to optional career commitments, I was not spending enough time nurturing special friendships, and I hadn’t laughed—really laughed—in years. Too much of my day was spent surrounded by unhealthy people or serving causes that drained life and energy. Most of all, I was not spending as much time with God as I needed to if I was to fulfill His purposes for my life. It really was a wake-up call for me. Just prior to the pandemic, I recall wishing that the world could stop for a while…I was so tired and had been burning out for a long time. I didn’t expect the answer to come in the way that it did, but it was so good.
Were there any best practices or resources you and your team have utilized to keep your working relationships healthy?
All relationships need strong, frequent, positive communication in order to thrive, especially workplace relationships. I have encouraged my team to maintain a discipline of spending time with colleagues (even brief moments) simply to connect and not necessarily discuss work-related matters. Personally, I’ve become intentionally more analytical regarding relationships that are not working, asking myself is there anything I can do to repair it. I’ve encouraged a practice of resolving conflicts more quickly or, where it is clear that a relationship will probably not improve, acting more swiftly to apply firm boundaries or make changes.
During the pandemic, we’ve also been practicing gratitude in all things. Every day, we ask ourselves: ‘What can we be thankful for today?’ When someone irritates or annoys us, rather than staying mad, reflect with gratitude on the good attributes of the person or relationship. Finally, I’ve been intentionally reflecting on what I need to change in order to become the person God made me to be. Sometimes, that is the hardest matter to address. Changing ourselves and not focusing on the faults in others!
What does the future look like for your workplace relationships?
Right now, I’m walking through a wonderful period of transition and have an incredible opportunity to create and model a Kingdom-focused workplace where healthy relationships are rooted in deep respect for one another (no matter how differently we may be wired) and building a high-value creating, collaborative and supportive culture. Scripture teaches us that the body of Christ is created to function in perfect harmony with each person being intentionally created for a different purpose. My observation is that, even with all the focus on inclusion and diversity in our workplaces, there is still an expectation that teams need to be aligned by being the same, thinking the same way and – often – mindlessly following the leader. This is never going to produce optimal results.
I believe that workplaces and businesses that embrace a Kingdom mindset in leadership and culture are about to come into their own – in terms of productivity and revival. People want to work in an environment where they are truly seen and appreciated for who they are and where what they do has a bigger purpose than simply profit (although profit is important!). I’m very excited to see this come to pass in my lifetime.
Emma Sharma serves as Chief Administrative Officer, General Counsel, and Company Secretary of Valiant Integrated Services, overseeing many of the organization’s vital administrative and legal functions and acting as a ‘de facto’ Chief of Staff to the CEO. Additionally, Emma’s passion for organizational design, psychology, and development led her to pioneer mentoring and leadership development initiatives for fellow executives and senior managers at Valiant Integrated Services. Emma has a growing reputation as a solid and passionate advocate on mental health issues that impact the workforce, especially at executive leadership levels.
Emma is very active in the community, both nationally and locally. Today, she serves as Executive Director for the Valiant Foundation, a non-profit created under her sponsorship to support veterans, provide disaster relief, and address education and poverty in developing nations. Recently, Emma was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Center for Government Contracting at George Mason University, serving as a thought leader on industry matters. Emma serves actively on the Board of 4word, a national, faith-based non-profit that supports women in the marketplace in growing with confidence to meet their full potential. She is also a local executive chapter leader for 4word. Previously Emma served as the President of the Board of Trustees of an influential non-profit in Northern Virginia for six years and worked for several years as an ambassador for two global non-profits providing micro-financing for women in developing nations and addressing human trafficking issues.
Outside of work, Emma is a devoted wife and mom to two young children and an active member of Holy Trinity Church, McLean. Her hobbies include a passion for travel, learning about great food and wine, music (she is a classically trained soprano), movies, and reading.