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In the aftermath, going on with work

Corporate Class: 'Reassess what's important'

Corporate Class: 'Reassess what's important'

By Ann Humphries
With Porter Anderson
CNN Career

(CNN) -- After Tuesday's attacks, careerists find themselves in a changed workplace.

Some 425 businesses were represented by offices in the World Trade Center in Manhattan, alone. And no company's staffers have reentered their own facilities Wednesday without thoughts of safety, feelings of shock, questions of how to proceed with business that's no longer usual.

One office worker tells CNN, "we watched the news and worked very little" on Tuesday. That's understandable but it means that many companies and their clients now are having to run fast to make up time and effort lost at the peak of the crisis -- even as news of mounting losses rolls in.

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In many cases, company members are stranded at closed airports. Business trips, meetings and plans are scuttled for the moment. Deals are delayed, agreements left hanging.

CNN: We asked ETICON president Ann Humphries how, as people of the work arena, we can best react to the unspeakable.

Ann Humphries: When it happened Tuesday, I was on a walk. I've been listening to Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermons on these walks of mine lately. And the one I was hearing Tuesday morning at 8:45 was about not returning violence with violence, loving your neighbor.

All of a sudden, all these snippy little in-fights we all have in our offices pale by comparison to this. That irritating co-worker becomes a comrade. It makes you reassess what's important.

And yet, we still have business to conduct, out of responsibility for the people we're working with, trying to be as accommodating as possible. You need great flexibility anywhere you can build it in.

We can talk and talk about what's happened, of course. And many companies have grief counselors on-site. But a point comes at which we need to compartmentalize it so we don't talk about it all day long.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges has named Ann Humphries,   founder and president of ETICON Inc., one of seven South Carolina Women of Achievement. Humphries, who's based in Columbia, is a Certified Professional Consultant to Management. Her clients have included several Fortune 500 companies. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Money, and on CNN, CBS and Lifetime TV.

The time is coming now when we're going to start knowing names. Six degrees of separation -- we'll all know people who know people who were there and escaped, or didn't.

We have to consider how to show support without it being an imposition. You're dealing with your own grief or shock while comforting the bereaved -- it may be good to analyze carefully whether you're showing support for your own benefit or theirs.

If it's really for their benefit, consider using e-mail or a card, voice mail or a note, rather than a phone call. The recipient can schedule his or her own receipt of a card or e-mail -- a phone call has to be taken right away. You'll be more thoughtful about this kind of thing if you make sure your focus is on the bereaved, not on your own feelings.

If someone has been affected directly -- particularly in the loss of a family member -- a call may indeed be correct. Just think about it first, asking yourself whether you're really offering support and if you can do it without being in the way.

Here in our offices, we found we were snappish last night. Some material we were having printed for a business trip was running late. A lot of tension. What we're finding is that it takes extra time and patience right now to get some routine things done. One of our co-workers has a husband who's a pilot and a National Guard member, so she was delayed with things -- it took all of us being as cool as possible to handle things.

And when it's like this, a lot of bombastic "blast them off the face of the Earth" retaliatory talk isn't helpful, either, in the workplace. A quiet concentration on the work at hand and trying to get it done can channel those energies better than throwing our chests around. If anything, we might need to think about what engenders this sort of attack on Americans -- and even that, while going on with the business at hand.

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What's happened can't be allowed to become an excuse for not doing our work. Our focus is under pressure, certainly, it's all many of us can do to keep our attention on our work, but that's the job right now.

Be on the lookout for any efforts to capitalize on the tragedy. If your company is talking about raising any prices -- or if you see hotel, food, gas prices going up around where you work -- challenge it.

Your company's folks may find they need to feel they can do something about what's occurred. And blood-donation lines may be very long -- they were Tuesday night when we checked.

Consider this: If you work near or have dealings with a company that had one of its major offices in the World Trade Center -- or a company that's for another reason unable to work at full-strength because of the situation -- you might offer some of your personnel to handle phone calls for that stricken company. If there's a service your corporation can perform for a hard-hit business you do business with normally, see if you can take on that service for the company in question.

In the volunteer arena, you and your cohorts may want to organize or join a fund-raising effort for a disaster-relief organization like the Red Cross. Some members of your staff may be interested in organizing a prayer meeting -- consider whether your company's policy supports this for staffers who'd like to participate, without casting any aspersions on workers who prefer not to join in.

Start meetings with a moment of silence -- a recognition that the largest target of these attacks was a center of business, commerce, careers. There may be a lot of moments of silence this week, but the event warrants them. Pause to acknowledge what's happened.

Make your discussions as focused and streamlined as possible. Make meetings shorter, but maintain them -- keep the schedule in place as much as possible. Routine can be a great comfort and a way to feel grounded when so much news seems surreal.

Here's a tangible thing we all can and should do for our own -- and our colleagues' -- peace of mind: Walk your exits. Double-check all fire exits to be sure they aren't locked or blocked. See if you could navigate the route under stressful conditions.

Let us know about issues you'd like us to consider addressing in's Corporate Class. Kindly click here for a pop-up submission form. And join the many readers who have prompted some of the columns you read here weekly.

I'd be glad to hear what staffers in other companies are doing. The "extra information" box in this story, and Related Site below, can help you reach me with your comments by e-mail.

And, as my brother was saying when we talked last night, see if what's happened doesn't make you feel you'd like to know the people around you at work a little better. Look for the good, rather than the combative. Think about how we tend to marginalize some people -- and how we're maybe less vigilant about unknown people in our workspace than we should be.

It's a time for deep breaths, calm effort, smooth, considerate and thoughtful attention to work -- and to those who do it with us.



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