We have a document at the Texas Civil Rights Project called “How We Want to Be.” It’s an aspirational description of our best selves at work. It’s a guiding light to our team in our continuing quest to build a culture that embodies the change we want to see in the world— a workplace that elevates human dignity, is fair and just in our processes, and facilitates the psychological well-being necessary for the creative, highly collaborative, excellent work product necessary to advance our mission.
I went back to it recently, as I wrestled with a big question. Texas was “re-opening.” What was TCRP going to do? How were we going to be?
With TCRP’s Leadership Team and our Operations staff, I identified some key factors.
One, since moving to remote working in early March, TCRP proved that we can operate at 100% of our capacity, virtually. We are advancing our mission and successfully serving as lawyers for the social justice movement.
Two, the number of new COVID cases in Texas continues to trend upwards and experts fear there may be multiple waves of the virus throughout the year, with another peak in the fall. The chances of an effective treatment or widely available vaccine by year’s end are slim.
Three, indoor spaces, like offices, facilitate the coronavirus’ spread. Plus, the offices that house the vast majority of our TCRP staff— in Austin, Houston, and Alamo— heavily depend upon the use of shared spaces, given their small physical size.
Finally, this is a terrifying time for most of us, with our personal lives completely upended and no certainty as to what lies ahead.
Against those factors, we held up our core values and our aspirations of how we want to be. We are deeply committed to ensuring the physical and psychological safety of our staff, clients, allies and of our larger community. We recognize the need for as much stability in the workplace as we can provide in this tumultuous time, to allow our team members the ability to make future plans for their work and in their personal lives. Given our commitment to an equitable workplace, we refuse to take steps that will create divisions or unequal opportunities among our staff.
Ultimately, our core values revealed just one answer: TCRP will keep our physical offices closed until the end of the year and all employees will continue to work remotely throughout 2020. Our strict ban on work travel and any in-person meetings will remain in place until at least Labor Day. We will listen carefully to public health officials and, if we can do so safely, may allow limited travel via personal vehicle or limited in-person meetings this fall.
Our work in this arena did not end with this big decision. In many ways, it’s just beginning. Now that we have a new normal, we must evaluate our existing personnel policies against best practices for remote working and tweak accordingly. We’ll need to get creative to figure out how we can foster trust and collaboration among our team without being together physically. We are committed to continuing TCRP’s important, ongoing conversation around equity and anti-racism, and figuring out how to have those sensitive discussions via Zoom. These efforts will be ongoing as we continue to experiment, learn and adjust.
It’s impossible to know what the rest of 2020 will bring, and we probably have a long, bumpy road ahead in Texas and across the country. But I know that our TCRP team— rooted in the pride we have in our work, in a deep commitment to equity, in creativity, in teamwork, and with the swagger that comes from being totally badass— is up for this challenge.
Mimi Marziani is the president at the Texas Civil Rights Project. @MimiMarziani