There is an abundance of information and opinions on the current challenges we are experiencing in the face of this terrible pandemic, and I can not pretend to have anything profound to add to it all. While I have been spending much of my time helping business leaders navigate through the vast amount of evolving information to help make informed decisions, I’ve also tried to invest much of my thoughtful energy into what comes next. Great leaders are not only immersed in getting their teams through this difficult time, but they also should be considering how this crisis will alter the mindset of all of us and what will need to change going forward.
- Workplace gatherings will look different. Town halls, team meetings, even retreats have now been proven to be effective virtually rather than only in person. I wouldn’t suggest we must adopt this all the time, however, where geography, cost or other barriers may exist, training, decision making and leadership can happen virtually. We have just proven that to ourselves. For years we’ve been discussing that the future of the workplace relies on technology and we need to start investing and evolving in that direction – but most employers either disagreed, ignored or couldn’t afford the investment. Well, workplaces have been pressure tested and have accelerated their investment in cost and in time to make it work. And what about those large conferences or business trips? With all organizations cancelling large gatherings during these times, many will take the view that such events are no longer worth the cost or the risk. Combine this with the apparent climate impact that reduced travel seems to be having on pollution, it may be very difficult to justify such large events or business travel in the future. Finally, I’m sure CEO’s are considering the amount of real estate they pay for and whether going forward they need as large a physical footprint as before. These decisions, however, must be considered relative to the impact on culture and engagement to ensure both are optimized (see below).
- Consumer behaviors have been significantly disrupted and our interaction with customers is bound to be affected going forward. Demands ranging from virtual customer meetings to online ordering have soared and the net result will no doubt be new platforms emerging to help businesses continue to operate with less (or no) physical space. This will cause leaders to reassess their organizational structure and where to best use the resources they have.
- Companies will be much more open to expanding the workplace and allow more work from home, remote working relationships, job sharing, part time, etc. We now know it works. Trust and productivity were always presented as potential barriers, but this pandemic has helped many leaders overcome these concerns. This will open the door to a new candidate pool that may not have been considered previously and will certainly improve the diversity in the workplace. The demand for flexible work arrangements has been growing for decades and we’ve finally been able respond to that demand. I only see an increase in that demand going forward and workplaces will now be hard pressed not to respond accordingly.
- Policies and programs will need to be changed. If you don’t have or didn’t create guidelines through this pandemic, you will want to ensure going forward you have solid policies in place to address IT operations (e.g. passwords, email, security, server access), work from home programs, use of company resources, etc. If your company didn’t already have one, you found out quickly how important a business continuity plan is. You will need to review what was put in place and/or formalize your plan in the event a crisis should happen again.
- Quality of managers and leaders will increase. Many people rose to the occasion during these times by exhibiting strength, compassion and empathy that you didn’t notice or see before. Leaders were forced into more thoughtful decision making, looking at both the short- and longer-term vision. The same could likely be said for your IT teams given the immense strain and pressure put on them to keep the workplace operating virtually. Now, more than ever, the IT profession will be in high demand and the great ones should be embraced by their organizations. Great leaders were paying attention to the behaviors and actions of all their employees, seeing some unexpected leaders shine and some less engaged or less productive employees highlighted. Both will need attention when we resume our new normal.
- Work relationships will improve. Having come through a crisis together, strong bonds are created that may not have existed before. Those that worked together as a team will come out the other side stronger. There will be a renewed energy to see colleagues and once the comfort of standing around the water cooler returns, that connection will be even more important. Leaders will need to balance the desire to optimize the virtual opportunities that have emerged with the need to help nurture those newly developed relationships.
- Strong focus on culture and engagement will be critically important. Now more than ever a deliberate intent to focus on culture will be required to either revitalize a great one your organization had prior to this, or a recognition that your culture must change. Business leaders and their HR partners will need a strategic culture and engagement plan to adapt to the new workplace. One of my earlier articles spoke about how communication is the primary driver of improved engagement in the workplace. Over the past few months, the best leaders have had to step up their communication regime and find ways to connect on a regular basis with their employees. This will need to remain a key focus for leaders regardless of what the workplace looks like in the future (onsite vs remote). Similar to how we have come to expect to hear from our Prime Minister speak every day at 11:15 am EST, employees have come to appreciate hearing from their leaders and won’t want this to stop. We only hope the content will soon change.
- More employee-focused workplaces will emerge. The virus has forced all employers to review and likely revamp their employee well-being infrastructure. The physical space, the health and wellness benefits offered, including emotional/mental support, how to connect with employees, have all been tested. Many companies have expanded mental health offerings, such as meditation, counseling, and virtual coffee breaks. The need to support mental health concerns including depression and anxiety were exacerbated while employees were isolated and working alone and companies have sought resources to support them. We may see benefit offerings change or expand, such as offering sick leave coverage. A renewed focus on employee well-being has emerged and will need to be sustained.
These changes will be an evolution (vs the current revolution) as we continue to face physical restrictions, and fear will likely force us to take small steps to recover. How people look at using public transportation or going to public places is now different. How organizations source suppliers, customers and even candidates will change to source more local relationships. Cash flow will be reduced and as a result organization will be slower or more fearful to take risks and will take time to gain confidence. Confidence in travel will be affected by fear as well as cost, as we can expect the cost of travel to increase due to the impact this has had on the that industry. Many factors will affect how we move into the new normal but rest assured we are moving there and we need to be prepared.
The most successful organizations in the past had strong cultures, were agile and innovative. They have all been greatly tested these past few months. The best of these organizations now must gain the courage to break some glass to shift from their old paradigms to a new beginning. As Winston Churchill once said “never let a good crisis go to waste”. The great leaders are thinking about that right now, not waiting for the pandemic to ease.
We’re all in this together. Please stay safe and healthy.