There’s no crystal ball to determine what life will be like after COVID-19 sweeps through the U.S. and every corner of the globe. Yet for many of us, 2020 will forever be known as the year our lives were upended and suspended by social distancing. As a small business owner that is fortunate enough to operate despite this hardship, I’ve become keenly aware of just how destabilizing this experience has been for family members, employees, and clients. Over the past several weeks I’ve traversed through a full range of emotions – uncertainty, fear, worry, acceptance, hope – and emerged with one epiphany: we will not go back to the way things were. Instead, this unprecedented reset will catapult us forward as employers and employees with a reframed view of how we work, live, and engage with society.
1. Where we work matters, but who we work with matters more.
It’s a good sign if you miss your colleagues and crave in-person connection. It’s an even better sign if you’ve been able to maintain those connections while working remotely. The most thoughtful companies lead from a place of empathy – recognizing the profound impact this shelter-in-place mandate is having on staff as people first and employees second. That means relaxing policies and expectations to help team members manage their workloads through days thrown into chaos by kids, spouses, and roommates at home, and adopting new ways to foster distance collaboration. Culture building must happen virtually to help employees feel informed, connected, and nurtured.
I encourage leaders and employees to reflect on how you mutually feel about remote working and virtual collaboration as it has unfolded in your workplace. Do you feel supported by your colleagues and leaders during this uncertain time? If not, ask yourself how you might advocate for what’s missing.
2. Our appetites are shifting for what content we consume, and therefore what content we create.
2020 was the year I committed to breaking up with cable news. Thanks to depressing 24/7 coverage of COVID-19, it has mostly happened. We are all being more selective in what we read and watch, because there’s only so many hours a day we can tolerate staring at a screen. Between using Zoom video calls as standard practice throughout the workday and an increase in Netflix as entertainment in our free time, our appetite for surfing LinkedIn and reading corporate and industry think pieces is waning.
Our worlds have been rocked, creating a natural opportunity for each of us to go inward and contemplate how this sudden change may forever impact our lives. So, if you are a business with something to say via your blog or social platforms, make sure you meet the moment. We will gravitate towards shorter written pieces, podcasts, webinars, or facilitated online sessions that help us find the meaning behind why we work, how we work, and what we work on that matters to us and society at large. Consuming thoughtful content will help us all.
3. Our coping mechanisms may become new habits, so choose them wisely.
According to experts, it takes 21 days to create a new habit. And as we hit the five-week mark of shelter-in-place in the Bay Area, I for one realized I was coping with a morning walk and evening glass of wine. After concluding that my liver and waistline only like one of these choices I’m rethinking my strategies and replacing vino with an online yoga class or workout.
We all have the opportunity to use our newfound unscripted time to make better choices. It’s a great excuse to pick up a hobby or activity that feeds our soul or sparks intellectual curiosity. And it’s a rich opportunity for businesses to offer resources that help employees cope, learn, and grow in new ways.
As a business leader, I’ve commissioned meditation/breathing sessions for my team where we all can be guided through a journey inward to relax and reconnect with ourselves. Be thoughtful about what might help you or your team and set an intention. With at least three more weeks of shelter-in-place, we can turn new practices into healthy habits.
4. We will work smarter in ways that work for us.
With school closures and homeschooling now part of the daily parenting charter, the era of 9-5 “office” hours may be over forever. Working parents may rethink whether the traditional 40-hour work week with a commute makes sense for them longer term. Finding creative ways to manage childcare and household responsibilities will force us to adopt efficient ways of performing, and adept leaders will support employees’ efforts to find more individualized ways to get their jobs done. Several of my team members have time-shifted their schedules, adopting pre-dawn hours that have unleashed next-level creativity in the 4-7am timeframe. And my colleague and I have turned our daily 9am planning call into a vigorous 7:30am walking call.
Consider what creative strategies might make remote working easier for you and your business. Give them a try, and if they boost productivity and happiness, consider how you might carry them forward when the shelter-in-place mandate is lifted.
5. With long-term changes to our daily routines inevitable, we will rethink how we engage with society and our environment.
While we wait for COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and therapies at scale to ease restrictions on how we operate, we must reflect on the evidence before us – in the midst of a pandemic that shut down cars, planes, and factories across the globe – our planet is healthier. And with the inextricable link between our environment and health putting six feet of distance between us all, perhaps, so are we.
These realizations, coupled with estimates that social distancing could be in place through 2022, force us to brace ourselves for a fundamental redesign of work, consumer, and recreational experiences. We may no longer be allowed to collaborate in open offices, attend conferences, eat in crowded restaurants, shop in busy markets, or congregate at beaches, parks, and sporting events for months or years to come. Schools may resume with staggered times, smaller class cohorts, and distance learning capabilities (much to the chagrin of parents and employers everywhere).
We don’t yet know the breadth and magnitude of changes that will take place as we reopen our communities, but we do know that businesses – powered by the ingenuity of our people – are vital to lead the way. We must look beyond “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” systems and processes and think outside the box to invent new approaches to working, socializing, and living that synergize with the changes around us.
The new normal starts now
As employers and employees alike, we must take the time to notice how we feel about the changes we’ve been forced to make in this global crisis. Tune in to recognize any silver linings. These moments of truth can move us from adaptation to innovation. That’s good for business and even better for our lives, turning this “Great Reset” into an even greater “New Normal”.