There is little that is certain these days. When the economy will reopen, when schools will resume, when we can stand close enough to a colleague for quiet conversation … it is all an unknown. What we do know, however, is that the future will be fundamentally changed by our shared experience of COVID-19.
Leaders are in the midst of a tricky transition for themselves and for their teams. For at least a month, they have been helping their organizations cope with shock. They have been challenged to communicate clearly and honestly, to help employees balance anxiety and productivity, to offer reassurance, and to be authentic about their own challenges. Many of us have focused on “getting through” this complicated time. We’ve been bracing for the shock with the expectation that if we can weather the crisis, all will be well.
Now, however, we’re realizing that there’s no turning back. Our workplaces won’t return to “normal”; rather, they will emerge to a “new normal.” We won’t be finished with social distancing; instead, we will need to be wary and careful of social contact for an extended period of time. We will bring our new skills and ways of working back to our more traditional offices and jobs, and we need to embrace the possibilities that creates.
Given the certainty that the restart world will be different, what can leaders do today to begin to embrace a new world of work? Here are four tips:
1. Pay Attention to What You Are Learning Today
What is working for your team, your customers and your suppliers when it comes to the dramatic changes over the last month? Are there new processes worth refining? Are there new working relationships that are yielding creative solutions? Is your team productive in ways you didn’t expect? Don’t miss the successes in your rush to address what is frustrating and difficult about extended remote work.
2. Avoid Nostalgia, and Encourage Possibility
“It would be great if we could just do X again” is a phrase we’re all saying in a variety of ways. When you hear it, take a moment to explore what was valuable about “X” — whether it was a meeting, a gathering, a process — and encourage the team to think about how to reinvent it — to create that value in a new way.
3. Experiment Now to Be Ready Later
Not every new way of working or connecting with customers will be effective. This surreal moment of economic disruption is a great time to experiment. Prototype new offerings, try new behaviors, encourage new processes and view each as an experiment. Pay attention to what you learn and what you can do better as you refine your new ideas to be ready to scale in the future.
4. Lean Into What’s Not Working
There’s a temptation to tolerate ineffective meetings or broken processes at the moment, if you believe that this disruption is temporary. Addressing these frustrations and misses is a powerful way to signal to yourself and your team that we’re in a transition, not an interruption. If something isn’t working, call it out, and fix it. You’ll reap the benefits now and in the future.
“Go from brace to embrace” is easy to say but challenging to do. Embracing a new future means we need to shift our own mental models in order to shift the thinking of our teams. It may be challenging, but it can also be exciting and offer positive energy during this complicated, uncertain time.