With the onset of COVID-19, work life has been stressful for all of us. When it became evident that the COVID-19 pandemic was not something that could be confined to Asia, businesses began adjusting how they operated starting with restricting travel and asking employees that did travelle to self-isolate after returning home. What quickly emerged was a requirement for businesses to prepare for and manage through a crisis that is unprecedented in our lifetime.

While we understand that COVID-19 is a fluid crisis and our collective response must be as well, it is helpful to look at responses to addressing COVID-19 in 3 stages:  Containment, Sustainment, and Post Lockdown.

This final of 3 postings focuses on Post Lockdown.

Returning to a “new & evolving” normal

It is becoming clearer that the return to “new normal” will not be the normal we that existed before the onset of COVID-19 but will be a phased in return to a fully open society, and likely with setbacks along the way. We need to anticipate that additional lockdowns may occur in the future.  As we pass from the sustainment phase into the “new & evolving” phase each organization will need to adapt in unique ways.  Each organization will have assessed if consumer demand has changed permanently during the crisis or if drops in demand were temporary and can be recaptured with new processes and sales channels. In applying the learnings of working remotely, organizations will need to balance the potential cost savings, productivity and safety with the recognition that people need to come together, that a critical aspect of work is the social element of coming together and operating with colleagues on in meetings and on teams. Return to work will have to account for social distancing as well as the need to divide teams and have members work in different locations to support business continuity. My son has had the opportunity to work on the highest performing sales team in a national company before and during the COVID-19 crisis. He can’t wait to get back to the office where this team works and plays hard and supports each other leading to their individual and collective success. Yes, we can do a lot of work remotely, but it will need to be balanced with the social stimulation and comradery that comes from working in a physical workspace which provides us the opportunities for social connections so critical to employee engagement

As we return to work, we should consider the following.

  1. What steps do we need to take to comply with Public Health directives and related best practices?

Until vaccines remove much of the risk inherent in this pandemic, every organization must be prepared for the re-emergence of COVID-19 cases in the workplace. To manage this risk, plan for physical segmentation of staff, remote work, and create contingency plans to react to additional outbreaks.

  1. How do we put into practice what we have learned over the last few months?

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, has stated that for many organizations 10 years of technological innovation has been brought forward over the last 2 months. How we sell, learn, deliver services online have changed how we do our work.

Formalize the plans you identified during the sustainment phase to build on your businesses.  For many businesses return to normal levels of business activity will be gradual, use the time productively to improve your business.

  1. How do we welcome back and reengage our people? How do we need to support our people?

Continuing to treat our employees in line with our values continues to be critical. Communicate openly regarding what employees can expect to happen on their return to work. Listen to your employees’ individual concerns and ideas and incorporate them into reopening the business. Make sure safety is a top priority – you don’t want to be rebuilding goodwill because of a rush to return to the workplace.

  1. What is our work going forward?

This will be defined by all the planning work that has gone on over the last few months.  For example, harvesting the opportunities provided from improvement projects and employee suggestions, streamlined operating practices of the last few weeks, and your plans to meet new customer demands will define what you work will be until we have all been vaccinated and can return to a “normal way of life”.

Responding to COVID-19 is a fluid crisis. As leaders we must react and adapt our business to the reality of the day. Through effective planning, employee engagement, experimentation and adaptation we can prepare for a return to normal in a way that keeps our organizations viable and positioned for growth.

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