Across Canada (specifically within BC), we’ve been watching the COVID-19 curve remain relatively flat for some time. We’ve acted quickly, taken solid measures and are collectively beginning to feel more positive and hopeful. This has led to much discussion and anticipation about getting back into the workplace. In doing so, there are many things that need to be considered, many of them tactical and safety related (steps we’ll explore in our next post). But equally, or perhaps more importantly, is the consideration of what it is that you’re exactly “getting back to”.

Without downplaying the devastation associated with COVID-19 in so many ways, many of us can’t deny the unexpected positive outcomes (e.g. impacts on nature, environment, relationships, global connection, workplace innovation, etc.). Globally, we took extraordinary measures in what is possibly one of the greatest humanitarian efforts of all time. In doing so, the intent was that the major steps we took would result in many lives saved and the immediate crisis-level impact on health care workers minimized in many regions. But in Canada, we may never know if those efforts worked, because having it work meant the worst case scenario didn’t happen. We may never know with absolute certainty. So, with that said, what if we all went back to the workplace and didn’t do anything differently, and looked back at the last 6+ weeks and wondered if it was all for nothing?

But, what if we didn’t? Many of us are seeing the world (our own personal worlds, our work worlds, and beyond) differently for perhaps the first time. We’re realizing that we don’t have to move so fast, travel so far, spend so much. And that we can – and want to – take the time to be with loved ones (or ourselves), spend more time outside, or connect more regularly with our colleagues.

So what have you learned?
With the above in mind, what have you done differently/learned as an organization? Perhaps you’re one of the many who’ve risen to the occasion and innovated in ways you’ve never considered before. Regardless of whether your organization has been able to make any creative changes, you may have learned things about your employees that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Perhaps you reorganized work in such a way that allowed an employee to shine in a role/task they don’t normally perform. Or a non-management employee rose to the occasion and showcased their leadership skills. Or someone whose hours were reduced realizes it’s what they’d like going forward – and it works for the organization overall.

Given the strong possibility that some things have worked really well, possibly better, how can you maintain what worked going forward, rather than simply going back to the way it’s always been done?

YOUR new normal  
There isn’t going to be a day when the skies open up, the sun shines down and we all sing “Hallelujah!”. June, July or August 1st, etc. isn’t going to mark the time of “ready, set, go” and we flood en-masse back to the workplace to do things the same way. “Going back” will be a process, and for many, there isn’t going to be a place to go back to – because that place doesn’t exist, figuratively or literally. Not only will it require a phased approach, but also transparent, often difficult conversations with your people. Whatever this pandemic has meant for you personally, there’s been a crisis. And for some, workplaces will be a reminder of what once was. There will be people who haven’t seen anyone but their families or even left their homes/yards for weeks, and/or are afraid to re-enter a public place. It will be traumatic for them, regardless of what you do to prepare them for it.

So what can you do to prepare?

Create a new vision, a new why
Taking the reflection back even further, we encourage you to take this time to re-evaluate what you do, who you are, and most importantly, why you do what you do (i.e. ultimately, what it’s all for, what you give to your clients). You, like employers across the world, have taken major steps to protect your employees, your clients, your members/citizens – and those they love and care about. As an organization, you have rallied together to work and collaborate in a different way. And while we’re sure this has been challenging, you’ve done it together and likely made it work. Why did you take those steps? Maybe it was purely because you had no choice (i.e. you were told to), but did it also come from a place of care, humanity, and support for the greater good? Now is the time to bring that why into the day-to-day. Why do you do what you do and is it still serving you to do it that way?

Ideally, this is a process you carry out with your entire team (if possible) to create a new vision going forward – one that supports a new normal and how your business will keep the best of what’s come out of this difficult time and do things differently and better. A new normal that shows that you and your team have learned new, innovative ways of working and serving your clients. How will you move into this global, collective new normal not just as survivors, but as leaders?

Revisit, redefine your culture
Arising from your vision/why is your internal culture and how you do what you do. Most of you have worked differently these past several weeks. How can you maintain some of that so it not only works for your business but also your people? This might include continued remote work (all or in part) and/or working different hours so they can continue to spend time with their families and doing what they love, and/or less travel.

Continue to be innovative – or start now
If so many businesses could be as creative as they were during a crisis, surely we can all focus even a fraction of our time on how we can be innovative, offer something new, do things differently. Engage your teams, keep it moving.

Engage in honest, open dialogue
Talk to your teams and individual employees, hear their fears and concerns, and work with them to come up with solutions that support them individually, and you as a business. This is one of the few moments in our history when we are quite literally all in this together. So be in it together.

In summary, we leave you with two final questions:

  • How can you not lose the best part of this – so it definitively wasn’t all for nothing?
  • If not now, when?