I’ve seen it as enthusiastically embraced in downturns to reduce payroll costs as in economic upturns when labor is scarce. I’ve observed colleagues returning from conferences, workshops and symposiums, full of enthusiasm, ready to change the world of business, only to be swallowed up by the status quo culture within days after their return and I’ve seen market disruption freeze many in the rhythm of their past practices. For years, I even felt that those who opted to work on a project at home so as not to be interrupted had less “currency” than those who accomplished their work at the office and remained accessible to all.
Hard stop! Folks who return to the workplace will not be swallowed by the culture that was, but define the culture that will be. Disruption will be the norm not the exception, and working ‘remote’ will become an acceptable work practice, not one to be questioned. All of us will spend more time on the phone and on the screen than in the air and business practices will again be redefined, this time as much by necessity as by invention. Those who regain prosperity will do so without constraints and those anchored in the past will falter. And yes, some will have been denied the chance to even try.
Said another way—are you prepared to repurpose yourself and your enterprise?
The challenges are many. To name but a few:
• Whether your enterprise was classified as ‘essential’ or not, are you willing to evaluate the organization under the same microscope as it returns to work?
• Inevitably, there will be self-inflicted casualties…those who simply can’t adjust to a post-’19’ world. Are you prepared for the hard decisions that will follow?
• Can you measure performance of those that continue to work from home and can you develop policies and programs which will make them still feel part of the mix?
• Will you be able to adjust your selling process, as customer lobbies are likely to have restricted access for some time to come?
• If your style of management is person to person, can you now be as effective while social distancing, sitting apart or standing in a doorway and asking others to do the same?
• Will you set the example of personal protective measures in the workplace and can you depend on your employees/team members to do the same?
• When you attend external meetings or travel, will you challenge those who endanger you or others by not practicing social distancing?
• Will you be able to stay the course while some around you regress?
It’s been generations since we as a nation had to endure hardship lasting years. We have become a culture of near term gratification—in our personal lives as much as in our quarterly reports. We worked hard to find our sweet spots and it’s in our nature to make it a priority to return to them…sooner than later. Covid-19 is about to test our limits.
From a distance we’ve seen the frustration on the streets and now we’ll experience it firsthand. In restoring our enterprises to fiscal health the hardest job we may have as leaders could well be that of managing others’ inability or refusal to embrace a new and ever changing ‘normal’ in their quest to recapture what was.
Lessons to be learned!