To say the pandemic has changed the American workplace would be an understatement. Each day, it re-shapes the way we operate, communicate, collaborate and more. Meanwhile, other factors – the increased focus on racial justice, economic uncertainty, political instability, as well as the normal workplace evolutions – demand attention as well. As a result, business leaders can do one of two things: duck for cover and wait for it all to pass, or respond in some constructive way.
My advice? Respond and learn.
Of course, businesses face constant change. That’s why navigating change is such a key aspect of leadership. Most often, it seems we can anticipate one of two types of change: slow and lasting or quick and short-lived. A leader must adapt in a hurry to a sudden economic downturn, for example, but can feel confident that the storm will pass soon. At the same time, he or she might have to make long-term accommodations for ongoing evolutions in technology.
What we’re seeing today is different. This is quick and long-term change. As such, it requires a different response … an embracing of what we at FirstPerson have come to call “a new way of working.”
Some of the changes I’m talking about are obvious: remote work, social distancing, video meetings and more. Wise leaders already are considering what aspects of these innovations should remain after the crisis passes.
For example, some firms are considering long-term commitments to remote working, having seen that many workers actually have increased productivity while working from home. At the same time, most of us have recognized that, in the right situations, virtual meetings are more productive than in-person meetings, plus they save everyone time and money. And infection-control measures we’ve deployed to deal with the coronavirus could help to keep workforces healthier during future cold and flu seasons.
From this period of evolution, we see a number of changes that will endure and benefit businesses in the long run. These include:
- Increased and better use of technology and collaboration tools such as Slack and Zoom.
- New ways to assess productivity, including ways that do not rely on employees’ being tied to their desks.
- A wider embrace of “enforced PTO,” in which employees are required to take off a certain number of days each year.
- A refreshed approach to paid time off, flex time and similar employee benefits.
- A greater sensitivity to the demands of parenting, especially in light of the requirements for e-learning and virtual school.
- A fresh look at employee health benefits and how well they serve employees in times of widespread illness.
- A greater reliance on telehealth and other technology-based healthcare solutions.
- Improved sensitivity to and benefits for mental health.
- A better awareness of and concern for the health of communities, including the community of workers.
Even as I advocate for such lasting changes, I recognize that they come with challenges of their own. Early on, we began experiencing “Zoom fatigue” as a result of having so many virtual meetings, for example, and we’re going to have to convince some employees that their job security doesn’t rely on being seen at their desks.
But I am confident that this new way of working will include these and other lasting changes. The key to success? Leadership that is willing to learn from the experiences of these times, embrace the resulting innovations, encourage risk in the process of adaptation, and model a passion for growth.
The good news is that if we are willing to learn from this era, we not only will successfully emerge from these challenging times, but we will be better leaders of better organizations in a better marketplace. And that is change worth working for.