The recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine has brought hope to many that it’s the beginning of the end of the coronavirus crisis. Back in March, we had no knowledge of whether the pandemic would last a few weeks, a few months, or…well, I don’t think many of us outside the field of virology thought it would continue into 2021 and possibly beyond.
The disruption the virus caused has never been seen before. In March, businesses were forced to adapt, with some altering their whole business model. Others that were less resilient, even household brands in some cases, fell by the wayside completely.
It’s tempting to want to go back to how things were as soon as possible, in our personal lives at least. In the workplace, however, if businesses wish to stay competitive and profitable, it’s not such a good idea to hanker after the old times. Now is the time to focus on creating a better workplace.
Why return to what was broken?
Many of the old processes didn’t work. Too many employers were rooted in their ways when it came to embracing new technology. A significant proportion of companies weren’t open to new ideas and lacked agility. Others took the stick (rather than the carrot) approach to their workforce and placed little value on their people.
These businesses have all had a rude awakening, courtesy of Covid-19.
Grab the opportunity
The pandemic has given forward-thinking businesses an opportunity to create a better workplace. What was always done before is no longer appropriate, practical or warranted. The opportunity to create a company, a culture and a workforce fit for 2021 and beyond is there for the taking. If you want to stick your head in the sand and not move with the times, like Sir Philip Green, that’s your prerogative, but don’t expect to achieve much growth. Goals are worthless if they’re at the expense of your people.
Research shows that employers want to keep their employees happy. They want to hold on to the kindness the pandemic brought out in people, the magic that comes from everyone pulling together.
It’s a time to create a new vision, to ascertain the true priorities of the company, ones that really matter.
Humans are the future
We spend a lot of our time at work—more, sometimes, than the quality time we have with our families. Our careers aren’t what they were fifty years ago—we want our contribution to mean something, to justify giving the time we could otherwise spend with our families/passions/ourselves to our employers in this world of endless opportunities.
This is where the bottom line comes in: if an employee feels that their work isn’t valued or they don’t feel they’ve played a meaningful part in the company’s overall goals, their productivity will suffer. They won’t care about the outcome. They won’t commit to a certain quality of work, they’ll contribute only the bare minimum. They won’t put forward ideas, and they’ll be first out of the door when their day finishes.
Maybe you believe that an automated workforce is the answer. Well, yes, it is, for routine jobs. But not jobs that require any level of thought. Studies show that AI actually creates more non-routine and creative roles—we will always need critical thinking, innovation and ideas in the workplace.
So, rather than making your organisation more automated, aim to make it more human, i.e. show your vulnerability, be empathetic, compassionate and be more resilient, more sustainable, more productive. Enable and value your people and create a better workplace.
Lead your team into 2021 and beyond
We’re experiencing situations that are unprecedented. Unfortunately, this isn’t what our brains enjoy. Our neurological pathways rely on predictions, patterns, the familiar. We don’t cope well with uncertainty for too long. It’s highly likely that we’re still in a state of shock, with regards to the changes the pandemic has brought. From this state, we will move into pain and begin grieving for the familiar i.e. the way life used to be, and, at this point, we naturally seek support and comfort from others…but that’s not an option with the coronavirus. Scientists have discovered that a lack of physical interaction when we’re feeling like this could cause neurological reactions in the brain akin to hunger.
We need calm from our leaders to dull our pain, just as we’d take paracetamol to dull the pain of a physical injury.
Then, we need reassurance. Feedback that we’re on the right track. Helpful guidance that lets us know if we’re having any meaningful impact.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to give feedback in a Zoom call; it’s not the same as just popping your head round someone’s office door or tagging the topic onto the end of a meeting/conversation. Such discussions have to be scheduled at the moment, which can make them even more awkward; however, given how isolated people are when working from home, feedback is more necessary than ever.
Giving feedback is a skill that leaders should look to improve. The barrier of technology is only half the story—companies weren’t very good at giving feedback before the pandemic.
Two ears and one mouth
People are likely to have extreme emotions and concerns currently. Listening is a skill that needs to come into its own in forward-thinking companies, and as an aspect of good leadership. Listen before feeding back, and listen well.
Understand any challenges and limitations your team/individuals may have show empathy for what they are experiencing and offer your support and help, before addressing areas that could be improved. Look at things from their point of view. Get into the practice of inviting feedback from your team about the support you give—honest feedback; don’t perpetuate a culture of fear where no one dare speak out about their superior(s). In this scenario, all that happens is the company loses good people hand over fist without ever understanding what could be done to stop it.
See the act of asking for and giving feedback as the opportunity for both parties to grow. It shouldn’t be an attack—on either side.
This really is the time to throw the rule book out of the window and take a good look at the direction your company and/or leadership is heading. To assess how you treat your people through this crisis and beyond. To design the perfect internal culture and create a better workplace fit for 2021 and beyond.
To show your rivals how it should be done.