The Next Normal is Coming – Are You Ready?

Over the last week you can feel the winds of uncertainty fueling thinking about the changes that State and Federal governments, businesses, and all of us will make in preparation for the  “next normal”. 

As part of my own preparation for this new state, I interviewed 20 of our clients to find out what they have experienced, the actions they have taken, understand their thoughts for what’s next. I listened intently to a wide range of stories and ideas, thoughts and fears, as well as hopes and dreams. What I heard was insightful and inspiring. 

From Fortune 500 to Main Street, product manufacturers to service organizations, takeaways focus on four areas: communication, staying connected, working remotely and the business of doing business. All are working toward their best path forward while considering changing conditions. 

We’re all preparing for the next normal, here are some insights and ideas to add to your tool kit or reinforce what you might already be doing or thinking.

Communication – Communication has always been vital in business but is more important than ever now. I have heard about the details of how people are — or are not communicating. 

  • Tone. Listening to the sound of your colleague’s voice. “So much comes through their tone. People need to feel heard, listen with both ears. Email gets the job done but people don’t feel heard.” 
  • Visual communication. What doesn’t come through in tone comes through in body language. Six weeks ago many had never used a group communication platform such as Zoom, Teams or Skype. Now these are ta go-to (vs a conference call). “Even when we return to the office, ensuring everyone is at the table visually for a meeting will be a must have. It definitely increases participation and engagement.”
  • Communication patterns. Predictability and frequency lowers anxiety and instill confidence. “We have become more particular about developing and keeping meeting schedules. Messages cascade better and faster through the organization. Whether company-wide or departments, we are doing a better job and it shows.” 
  • Communication style. “As a leader I have never actually asked someone how they may want to be communicated with. I have now and it makes a difference. Who knew such a little thing would matter that much.” 

Staying Connected – It’s natural to assume that visual conferencing would be enough to help people feel connected. I heard over and over that water cooler chit-chat, the hallway conversations, and stopping by a colleague’s desk for a tete-a-tete are sorely missed. Some have “solved” for this, here are a few ideas that can help you compensate.

  • 1:1 communication. From managers to their direct reports, from colleague to colleague, from leader to front line, everyone needs to play a role in this effort. Whether using a visual platform or the phone get person. ”How’s your family?” “How are your children doing with distance learning?” “I know your mom lives in a senior center, how’s she doing?” Inquiries that demonstrate empathy and compassion go a long way to fortifying connection.
  • Frequency and consistency with daily check-ins. One client initiated twice-daily check-ins. Each 9am  group check-in begins with “how are you” or “how are you feeling”. Then getting down to business. The 3pm  check-in is a discussion about roadblocks, understanding why something isn’t getting done, and developing a work around.
  • A visual communication break room. Another client established a visual communication break room open 8-5 Monday through Friday. Pick a platform, “You’d be amazed how many people stop by and end up in a casual conversation.”
  • Virtual happy hours or lunches. “When done by department or by natural work friendship groups it is authentic, causal, comfortable and builds camaraderie.” 

Working Remotely – Many expressed their organization has had ongoing conversations about developing work-from-home opportunities. More employees are expressing an interest in having greater autonomy. “This moment has forced our hand and people are working remotely and guess what…it’s working!” They believe the new, more flexible work-from-home (WFH) schedule enhances employee engagement.

  • “We’ve seen greater efficiencies.” Based on this experience many are developing WFH policies for any position that could productively work from home and keep them engaged with the organization.
  • Successful WFH relieves the need for additional workspace and could offer budget relief in pared back space. Some organizations are considering “hoteling”, (A person who mostly works remotely makes a reservation for a workspace in a shared office environment).
  • Setting people up for success. Initially overcame technology issues by supplying. the right tools such as bandwidth, modem, and software. “We upgraded employee’s home internet speed and bought a modem if that’s what it took.”
  • Collaboration. “We have seen so much more collaboration, beyond work groups we would have expected to band together to develop a solution.”
  • Problem solving. Some have faced issues with this. “When in an office setting it appears people just get up and ask their colleague or peek over the cubical wall, but they are not picking up the phone. As a result, issues fester longer, this is something we are working on course correcting.”

The Business of Doing business – Considering their recent experiences, businesses need to determine how to move their organizations forward in preparing for the “next thing” while engaging with their clients, suppliers and employees.

  • Agility to adapt to changing market factors. What business sectors will go dormant or collapse and which will excel. “Our online apps for purchasing parking spaces to last minute tickets for theatre are done, we are pivoting to apps for delivery services and curb side pick up.”
  • Working for the greater good. “We were in the business of making kayaks, now we’re making protective shields.” “We manufactured cars, today we’re manufacturing ventilators.” 
  • Supply chain. “We have recognized that our supply chain is more fragile than we thought. Developing more strength and considering ‘local’ will be important.”
  • Succession planning. Succession planning is usually a topic for dealing with retirements. Today companies are recognizing the importance of succession planning for an incapacitated leader.
  • People needs. We have seen clarity to gaps and redundancies for people needs. “We likely won’t loose head count, but the head count will have a different make-up.”

Moving forward. Today there are many questions without clear answers. This moment as accelerated adoption of many practices that would have eventually made their way into the mainstream. It has forced business leaders to rethink how and what they will need to change to  to move their organization forward. 

Feel free to share changes you’re thinking about to move your organization forward? Feel free to share.

As you transition and create your next normal continue to be safe and be well.