I believe those of us who have been around for more than a handful of decades tend to develop a sixth sense about business. It’s akin to how a pointer, a common bird dog breed, uses its nose to gauge a scent on the wind and guide them toward their game. Successful people use that intuition to put themselves one step ahead.
Well, my nose tells me something is in the wind. Businesses are getting “back to normal.” But has normal changed?
It feels like the business climate is thawing out after a 15-month long winter. Some people are ready to charge headlong into whatever our post-pandemic world offers and to toss their masks into the air like Mary Tyler Moore. Others may not quite be ready to get “back to normal,” even if they want to. They’ve changed inside. We need to be sensitive to that and create a new business climate that will create opportunities for new employer/employee success.
So, let’s consider what’s changed in order to confidently seize the opportunities of a reopening business climate. After all, a good hunting dog knows when to pounce and when to let the birds come to them
How has the nature of work changed?
Practically overnight, entire industries sprang up to help remake how business gets done — remote working technologies, on-demand collaboration apps, touchless everything. Many employers I talk to desire their staff to be back on-site, and sooner rather than later, but not all employees are so sure. It’s going to be hard to stuff the telework genie back into the bottle. PwC recently revealed that only one in five CFOs surveyed said they believed their companies could resume “business as usual” within a month if the pandemic ended today.
How you navigate the “coming back to work” conversation with your staff is going to require balance and transparency. Understand that everyone may not be amenable to whatever you choose. And that’s okay. You’re remaking your business culture on the fly, and it may take some time to ensure all your employees are still a good fit. This decision has to be made deliberatively and clearly communicated, not just stumbled into organically. Work together with your employees to find the best path forward and you will retain more staff and find the best fit new hires going forward.
How have people changed?
Thankfully, it seems like the external impacts of the pandemic are finally going away — mask mandates and limits on businesses are being lifted. But the internal changes from many months of isolation have not gone away, and maybe won’t for a while. For one thing, people’s perspectives on life have changed as they were forced to make risk/reward decisions on an almost daily basis.
You may have seen the coverage of a shortage of food service workers in the news. But it’s not just lower-wage industries that are feeling a pinch as the workforce adapts. Executives are reevaluating their satisfaction also as they face the prospect of returning to the office — or of remaining Zoom-bound and burned out. In fact, up to 40% of employees are considering quitting their jobs, according to the World Economic Forum.
For many, the past year and a half has meant intermingling personal and professional spaces and juggling work and home priorities. Some people thrived but many have faced burnout, unable to manage an “always on” work attitude.
Returning to the office or moving to hybrid arrangements will necessitate the untangling of the lives we’ve grown accustomed to. Employers can help employees return to work successfully by respecting and even establishing the boundary between home and work. “Work-life balance” has been a buzzword for many years, but it’s even more critical now to support your team as they make sense of what it means in a post-COVID world.
How do we need to respond to change?
The bottom line is that the “pandemic normal” switch was forced on many of us very quickly, but it’s not going to be as easy to un-flip that switch. We certainly can’t remain there. But we’re not going to be able to go back to the way things were before either.
Employers have an opportunity to rebuild their businesses built on empathy and make their environments more open to new business models and a workforce changed by COVID. Or maybe they won’t and will try to turn back the clock.
I suspect the ones that listen to the workforce will be much more successful.
But I’m just an old dog picking up the scent of change on the wind.