Anyone can lead during good times, but crisis is the true test of leadership. As such, COVID-19 has tested us all. These unusual times forced us to navigate uncharted territory. Despite a daunting undertaking, we have risen to the occasion and have learned to be productive with the use of collaborative technology. The paradigm shift forced us to reexamine our businesses and personal lives. We have by no means eradicated COVID-19, but we have reached an inflection point and we recognize the need to move forward. The business-as-usual memory of the past has been replaced with a business-unusual model. So where do we go from here? Consider the following:
Back to the office
While some people and businesses have returned to an in-person work environment, some have not. Many people and companies are contemplating a return-to-the-office strategy. Given the competitive nature of business, one might think there is competitive advantage in winning the race back to the office. However, this race is not one you need to win. What is most important is that you return properly with your top priority being the health and safety of your employees and customers. It is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all return-to-the-office strategy. Each organization should assess its employee and business needs and make a decision that is consistent with its values and business imperatives.
COVID-19 marks the beginning of a new era and necessitates a culture change. The idea of returning to normal is a notion we cannot indulge. The fiction of normal is fleeting. Consider how easily it vanished during the last year. What is meant by the use of the word normal is culture. Culture is like breathing. You don’t think about it. It is how we live and do things. Rather than returning to the illusion of normal, consider creating a new standard. One that is better than the previous way of doing things. Something that challenges you and encourages the highest level of creativity and innovation. A new approach that catapults the organization and its employees to better productivity and employee fulfillment. With this strategy, everyone wins — employees are happier and more productive, customers are satisfied, and the organization is successful. If you get the culture right and you have the right people, there is no limit to what you can achieve.
The pandemic thrust us into a health crisis that evolved into an economic crisis, then an equity and equality crisis and now a potential employee crisis. When the pandemic was announced, no one imagined that it would alter our lives the way it has. We did not foresee how confinement to our dwelling places would change our attitudes about how we perform work and our careers. Initially, the work-from-home model was intriguing, but it was perceived as a temporary change. After more than a year of working remotely, some attitudes have changed about the new work model as people have discovered better work and personal life balance and they are now less enthusiastic about returning to normal — the office. Many are returning to the office with both excitement and trepidation. Therein lies the challenge and opportunity for employee retention — the challenge to retain your best talent and the opportunity to create new work culture.
Delivering value to both employees and customers at this time is critical and it can pay huge dividends. This is the best opportunity for organizations to recreate a value proposition that is attractive to employees and customers. It is not an easy task, but as previously noted, anyone can lead during good times but crisis is the true test of leadership. Changing strategies when the business has been disrupted is not a sign of indecision, but a sign of good leadership.
Russell Richard, author of “Leadership, The View From Here” and “Beyond Words, An Intersection of Philosophy, Inspiration and Poetry”