If evidence were needed that the ‘new normal’ is here to stay, it has appeared in the last few weeks as the long, strange and often uneasy slide back to work has begun. 

For those returning to offices and other business premises, the physical signs of dramatic change are all too real. Facemasks on public transport, blocked-off streets, still-shuttered shops and – perhaps most tellingly – the socially-distanced requirements in workplaces, ending the easy informality and freedom of the pre-COVID years.

And that’s for those who still have a workplace to go to. For many of us, the spare room has become our new commute, with little signs of this situation changing for months, if ever. Some have adjusted quickly to the changed circumstances; others are still struggling to cope with the uncertainty, the new technology and loss of real-time camaraderie that once existed between teams.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. The roads are quieter, the skies clearer. Remote working has many advantages, as the self-employed already know, and restrictions are easing, albeit slowly.

But for teams and managers, the challenges ahead are huge, and seemingly in a constant state of flux. What seems to be emerging is a re-emphasis on people, not corporate concerns, as the clearest way forward for companies large and small. As Hubert Joly says in the Harvard Business Review:

“Given the magnitude of the shock and the challenges that this crisis represents, companies must consider the full breadth of their employees’ needs as people. Safety is essential, of course, but it’s also important to address higher-level needs such as the want for truth, stability, authentic connections, self-esteem, growth, and meaning in the context of the crisis.”

At PUSH, we believe the future of an organisation’s DNA should focus on three key areas:

  • Purpose – hone and define your organisation’s key aims for this new reality
  • Potential – explore areas for growth and development that may not have been visible pre-pandemic
  • Perspective – don’t panic! If your organisation was strong before Covid-19, with imagination and effort it can be this way again.

We see two phases at work here: the re-opening phase (which is already beginning) and the post-COVID period. For the first to flow harmoniously into the second, we advise companies to consider five critical actions to bridge both periods. These are:

  • Reflect: Business leaders and managers to reflect on what has happened during lockdown, what has worked and what has been missed. Perspectives from all levels and areas of the business are vital.
  • Recommit: reinforcement of business-wide commitment to wellbeing and purpose, addressing physical, psychological, and financial concerns at the workplace and at homes.
  • Re-engage: Unique opportunities have now been created to redeploy workforces. Some may return to a worksite, others may work from home, or within a hybrid model. Leaders should provide clear direction on new assignments and priorities. 
  • Rethink: The rapid shift to remote work should be harnessed to engender a more resilient workforce, shifting away from rigid routine and structure. 
  • Reboot: HR and team managers should focus energy and creativity into nurturing key skills gaps, via training and workshop opportunities, to be ready for the post-COVID landscape.

Central to this is the overriding need for empathy, understanding and clear communication. Empathy for those individuals whose needs are myriad and perhaps complex, understanding that not everyone operates at the same capability when it comes to rapid adaptation and clear communication that establishes trust in an honest, open and truthful way.

Finally, every one of us has had a unique experience of this crisis and there is a need to share those experiences and stories, not only as individuals but in terms of our working lives and how Covid-19 has shaped them, possibly forever. This should include the ability to talk to professionals about how individuals are feeling – some of us may have found the resilience we need during this period; others may have post-lockdown symptoms akin to PTSD. But by hearing these stories and acknowledging their truths, we as businesses can begin to build for a new world that may seem unfamiliar and scary, but is also packed full of possibilities. Will we look back on 2020 as a year of disaster, or of opportunity? Understanding what we’ve all been through and how we can harness this creatively is a huge challenge for businesses and employees, but it is one that cannot be ignored as we step tentatively into post-COVID 19.

Cate Murden
Cate is the Founder and CEO of PUSH. She created PUSH with the fierce belief that with the right tools, mindsets and behaviours, we could build better workplaces full of happy, healthy and high-performing individuals.

more articles by Cate Murden