Going Back to Normal ... What's Normal
By: Bob Dearing, CFE
If you are waiting for the “good Ole Days” to come back, maybe now is the time to begin to re-think that. If you are like me the most annoying phrase to creep into our vocabulary since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak is “everything has changed so welcome to the new normal”. What in the world is the new normal? There is nothing normal about it! If you are beginning to question your sanity do not be concerned, you are not alone. The last thing you want to do at this point is to engage in future tripping or playing what-if games in your mind. This activity rarely, if ever, turns out the way you imagine and often time creates more anxiety in your life. So, what will the next normal look like. Simon Sinek offers us a brief glimpse into “Not Going Back” in this short video.
Sinek is right… there is no going back!. There is, however, a path forward and that is what we want to talk about. Businesses, and jobs they provide, will not be the same. The changes may be subtle or dramatic, but there will be change. Businesses will and must adapt or their future is very much in doubt. Employees will be faced with the same option or they too may find themselves without a job.
The impact on our lives
For many people, Covid-19 has been the most significant event of their lifetime. It has been a traumatic experience that has and will continue to impact us individually as well as our society for years to come. Think about it; it has been almost 20 years since 9/11 and we are still feeling the impact of changes caused by that event. As hard as it is to imagine coronavirus will end at some point and we will begin our journey back to normal. Well almost - some things will go back to the way they were but for others, there will be a next normal just as there was with 9/11.
As much as we do not like it there is a Next Normal in our future. This Next Normal is not exclusively caused by a single event but a series of events that have occurred over the past few weeks and months. Some of the changes to come will be short term and others may become permanent.
What can I expect?
Most companies have a detailed back to work plan. Some are more restrictive than others, but all will follow White House Guidelines. You can view the complete guidelines at https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/#criteria
A recent Deloitte Insights article, The Future of Work After Covid-19, tells us that Covid-19 has challenged business leaders to do three things all at once: stage the return to work, understand and leverage the advancements they enacted during the crisis, and chart a new course forward. None of the three are particularly easy tasks to accomplish. Let us take a look at what that might look like.
Stage the return to work. If you are in the first group of returning employees do not expect to see every employee that was there your last day on the job. Some will be in a later return schedule; some will have moved on to other jobs and others may not have been invited back. You will probably be met at the door by someone with a thermometer and a brief questionnaire about your travels and contacts you might have had with others. You will probably be asked to wear face-covering at least for the short term. The office will have been sanitized and general office areas will have been rearranged to support social distancing guidelines. In some cases, and in selected areas, acrylic shields may have been installed.
Look for new operational guidelines. It may be business as usual with the customer but not in your office. Meeting sizes may be restricted, and virtual meetings will become more the norm. Impromptu meetings, breakroom conversations, lunch breaks will be subject to social distancing guidelines. Visitors, vendors, or other guests in your office will be expected to follow company guidelines.
Understand and leverage advancements enacted during the crisis. Covid-19 has provided unexpected benefits for the business world. It has applied pressure, accelerated change, and forced critical forward-thinking. Allowing select job roles to work from home has shown even the most skeptical employer that it is a viable option. Because of this success, some employees may never return to the office on a full-time basis. Companies will become much more flexible in their approach to the workforce. Employee well-being has been moved front and center for companies as physical, mental, and financial security have become dominant issues.
Chart a new course forward. This is probably the most difficult but without question the most important of the three tasks. As people return to work their familiar landscape has changed, familiar faces are missing, communication is different, and collaboration with others has become more difficult. Employers will keep up with the latest local, federal, and CDC recommendations and guidelines to ensure employee safety. They will be prepared to have open and frank conversations with employees about any policy concerns they may have related to leave, telework, employee safety, or any other topic.
Among another multitude of issues to be addressed by the employer is the possibility of a significant culture shift. Much has changed for many employees and confidence is low, anxiety is high. The business is different, the feel in the office is different, and anxiety levels create a feeling of uncertainty. Management understands these feelings and will have plans in place to restore confidence. Employee engagement and employee experience are critical to beginning the journey back to normal.
The road back
In a recent Forbes article William Arruda tells us “Just with 9/11, many of the major coronavirus changes that we’re experiencing now will evaporate, and things will go back to the way they were without much notice. We’ll adopt the mindsets and postures we had before the crisis. But the coronavirus will permanently alter many elements of how we work.” Unexpected changes in products or services may have changed in your company during the coronavirus. Do not view these changes as bad events…they offer exciting opportunities going forward. Think about Sinek’s example of the restaurant in New York City restructuring their model to a takeout approach. This is an excellent example of adapting to conditions. Look for some of this in your company.
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