There Is No New Normal – Now What?

Remote employee

There will be no “new normal”; but rather the re-entry to work and office life will undergo radical reinvention.

Life as we know it, personally and professionally, has forever changed. There will be no “new normal”; but rather the re-entry to work and office life will undergo radical reinvention. Companies have accelerated the integration of new processes, technologies, and systems to adjust to the needs of our current environment at lightning speed. As teams around the globe have gone remote seemingly overnight, many employers are realizing that productivity, in many cases, has increased in addition to other benefits such as lower costs, efficiency, greater reach, time savings, and more time with loved ones. Microsoft, Airbnb, and Google will continue to work from home through the end of the year, at a minimum. Twitter said their employees can choose to work from home forever.

Many organizations are viewing the pandemic as an opportunity to flourish, catalyzing positive change, and innovation. This is an opportunity for companies to differentiate themselves as to how they will get employees up and running and provide better positioning to attract and retain talent. Employers will need to double down on energizing their employees and creating engagement and commitment. Now is the time to demonstrate an investment in employees.

Our world of work was gradually becoming more digital – incorporating technology and AI – as well as more focused on psychological safety, incorporating wellbeing and employee safety measures. However, this event has expedited this reprioritization in record time. A McKinsey Global Institute study in 2017 estimated that as much as 14 percent of the global workforce would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 due to automation and artificial intelligence. In its recent survey, 87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. New research from Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) found that those organizations with a focus on holistic well-being are seeing greater business benefits, not only with a healthier workforce but with 2x the overall productivity of low performance organizations, 2x the rate of key talent retention, and 7x return on innovation and creativity.

In light of company operating models evolving quickly to accommodate this rapidly changing environment, roles are shifting, new jobs are being created, and certain competencies, such as agility and resilience, have become universally essential. So, what does that mean for employees and leaders as they re-engage and onboard into the reimagined workplace? Each of us will need to reassess our role or, in some cases, work with our organization to create a new role that is aligned with the new business strategy. Leaders are adjusting how they manage others remotely or in a blended environment. Employees are no longer necessarily limited by their job description, but rather will need to craft and personalize their role.

This time of self-reflection and adaptation into this reimagined workplace might seem daunting, but it can also be an exciting time of realignment and reinvention. Consider applying Michael Watkin’s “The First 90 Days” framework, initially intended for new hires, to re-onboarding into this new world of work. Typically, this is a framework for a new hire starting their job, but it’s also pertinent to long-standing employees in this moment. Below are some of the steps that are most relevant to the current environment:

Prepare yourself: The pandemic has validated the importance of companies taking care of their people first, attending to their wellness and basic needs. Make sure to take advantage of any offerings your company provides and continue to take mental health breaks. Equip yourself with resources available to help maximize your reintegration. Skills, behaviors and job tasks that once made one successful may not apply in this new world. It will be important to “let go of the past and embrace the imperatives of the new situation to give yourself a running start.” Build in time to think about how to personalize your job experience: what tasks make sense, what needs to change, what should you stop focusing on, and what will be the nature of your relationship with your boss?

Accelerate your learning: Adapting skills and roles will be crucial to building operating-model resilience. Competencies such as agility, communication, and collaboration are now increasingly important in the selection and development of talent. The unknown is everywhere. Those who embrace this reality will do well in adjusting, flexing, and better integrating into the reimagined workplace. Communication and collaboration have proven to be key during remote work; even though we have been physically distant, in some ways we’re more socially connected than ever before. As Marissa Keshner, Director of Learning & Growth at Amherst Holdings puts it, “How do we take this opportunity where we’re in a completely different time to be a driving force for what we’ve talked about for a while i.e. virtual new hire onboarding? Where can we be creative and use this time to push forward?”

Match your strategy to the situation: In the reopening it will be essential for leaders to craft messages to engage and inspire their team with full transparency into the vision of the future – what remains the same and what has changed? This is a time to revisit goals and results with your manager. How do we manage performance appropriately in this new world and what expectations need to be shifted?

Secure early wins: Early success doesn’t just mean improving business results; you can demonstrate value in other ways, such as creating a culture where risk-taking and trying something new is encouraged. Even if your new approach fails, it’s a win that the shifting mindset is one of innovation and learning. Managing remote or blended teams is new for many leaders – the transition to this set-up around the globe has been remarkable and should be celebrated. Before the pandemic, many technology companies had in-person standups – quick 10- to 15-minute gatherings at the start of the day to update each other on what they accomplished yesterday and what they’ll work on today; now it has successfully shifted over to virtual. It’s important to continue finding ways to celebrate these successes to keep up momentum, engagement, and motivation.

Negotiate success: It is critical for leaders to find ways to engage their team in this new blended environment where some employees remain remote and some may be heading back to the office. Consider how and when to include people in conversations, what is the appropriate team meeting structure, and ways to motivate the team to keep morale high. For direct report, find new approaches to have a productive working relationship with your manager and share your expectations of personal development and preferred work style during this time.

Keep your balance: Many of us are finding it can be hard to have work-life balance when your office is your home. Especially for those who are in cities and confined both physically and socially. Instead, it’s time to embrace work-life integration where employees determine benefits that help to achieve their defined balance. For example, many employees may need to shift their hours if they have school-age children. Remember to find ways to relieve stress and make a conscious effort to take your mind off of work once you “close out” for the day. Taking walks and focusing on hobbies will go a long way to re-energize and prevent burnout. Leaders need to model behaviors – exude a sense of calm, share what they’re doing for self-care, and encourage time off when possible.

Though nobody knows what’s next, it’s important to embrace the current spirit of innovation and transformation by taking calculated risks, learning from failure and continuing to stay connected with others.  Approaching this profound change in the work environment as a new onboarding opportunity allows for unique approaches and implementation of long overdue enhancements.  Support your team with flexibility and be open to hearing about new obstacles and opportunities.  This is not a time to fall back on what is comfortable, but to embrace evolution and its accompanying long-lasting and exponential returns.

Written by Liana Gordon

Director of Executive Coaching & Development

CPI Affiliate, The Ayers Group