After a year of huge Covid uncertainty, perhaps an ending is coming into view. Vaccines give us an exit strategy, and the rollouts in the US and UK have hopeful end dates. It may feel wishful thinking, but I’ve started to think about a world where being together indoors is no longer a frightening prospect.
On our platform, we’ve seen how leaders have had to adapt fast to huge changes this year. For many of them it has been stressful and exhausting. Supporting the team has sat alongside their own home-schooling and care duties.
One of the difficult aspects of a life-changing event like the pandemic is that everything has already changed. While we yearn for a return, we will never go back to January 2020. I don’t mean that the things we miss won’t come back – socialising, the theatre, holidays, lunch with family – these will all likely return, and perhaps we will approach them with more gratitude than before.
But no one emerges from a long, life-changing, frightening event unscathed and unchanged. Something has ended - and something new is beginning.
Considering, now, what the end of restrictions might look like for you and your organisation will help in the face of huge ongoing uncertainty. This isn’t about wishing away time or reality, but laying in place some strategies for yourself and your team or business.
Just as you are naturally thinking for yourself about what this experience has taught you, and how you would like things to shift to reflect those changes, so for your team. It’s time to consider the big changes and make conscious choices about where to go from here.
Perhaps you’ve been talking to your team all the way through the pandemic about whether a return to the office is on the cards for them or not. If you haven’t, now is definitely the time to start.
Alongside conversations with your employees and stakeholders, be brutally honest with yourself. Allow for the stress of the pandemic, and then think about productivity, communication and your team’s ethos, its spirit. What has this large-scale, forced experiment in home-working felt like? Has it worked? What needs improving?
Reconcile your organisation’s plans for flexible working in 2021-2022. How will video calls be combined with in-office working? How do you create a functional team with strong common values and honest communication?
Do you have one day where you ask most people to be in, for key meetings? How do you ensure that socials are remote-friendly?
How to Make Flexible Working Inclusive
Equality has taken a battering this year as women have stepped away from their desks to take care of children and others. How can you create an environment in which everyone can thrive, no matter their other responsibilities? This will mean consciously giving space to those who can be physically present less often to ensure that they don’t miss opportunities and networking.
Remote working has also interacted with the stresses of the pandemic to create feelings of insecurity and paranoia for some employees. While trust has come increasingly to the fore as the key marker of successful teams, during the pandemic this has been underlined. Teams riven by dysfunction and politics will engender paranoia among staff, but in particular those at home for whom every video call and email could be replete with unspoken messages.
Taking time now for an honest stocktake of how your team is functioning will pay dividends longer-term. Where trust is lacking, think about your own role as a leader (you are a part of the team, after all). Trust is built through consistency, reliability and comfort with vulnerability. Think about how you interact with your team and embody the values you want to see in them.
See the Opportunities
When we’re in the midst of a crisis, the most natural response is to wish for things to go back to the way they were before. To yearn for simpler times when we knew where we stood rather more.
But resilience lies in the ability to recognise that change has already happened, and there is no going back to the pre-Covid world now.
We’ve seen on our platform how the Covid crisis has transformed how teams interact. For many leaders, they’ve had to create new levels of awareness of their teams’ individual circumstances and build connection across screens. The long-term benefits of these changes could be huge, particularly as businesses face the reality of a more flexible workforce.
Use the skills you’ve learned since lockdowns began. Teams with high levels of trust win out across the board with increased productivity, communication and innovation. Keep pushing forward in how you connect - whether in the room or online - and you’ll see the dividends long-term.
Much has been lost in the past 12 months. As we honour that, we can look forward, and lay in place the foundations for the new world we are emerging into.