Cue dramatic piano music….“It’s the NEW NORMAL”; “These are UNCERTAIN and CHALLENGING TIMES”; “This is UNPRECEDENTED.”
After more than two months of the stay-at-home orders, it appears that conversations are taking a sharp right turn from how we are adjusting to the ’new normal’ to how sick we are of hearing that the car dealership or local fast food chain is “here for me.” What do you mean you are offering no-contact pizza? You mean someone was manhandling my pizza before!?
As much as the term new normal is being overused, our reality is that the pandemic has changed the way that we do business and manage our staff. A spotlight has been cast on how we do our work and engage with our employees.
By this point, most organizations have likely begun the process of organizing teams and committees that are responsible for coordinating the transition back to life in the office: establishing social distancing guidelines, arranging work schedules, reconfiguring workspaces, ensuring everyone will have the needed personal protection equipment, establishing cleaning guidelines, and all the other logistical considerations. All very important and necessary tasks.
The work as a leader, however, doesn’t stop there. Managing the process and logistics gets you to the starting gate, but ultimately, the race will be won by those leaders who are able to help their employees manage the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding their return to the office.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a level of workplace uncertainty never seen before. This uncertainty is testing the coping strategies of even the most resilient individuals. As humans, we are not programmed to be comfortable with uncertainty. Our brains want to know what’s around the corner so we can keep ourselves out of harm’s way. With moments of uncertainty, many of us assume the worst, over-personalize threats, and jump to conclusions. This often leads to uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, fear, and loss of confidence. We may overestimate these threats and underestimate our ability to handle them—all in the name of survival.
As you contemplate how you will show up as a leader, consider the following:
1. Assess and manage risk more proactively. We can no longer assume that the strategy that worked so well for the past 10 years will be the right one for the future.
2. Create or re-visit your talent strategy to align to your business strategy.
3. To be an effective leader during this time, it’s critical to recognize that everyone is coming back to the office from a different place―some are worried about getting sick, while others may be mourning the loss of a colleague or loved one. Some are worried about childcare and others are focused on the possibility of getting laid off. Many others will enthusiastically welcome being back in the office. The relationship leaders and managers have with their staff has never been more important.
Remember, stress and anxiety show up differently in people so you will find that some are more willing than others to discuss how they are coping. Some will get quiet while others will get hyper-focused, controlling or aggressive…. and everything in between.
Frankly, regardless of the size of your organization or your industry, when it comes to returning to the workplace, we are all in the same boat, wrestling with the same issues. Quite simply, addressing and responding to workplace uncertainty is the current leadership imperative. It isn’t the new normal. It’s the normal that has been emphasized by the current environment. Organizations that are proactive about addressing these dynamics will come back faster and stronger than those that don’t.
Leaders will play a critical role in creating calm and clarity, and helping their people manage through the transition back to the office. This is the time for them to step up, enhance their skills and flex their transformation muscle to lead their people in an increasing complex and unknown world.
CCI is working with many organizations to help them mobilize for the future by providing virtual workshops to help their leaders transition back to the office. We stand ready to leverage our experience and expertise to help you and your team accelerate the adoption of new ways of working and leading.
Director of Learning and Organizational Effectiveness