It has been three years since the world and the world of work were changed by a virus. Covid-19 was spreading, and people were staying at or were sent home. For many, because of the lockdowns, work changed forever. Even for organizations where most (or all) employees stayed in the workplace, the context of work was forever changed. Many have yearned for a “return to normal,” while others heralded a “new normal.” My question is: What are our lessons from the lockdowns?
It is both a fair and necessary question. We should learn and get better during any three-year span of time. But when that span included changes we haven’t seen in our lifetimes, readjusted our expectations about work, and gave rise to entirely new questions and challenges, there has to be learning.
What is yours?
Here are just a few of my lessons from the last three years. Which of these resonates with you?
- People want/need to be connected, even if they aren’t working in physical proximity. Location and connection don’t have to be the same thing. When leaders and organizations realize that, they will make different decisions. Prioritize creating cohesion if you want higher productivity, mental health, and retention.
- Organizations that provide clarity and purpose win big. When organizations provide a sense of certainty and clarity on what is important, it lowers anxiety and gives people a sense of safety. Make sure you are helping people see how what they do matters – which can be harder to see if they are working away from their teammates.
- Organizations can play an important role in mental health. The virus and its effects showed us that work impacts this more than we realized. And organizations and leaders can help, if they choose to. One of the good things about the last three years is that we talk about mental health and fitness more. More organizations are looking to help their team members if needed. What are you doing in this area?
- Top-down approaches to work environments will lead to unintended consequences. This is a major reason why many Return to Office plans have failed. Perhaps the biggest lesson we can take from the pandemic is that we have all learned things that apply to the future. Relying on the lessons of leaders only is a recipe for possible problems.
- We can create great results without everyone being together every day. Some were surprised by this fact, others felt vindicated. But the fact is that we know we can work at distance and be successful. This doesn’t mean that all offices need to or should go away. This lesson is a call for organizations and leaders to create an environment that allows flexibility to address individual needs and situations.
- The world of work keeps changing. This isn’t new, but the pace has been greater – with higher stakes than we have experienced in the past. This begs us to not try to create a new steady state solution (or even a policy), but to continue to flex, adjust, try, and learn. One of my biggest lessons has been to think pilot, not policy. I started saying that two years ago, and it is still true today.
- Even when things are changing fast, foundational principles matter. Often when everything seems to be changing, we try to change everything! The lesson? Stay on your firm foundation. While context and more might be changing, human nature, motivation, and group dynamics aren’t. When we think about principles first, we can make better decisions about how to adjust to what is changing.
While I can’t say what every organization should learn, I have shared some lessons that are easy to see. Beyond my short list, I hope I can urge you and your organization to take the time to find your lessons from the lockdowns.
Do you want to create an environment on your team that makes it easier for people to choose to engage? Want to figure out how to create the levels of communication, collaboration and cohesion that will create great results? These are the questions our new book, The Long-Distance Team: Designing Your Team For Everyone’s Success, can help you answer – wherever your team members work.