2020 has proven to be a year unlike any other. Economies were shuttered to a halt. Unemployment spiked. Homes that were once safe havens from the 9 – 5 workdays turned into classrooms, workspaces, and doctor’s offices all at once and overnight. Amidst all this chaos, innovation and new ways of thinking have been born. The frequently quoted phrase, “necessity is the mother of invention,” has been the rally cry for many this year. New industries have debuted to solve the challenges of a remote existence. Traditional businesses have had to adapt to flexible work environments that support their employees where they are.
When I look back at 2020, one of the things that stood out to me the most was the realization from leaders across all industries that organizations are nothing more than a collection of people. While an obvious and simple thought, it can be easily overlooked when managing against demanding business results, new product launches, transformational initiatives – the list goes on. But when put into a moment of crisis, leading companies rose to the occasion to put their people first – protecting their physical safety by moving to remote operations, providing access to new tools for easier digital collaboration, and promoting flexible operations that supported the new daily demands presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we look ahead to 2021, I think it is fair to say things are never going to go back to exactly how they were – and that is ok. These types of experiences provide a brief moment in time to think about the opportunity to bring what is so fundamentally true to your business forward and combine it with new ways of thinking and working as we collectively build a new working model.
In supporting your leaders and team members, I encourage you to keep these things in mind:
- Remember we are all human. Like I said earlier, it seems obvious, but people continue to experience different fears and anxieties than we did before. Economic, social and personal concerns remain top of people’s minds each day, so consider how you can give your team a listening ear. Relate to their commentary and stories, and they’ll know they are not alone.
- Stay in touch. Transparency and frequency of communications is key. Fear of the unknown can cause people to unknowingly panic and, while we have now all been remote for some time, it can still feel isolating at times. People want to feel connected (and protected), so don’t overlook the power of a quick email, text, or IM checking in on your team beyond the standard meetings.
- Flexibility and agility are key. At the onset of the pandemic, we were forced to balance the blurring of personal and professional lives in ways we have never imagined – some were managing virtual school and others were taking care of sick family members. The situation forced unique hours, which at times had its challenges, but in most instances showed that work will get done when it needs to get done if we empower people to work together and get it done when it makes sense for them. It will also be important to be agile in how we respond to new challenges and the inevitable shift back to offices and/or hybrid working models.
- Keep those creative juices flowing. We have likely all been on more Zoom happy hours (whether personal or professional) than we can count this year – and we don’t see those necessarily stopping in 2021. Keep thinking of new creative ways to touch base with your teams, creating not only fun but safe space for team members to know one another and keep establishing stronger bonds.
While no one can predict what the future workplace will look like, it is fair to say that it will look different than it once did. Collaboration will look different but be as important as ever. Transparency and communication will be what tethers us digitally together. And as leaders, we need to remain centered on the truth that people – our employees, partners, customers, communities and beyond – remain our #1 priority.
Wishing you safe holidays and a successful 2021!