What Will You Keep Post-COVID?

My best thoughts come to me while I am running. And I have had a whole lot of time to run these days. One thought that I continue to ruminate on is what will become of the traditional workplace?

In so many ways, the traditional recipe for success in the workplace has been completely upended: hours spent in the office, facetime (the old school variety) with customers and colleagues, dressing for success, and being the person who will drop everything in your personal life for a work assignment — have all gone by the wayside. In its place, we have prized people who are flexible, get things done, are creative problem-solvers, and know how to keep a team moving forward. Whether you wear a tutu to work or stop midday to fold laundry doesn’t compute.

It reminds me of the fate of the once-revered compact disc. In its day, it was prized for its portability, sound quality, and inexpensive production costs. It blew “tapes” out of the water and while it didn’t sound quite as warm as a record, the tradeoff was worth it as you could take a great sounding digital CD recording anywhere, and you could even “burn” a mix at home!

And then came MP3s, the iPod, and iTunes. Everything changed from that point forward — even the idea of how we “owned” music.

Like the tape to CD to MP3 transformations, much can be said of the reinvention that is occurring in business and the workforce due to COVID. As safety pushes us all into a work from home environment, the emphasis on certain trappings of a “good” employee or leader have fallen away in favor of a combination of results and humanity.

So what should we keep? After all, this, too, shall pass. Here are some suggestions:
1. Flexibility – Think about the benefits your business can reap by allowing people to work where and when they want. How many more talented stay-at-home parents, especially women, might reconsider leaving the workforce? The Mom Project (https://themomproject.com), a career/talent site dedicated to helping match highly talented moms with remote and part-time work, has identified this treasure trove of untapped talent. Or how about hiring people to help expanding to new markets across the country or across the globe? The systems put in place during the pandemic all can enable this.

2. Build a Listening Culture – Whether it is your employees or your customers, we are all learning the importance of listening during a crisis. For your teams, finding out what their needs are has been critical. Imagine if you carried that forward? Post-pandemic, you should continue with practices like daily office hours where team members can drop in on you via phone, Zoom, or in person. For teams, continue at least weekly “stand-ups” to give people the opportunity to talk about the pressing issues of the moment. For customers, continue to anticipate and adapt to their wants & needs by cementing (or developing) systems that provide opportunities for regular conversations with them. This could be as informal as social media monitoring and phone check-ins to formal meetings, surveys, or research.

3. Re-Imagine Boundaries – Whatever boundary you have, think about whether it is a brick wall or just tradition. For example, I had a CFO of a non-profit share with me how amazed he was that his museum was attracting paying virtual visitors from across the country to events that used to be in person only. His idea of how he ran an event was shattered now that he didn’t consider geography to be a boundary. Another powerful idea is to change your idea of a “customer” to a “member.” Thinking of inviting customers into your community changes a transaction into a relationship that can provide a whole lot of mutual benefit moving forward.

4. Outside of Work Connections – Pre-COVID, we all have had the fun team happy hour, trivia night, or even a game of golf (fun for some, at least!). Post-COVID, your challenge is to figure out how to create connections that incorporate those who can’t be live and in person. If your team is going to remain strong, those who can be there in person can’t be your sole focus with the rest as an after-thought.

More than anything, I encourage you to take stock and identify your successful pivots and how you arrived at them. Take stock of things that worked better for you, your employees, and your business during these trying times. While I dislike talking about “silver linings” to a pandemic, I do think we all have some hard-earned lessons that we should make use of.

Stephen Kohler is CEO & Founder of Audira Labs, a leader in executive coaching & leadership development. Audira empowers Leaders, Teams and Organizations to become better listeners, enabling unleashed leadership potential and maximizing fulfillment.