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I remember the day like it was yesterday, yet it feels like years ago: A Bouqs employee indicated that they might have been exposed to the novel coronavirus over the weekend. It was Tuesday morning, March 10, 2020, and the virus had only just started creeping into our consciousness over the weeks prior. With this news, our leadership team met and discussed, and we decided to close the office for the rest of the week to get it deep cleaned. We didn’t think this was a big issue; we thought this thing would be contained and we’d be back to normal in a week. Back then, it seemed like a very short-term decision.
The office has been closed since then, for over one year. Many business leaders and organizations have found themselves in similar positions, and as we reflect on 2020 we can draw upon lessons learned to inform how we move forward.
So, since then, what have we learned? And today, as leaders, what do we do?
Recognize that everyone is going through this for the first time. There was no playbook for leaders, but there was certainly no playbook for new hires, job seekers, recent college grads and organizations in general. No one had knowledge of how to handle this process, so recognizing that will mean more empathy in all directions. Acknowledging this fundamental truth — that we are all, together, the first cohort in the modern world to experience something like this — is crucial. We are all navigating an incredibly challenging moment, and that’s before we factor in civil unrest and relative governmental instability. So, first, we recognize this in one another. Once we do, we can then begin to understand one another and empathize.
Our teams will tell us what they’re feeling and how they’re doing, but we have to be open to hearing it, and we have to ask the questions in the first place. Ask questions like: How are you doing? How are things? Are you OK? Can we help? We’ll learn how we can help, but more importantly, the team will know we care. And we have to show that we care. We have to care for our teams because at this time, we all need a little support. We should also recognize that before the pandemic, perhaps they depended on the workplace for a sense of community more than we knew, as well.
But now, at this moment, let’s ask and then listen to our teams. What can we do as an organization to better serve and assist in these times? Companies are no longer just places of employment. The work contract extends so far beyond the employee-employer relationship, both out of necessity and out of the cultural changes of the past 30 years. Companies have been a primary part of the American experience for quite some time, but with increasing connection through technology and the always-on potential of work-life to bleed, there are fewer and fewer experiences that are truly separate. So let’s listen first.
Act for the Team
Driving a better work experience will always drive a better result — for the employees themselves and for the company. So an investment in that experience is an investment in company performance and shareholder returns. The question should no longer be the age-old “balance of budget versus experience.” The best companies will listen to their teams, understand their needs, empathize and act (within their given capabilities) to help. At this crucial and challenging time, leaders should ask themselves how they can act for the team.
For instance, can you provide some at-home equipment to make your employees’ bed-desks a little more comfortable? How can you examine your vacation policies to better meet the needs of a fully remote, almost-always-on work reality? Is there a way to bring more mental and spiritual health services and resources to your employees? What do socialization and team-building look like in a remote workplace? How can you still bring a great employee experience to life? Take the answers to these questions and act.
Finally, and especially now as we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel, we have to plan for the eventual return to offices and for all the changes that will come with that. Interestingly, at my company, we have employees who are extremely eager to return to work, but not five days a week. We have employees who very much prefer remote work, but not five days a week. I’m sure many business leaders are in a similar situation. So, ask yourself: How do we think about space, team communication, coordination and execution in a world where there is not necessarily a shared norm around remote versus in-person work? How do we ensure that those people who are remote (or more remote than others) are just as included in the culture and team? How do we study employee satisfaction and productivity related to work location and cadence?
We have lived through a global pandemic that has brought about unprecedented change and required more of so many in such a short time, in the workplace and beyond. And the “return” will be no less of a catalyst for change. Be ready to recognize, listen and act. How ready will you be?