As we see our European colleagues take their first tentative steps out of lockdown, and with our own ‘next phase’ to be announced on Sunday, conversations with clients this week have understandably turned to the topic of remobilisation. With leaders beginning to scope out what a ‘new normal’ might look like the question many are wrestling with is just how different do we WANT life on the other side to be? In reimagining a next phase leaders are beginning to think about what might be different by necessity and what could be different by design i.e. what has the COVID crisis enabled us to do better, quicker, more effectively and more efficiently? What do we want to keep as part of the new world?
Many leaders have shared with us how proud they are at the speed at which their teams have adapted. The rapid learning and adoption of new processes and technology etc. has given them a sense of what can be done, of what’s possible. But as we begin to think about the transition out of the current phase and into the next, this fast and frictionless new way of operating will surely have changed the perceptions and expectations of employees and customers alike. For them the past really is a ‘foreign land’ and one they have no desire to revisit.
As stressful as the move from office to home was, all agree that remobilisation will be much more complex and many of the groups we’re working with have already assigned ‘business continuity and transition teams’ to take on the challenge. In responding to the initial call to action there was something of the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ in needing to all pull together and act as one. In many cases it was a unilateral decision – acknowledged and uncontested and for the majority aided by the fact we were physically still in the same place together making informal communications that bit easier. In returning there are many more factors to consider; can we operate in the workspace while socially distancing, which teams should return first, are the transport links to and from work safe for everyone, are schools and nurseries open? The list is endless. And in amongst all of this will be the individual decisions people make in terms of what it will take for them to feel psychologically safe to return to work. It will be important as leaders to suspend any judgments we might make, subconsciously or otherwise, and to encourage and communicate, with what will be a disparate workforce, the need for everyone to accept and respect elements of personal preference in ways of getting the job done. Perhaps most importantly, how do we hang onto some of these new ways of working that maintains that sense of choice, mutual trust, heightened personal accountability and autonomy.
In keeping these numerous plates spinning, and no doubt with increased governance and scrutiny to boot, there will inevitably be moments of high dudgeon and emotion. As one of our clients put it, ‘Know when to remove yourself from the ‘drama trail’ and be less involved’ – let some of the internal intensity dissipate before putting yourself back in the mix. Ultimately what people will need most from their leadership teams during transition is clarity and consistency – are you all able to communicate and respond with the same level of confidence and conviction of purpose? There’s also something in all of this about maintaining the human and empathetic elements so noticeable in interactions and communications during this period. Don’t be afraid of sharing some of your own vulnerabilities and in reassuring staff that their safety and well-being is still very much at the top of the agenda. As is their input in; how we reshape working practices and structures to get the best out of all we’ve learnt and been through.
We’re ending this week’s post with a quote from another of our clients who is working with fellow Exec members on a transition plan, ‘It’s important that we’re not forced into acting too quickly. We need to set our own pace and know that what we’re doing for our staff and business is right for us. We don’t want to be rushed or panicked into returning by what the Government are saying or what others are doing. We know we can deliver great service safely doing what we’re doing now so for us it’s about getting it right before we move back into the office’ – or indeed not back in the office at all!