Of all the unexpected changes the pandemic has brought on, one that has captivated my attention is how awkward email introductions have become. “I hope you’re doing well in spite of these wild times” is probably the most common opening line, but the one that always makes me cringe is “I hope you’re adjusting to the new normal.” Like most people, I’m not quite ready to accept that this is actually our new normal. Perhaps that’s just the denial stage of the grief process, but I certainly hope this is a short-term experience and we’ll drift back towards “normal” soon. However, it is important to note that not all aspects of pandemic work life are negative. Sometimes you have to work to see the silver lining, but here are a few of the COVID-era work experience that I hope we retain when things return to “normal”:
- Flexible Working. During this incredible work-from-home experiment, it’s become clear that working from home will not result in a halt to productivity. While it’s certainly not the same experience as working face-to-face, workers are still capable of meeting expectations, communicating with one another, and collaborating effectively while working remotely. If we are able to retain some degree of flexible working arrangements after the pandemic is over, the silver lining will be more opportunities for diversity in the workplace (due to the expanded geographical reach) and a better experience for individuals with disabilities. Having the option to work from home can be a great way to cast a wider net for key talent.
- Higher threshold for distractions. In response to the unexpected work-from-home policies, everyone suddenly found themselves in an unfamiliar environment that was occasionally not business-friendly. In most cases, people were incredibly understanding of dogs barking, birds chirping, kids interrupting, and the occasional internet outage. While we all had different challenges in adapting to the new work arrangements, there was a shared degree of increased tolerance because we all felt a bit out of our element. I hope that once the pandemic is over, we can still laugh at a kid popping up in the background of a Zoom call instead of passing judgment.
- More pulse-checks. As a result of the increased stress and uncertainty felt universally across organizations, there was a more concerted effort to check in on employees regularly. Both formal pulse-point surveys and informal check-ins with engaged leaders have created opportunities for connection and transparency with one another. I hope we have more conversations that begin with “No, really…how are you?”
- Sense of community. While some populations are more at-risk due to COVID-19, in the workplace there’s certainly a sense of community that has emerged. Right now it may feel more like a shared sense of misery (or trauma), but as we progress through this experience, I hope that will transition into a stronger sense of community. If we survive this together, one silver lining is discovering that we can overcome anything.
- Openness to new experiences. What once seemed impossible has become reality. Leveraging emerging technologies to replicate the in-person working experience once seemed like science fiction, but through trial and error we’ve found success. If there’s anything we should take away from this experience it’s that we should always question our assumptions. Being open to new experiences has allowed us to continue working effectively and adapt to these volatile times.
Even the COVID-19 cloud has a silver lining. Take some time to think through which aspects of this experience you hope will carry on after we return to “normal.”