Uncharted Waters: Managing the Shifting Tides of COVID-19

In business and life, change is the one constant. Like the shifting tides in the ocean, the impact of change can be unpredictable. Effective management in the face of a crisis requires robust and focused leadership to overcome unforeseen challenges and remain on course. Yes, it is a fact that business is no stranger to change! But as the saying goes, “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.”

With the introduction of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we find ourselves in uncharted waters. COVID-19 seized our world, shifted our focus, and forced us to create a “new normal” in both the workplace and at home. Luckily, we have faced difficult and challenging situations before and have become stronger for it as a people and as a nation. So as many businesses are beginning to reopen its doors (or making plans to return), here are a few key insights from industry leaders and my recommendations for a successful and safe transition to a “new ‘& improved’ workplace.”

Corporate Culture Shift Already Underway
For some businesses, especially progressive companies with a global presence, reimaging the “new ‘& improved’ workplace” will not require a complete course change, as plans were already in motion, pre-COVID-19.  With the introduction of AI and other technologies and an increase in remote working environments, all companies should review and reassess current ways of working to ensure improved communication and collaboration across divisions and between teams.  There should be a renewed focus on leadership development to support leaders who must evolve and embrace a new leadership style to effectively engage and respond to the real needs of multi-cultural, multi-generational teams.

In addition to these challenges, leaders must provide clear direction and support to employees who may have concerns about their role or struggle with new health and safety standards and social distancing guidelines. Be prepared to support leaders who may be also be struggling as they make the transition to the “new normal.” Take proactive steps to ensure managers, supervisors, and team leaders get the development and support they need to lead, motivate, and engage their teams as they navigate through these uncharted waters. It will also be essential to ensure that leaders provide the same support to their team members.

The Employee’s Perspective
Employees are adjusting to changes in their new work environment as well. Remote work arrangements may create challenges as employees juggle and balance the demands of work, family, and personal life. While it is essential to support leaders during this time of tremendous change, it is equally important to maintain focus on employees to ensure they feel connected to their leader, the team, and the business.

The shift to the remote office is likely to remain a permanent flexible solution for many companies. Remote employees may need additional support to feel connected as they transition to this new approach to work. Based on a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey of 2200 HR professionals, the top two challenges employers are facing because of the global pandemic are adjustments to a remote work environment (71%) and maintaining employee morale (75%). 

In a Q2 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey conducted in May among a sample of 9059 employees, 54% of employees surveyed say their jobs have become more difficult to perform since the pandemic. To maintain morale, engagement, and productivity; leaders, working in partnership with human resources, should develop a clearly defined process and approach to work assignments and projects.  Performance and development goals and success measures should also be reviewed with the employee and revised, if needed, to support success during this challenging transition period.

Tips for Successful Team Leadership in the “New Workplace”
Although COVID-19 has forced companies into uncharted waters and, for many, required challenging course corrections to manage in these unpredictable times, transitioning to a so-called “new normal” provides the platform upon which to build a “new and improved” workplace.  To start or enhance this vital change management process, utilize the LEARN Change Leadership Principle©to promote successful people change management.  This simple and easy to use approach helps leaders focus on the people side of change to support a successful transition. A condensed version of this approach is below. 

LEARN Change Leadership Principle©   

Listen actively, empathetically, and act promptly

Educate, Educate, Educate

Allow input from the team – both positive and negative

Review progress and course-correct if necessary.

Navigate forward with caution throughout the transition period

In business and life, change is the one constant, and, at times, may lead to uncharted waters. But with careful planning, proactive steps, and strong, supportive leadership, you can successfully manage the shifting tides of change and keep your team, career, and life on course for success!

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