While we’re still weathering the storm of the Coronavirus pandemic, there are some clear early lessons we’ve learned so far. The nature of work changed dramatically by necessity and forced many of us to consider new policies and processes that were previously inconceivable. In some cases, the changes have been embraced and may become the new normal, whereas others have illuminated points of risk across the organization. Here are a few lessons many organizations have learned so far as a result of the pandemic:
- Knowledge transfer failures were identified far too late. While facing dramatic reductions in revenue, many organizations responded rapidly in order to protect the organization for the long road ahead. Deep lay-offs and furloughs were implemented with little advance warning to lower levels of leadership. It was only after the layoffs were made that it became clear how little knowledge transfer was happening within sections of the business. Crisis-related lay-offs don’t afford leaders the luxury of time to quietly gather information about each person’s knowledge. They don’t have time to disguise documentation efforts before making those tough decisions. As a result, the remaining employees will adapt more slowly and make more mistakes than they would have if an effective culture of knowledge transfer had been established. Even so, the crisis is far from over, so the risk of additional knowledge loss continues to grow. Whether deeper lay-offs are planned or you expect more employees to need lengthy periods of leave, the need for rapid knowledge transfer is now.
- Remote working did not bring the organization to a creative or collaborative stand-still. For years, some organizations have refused to adopt a flexible/remote working design for fear that it would impact employees’ ability to connect, innovate, and collaborate with one another. Now that most organizations have embraced remote working by necessity, they’ve continued operating with far fewer disruptions than imagined. Is remote working different? Sure. Will it be the downfall of the organization? Clearly, no. But what has been clear is the need to re-imagine how we lead, stay connected, and collaborate. Again, the transition to remote working was made very quickly for most organizations, which left no time to prepare leaders for the new experience. They’ve had to learn by trial-and-error in many cases. While leaders are becoming more comfortable with the arrangement, there is still much more to learn about working effectively remotely and should be a focus area for all leadership development right now.
- Personality preferences and work styles have a clear and meaningful impact on the way we work. While it’s clear remote working is possible for many organizations, it is not a fit for some workers who are energized by being physically present with their coworkers. As the introverts rejoice over avoiding water cooler chat and drop-ins at their desk, extroverts may feel a bit isolated and need additional avenues to engage more frequently. Similarly, leading through a crisis requires a unique set of competencies compared to times of growth and stability. Leaders who are strategic, flexible, and compassionate are likely able to adjust more quickly than others. When we’re faced with situations that are uncomfortable and don’t naturally align with our strengths and preferences, we must flex and work harder to adapt to the environment. Prolonged periods of extreme misalignment to a person’s preferences is likely to lead to dis-engagement, burnout, and higher turnover. Now is the time to check in more regularly on your employees to see how they’re coping and offer flexibility where possible.
The next few months will be a period of learning and adjustment for us all, but strategic actions now can “flatten” the learning and adjustment curve for everyone so we can emerge with healthier workplaces in the future.