It is becoming more readily apparent that despite our collective wishes, things are not going to return to any semblance of our past in the near future.
The pandemic is still around, and since the re-opening of America, case numbers have spiked. As hard a truth as it is to swallow, this virus isn’t going to just go away.
How are businesses coping with this new normal? Many companies have closed or changed to a work at home model. Depending on who you ask, this is either causing chaos and social isolation, or is the greatest thing to ever have happened.
Either way, the coronavirus has caused a profound change in the way people work, interact, and manage their daily lives. It has forced people to examine their work and personal lives, which in itself, offers a rich opportunity for growth.
“I think that this could be an extraordinary opportunity for us to step back and ask ourselves if we’re leading the kind of lives that we really want to lead,” former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, said. “This is our chance to ask ourselves whether there’s a gap between our stated priorities and our lived priorities.”
To be clear, there are millions of people who are genuinely hurting and wondering how to feed their families and pay their rent. However, life may never return to normal and this change to our society may last longer than the virus itself.
Accordingly, as a nation and a society, we need to find ways to make our new reality work for us instead of against us.
As George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change.”
Dr. Julia DiGangi, a neuropsychologist and an expert on the effects of chronic stress, wrote in Harvard Business Review about this new normal, and how being uncomfortable is key to adapting.
Her premise is that as businesses reopen, management needs to change—sometimes counter-intuitively—or they will simply have worried, distracted employees muddling through the old jobs they once knew.
And while the reflex for business leaders is to exert greater control, the solution is in providing more flexibility and recognizing changes in the workplace will cause discomfort for employees.
“It is through the heat of discomfort that our true values are clarified and behavior is meaningfully changed,” DiGangi wrote. “Everyone understands that change is painful, but most fail to understand the full reason why. Change’s pain comes not just from the energy-intensive motivation it demands, but also from the worthy things and good ideas we must willingly, albeit begrudgingly, leave behind.”
Managers need to understand employees returning to work are going to be full of anxiety and doubt. Accordingly, they need to look for ways to reduce employee stress, such as allowing time for meditating or taking a walk or talking to a co-worker.
Supervisors and business owners must also consider what it will take for employees to feel safe. Will they be comfortable with their desk or work setup? Will it be enough to have physical distancing markers on the floor or Plexiglass shields in the workplace or thermal scanning when people come to work or shop?
Again, flexibility will be key to success.
UC San Francisco psychologist Elissa Epel, PhD, who studies stress, said that while some anxiety helps us cope, extreme anxiety puts us in a panic state where we are more likely to make mistakes. She suggests returning employees take time to step away from their computer screens when feeling overwhelmed. “Make sure to connect with people about things other than just this issue,” she wrote.
In order to survive, businesses will need to address these concerns and be creative and flexible in the ways they operate and move forward through the fog of COVID-19.
Charles Darwin often is misquoted. The crux of his theory is not that it is the strongest of the species who survive, nor the most intelligent—it is the one who is most adaptable to change. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Look not sorrowfully into the past; it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, and go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear.”
Randall Huft is president and creative director at Innovation Agency, an advertising, branding, and public relations firm specializing in the cannabis industry. While working with blue-chip companies including AT&T, United Airlines, IBM, Walgreens, American Express, Toyota, and Disney, he discovered what works, what doesn’t, and how to gain market share.