Let's replace "back to normal" with "changes for the better".

On a personal level, we’re all desperate for a return to normality! I’m at the front of that queue. We’re clamouring for the return of those little pleasures that we took for granted at the start of the year. And, with the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine already entering the bloodstreams of our elderly and most vulnerable, there is finally light at the end of that tunnel.

By: James Blair on

But, on a business or professional level, to come out of this painful and costly experience without learning any lessons, and without making any changes seems like absolute madness. This isn’t necessarily even about learning from mistakes, so there’s no need for bruised (professional) pride. This is about looking back at a vast, unplanned event, and reflecting on what we can take from how we (and others) dealt with it.

If some of life’s greatest lessons are learned at, or because of, the worst times, let’s give this Covid cloud a silver lining by making (or keeping) changes for the better.

Primarily, we’re talking about having people work remotely or from home, some or all of the time. This was unceremoniously forced, uninvited, on many employers and employees in March. For some employers, this accelerated a transition that had long been discussed. For others, it was something that hadn’t previously been considered as possible, but that actually proved itself to be entirely achievable, if not beneficial.

Similarly, some workers welcomed it, some feared it, some thrived and some struggled. (Having school-age kids at home was probably the most significant factor for determining who fell into the “thrived” and “struggled” camps!)

The question facing employers now is: once we can refer to Covid in the past tense, do we continue to offer flexible working? For the more forward-thinking companies, and those who have seen the set-up work during this brutally enforced “trial period”, the answer should, of course, be yes, if that is what they want. Happy workers are productive and committed workers.

And whilst no-one is saying it’s for everyone, research from Cardiff University claims that nearly nine out of ten of people who have worked from home through the pandemic want to continue to do so in some capacity, with almost half wanting to work from home all of the time.

And so to this avoidance of “back to normal”. What do we need to do to pro-actively embrace the new ways, to maximise the effectiveness of flexible working practices and geographically disparate staff, where once we had a full office?

The most significant factors for making this new way of working succeed can be summed up in three words: communication, engagement & recognition.

If you are not sure that your internal comms is new-world-ready, then it probably isn’t. Now is the perfect time to get a fresh pair of eyes on your all-important comms strategy, or to instil one if you don’t have one.

And if you want to know how your people are feeling about their new world, ask them! A simple survey with some carefully considered questions is a great place to start! Focus groups from a cross-section of functions can provide even more useful feedback. Going external for a deeper dig with fewer barriers and assured anonymity can often be beneficial here.

Having your internal comms “on the money” doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are many comms platforms available for keeping in touch with your people in a more engaging and collaborative way than an e-mail or phone call will ever allow.

Dialling in to a meeting only to listen to an undigestible dumping of dry data, or in-office banter between those still sharing hand-sanitiser at Head Office is only going to turn off your home-workers or make them feel isolated. A lack of light-hearted interaction, whether work-related or not, can also crush collaboration and inhibit innovation.

And not having all of your workforce in the office every day is never an excuse for not sharing recognition and boosting morale with appreciation. Feeling recognised for your ongoing contribution is a crucial component in maintaining engagement, and that shouldn’t stop just because you’re no longer office-based. Even better is to use a platform that opens the recognition conversation for all your employees to participate in, and that actively promotes your business’s core values in the process.

Let’s make 2021 the year that we all emerge from the unholy hell of a global pandemic with improved ways of working and a happier, more engaged workforce. “Back to normal” just doesn’t seem to cut it after what we’ve all been through.