While the end of lockdown sparks a collective sigh of relief, it will also bring its own set of challenges. Now is the time to be proactive and prepared so that we can use this transition for positive change.
Our workplaces, and society as a whole, now look very different. Some adjustments to the way we live and work were made out of necessity – remote working, social distancing, face coverings – but across the country the lockdown has also created the conditions for employees and employers to consider which, if any, of the new ways of working, new perspectives and revised priorities might endure.
The pandemic disrupted many of our habitual behaviours, created uncertainty and a sense of unease. We had to find a way to cope, to respond and to get through as best we could. Through this period of challenge, we will have learned a lot about ourselves, our businesses and our people. The transition out of lockdown therefore provides business leaders and their teams with a valuable opportunity to reflect on this learning and challenge, in a positive way, what we do and how we do it. Now is the time to make improvements to former ways of working and re-shape organisational culture.
The value of collaboration
Some businesses will see the shift towards homeworking as an opportunity to reduce costs and downsize capital expenditure – completely understandable, but these changes must be balanced with the risk of reduced opportunity for collaboration and innovation and the detrimental impact isolated working can have on the important sense of belonging that comes from close physical proximity.
Cut off from our colleagues and teams, many have discovered just how important connection can be for psychological wellbeing. Reduced social contact reframes the work environment and impacts productivity, particularly for creative and problem-solving tasks. Innovation comes from healthy collisions, which our physical environments help create. It is so difficult to achieve these healthy collisions remotely.
An opportunity to address inequalities
Lockdown has also highlighted inequalities in the workplace, with the gap between those thriving and those struggling becoming more pronounced. We must close this gap, not allow it to widen as we return. People also now face daily challenges that were previously unheard of in the pre-pandemic world. For example, simply going into work carries a heightened sense of risk and we need to value the needs of people who are more vulnerable, or care for those who are, in our plans.
Living – and working – through a pandemic has also challenged and changed our values and our expectations. Some employees will rightly place greater emphasis on their own health and wellbeing, driven by a new perspective of work-life balance and what matters most. Rebuilding our organisational cultures so that employees know they are safe, connected and have a shared future together is paramount for business leaders. Those that succeed in this space will enjoy the benefits of productive and effective teams.
Allow employees to drive organisational change
This journey towards effective culture must be steered by feedback and engagement. While employees may appear keen to get back to ‘normal’, it’s important to tease out what they mean by this, where they place value. What have people noticed about their new ways of working, what would they like to keep and what matters most now? This will help create a shared sense of the future – which of course must be balanced with the needs of the business.
Ultimately, this turbulent year has united the workforce in its desire for consistency and certainty. Organisations that grasp the opportunity to co-create a new, values-based way of working with their people will likely be the ones that recover and grow. For business leaders, myself included, I encourage us to navigate the unknown with a receptive, mindful outlook, prioritising strong support for the people we lead, so that we can create the conditions in our organisations that drive an equitable, wellbeing driven economy as we step out of the shadow of lockdown.