Even though many of us have survived many types of crises in our lifetimes, from natural disasters to economic recession, this crisis called COVID-19 has completely disrupted life as we know it. Everything has changed and probably won’t go back to what we called normal when it goes away. What changes can we expect to become the new landscape we call work and business?
While this may seem new to some people and industries, remote work is nothing new. In fact, if we really think about it in the Bahamian context, that is exactly what our grandparents did: work from home. Whether carpentry, neighborhood store, homemade bread or farming, everything was done from home and the customers came to the house. They chose when they went out to market – in their time and on their terms.
Some people are reeling and won’t adjust to the freedom of working at home, but others are loving it. Managers concerned about productivity battle with not being able to walk over and see their staff at their workstations. They also may struggle to figure out what the work is that their teams should be doing. Managers that enjoy working independently won’t have a challenge allowing their teams to do the same, providing clear tasks, deadlines and freedom to perform.
What some don’t like about working from home: having to be self-directed and disciplined without the tangible accountability a manager tends to bring. What some do like is exactly that – being able to direct how they work and when they work in comfort and flexibility. This is the introverts’ time to shine! They are saying, “This is how we have always been; working alone is what I love.”
The businesses that were the early adopters of automation and online processes are the ones that are better prepared for this disruption. Organizations with primarily manual processes are having to figure out how to meet the needs of customers that can’t come in to fill out forms and physically engage with the business. They are figuring out how to remain relevant in comparison to perhaps smaller, more agile businesses that have been able to readjust and serve the customers that want what they have in a faster, easier, more efficient way.
Are your records digitized? Can you accept online payments? Do you have an online presence? Can you make money while you’re closed? This is not going to change but will only be magnified as time goes on. People will get accustomed to doing business this way and it will take a while for people to be comfortable interacting around others again.
What this difficult period will reveal is that businesses can yet again do more with less. Recessions have taught this and who would have thought it could get leaner? Business leaders will realize who the real talent is in their organizations and who the non-contributors are. They will realize that some people were not as productive as they could have been and, in fact, will not need as many people to perform certain functions. Some functions will be eliminated because of automation. This is an opportunity for people to really determine the value they bring to their organizations and how they contribute. Some people may prefer working from home or part-time work or even entrepreneurship and not go back to work as they knew it.
More planning and preparation
Unexpected disaster always teaches you to be more prepared. “If only” becomes the mantra of those that wished they saved more, planned more, followed their vision more closely, focused in on those goals, paid more attention to trends and the list goes on. Hopefully the other side of this will birth visionary leaders that will not only work in the business but also on the business, taking the time to determine what’s important.
Disruption is good. It gets our attention and changes our perspective. It makes us creative and forces us to change. Perhaps it is just time to make the unusual the new normal.
• Simmone L. Bowe, MSc, SPHRi, is a seasoned human resource and organization development consultant and trainer, speaker, author, coach and mentor who focuses on helping business owners, leaders and professionals diagnose their people and performance problems and implement strategic solutions. Bowe is a trusted advisor of global leaders, providing consultancy support, training or coaching. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.