Covid cases are down. Vaccines seem to be meeting their targets. Access to vaccines has greatly expanded. Restrictions are being relaxed. People are heading back out. We’re headed back to normal. Maybe. Hopefully. Maybe hopefully? At first I wanted to pass on this topic. I was reading so much already out there. I knew there were SO many unique variables and an untold number of diverse situations in play. What global advice could I offer on such an unprecedented and far-reaching process? But as I continued to think about it, I kept returning to some proven, reliable concepts I felt would provide solid structure to the individual roads we will each construct as we navigate this transition back from the “new normal.” So here’s the blog that almost wasn’t.
Communication is Your Most Valuable Construct
Effective communication is critical to productivity. Clear communication is vital during change. Open communication builds trust and calms nerves. You cannot over communicate during this time of transition. And don’t forget that, “I/we don’t know yet…” is still really good information. And it can be bolstered with, “…but we’re working on a it and will provide you with a decision/plan no later than X.”
I encourage you to proactively gather information from your stakeholders. Solicit their opinions on change you are considering. Get their pulse on inevitable change coming. Gather their feedback on what worked and didn’t work over the past 12 months. Survey tools like Survey Monkey, Doodle and ZoHo Survey effectively capture feedback. But remember that some communication is best had in person. And, as with any communication, always consider your audience and give careful thought to the timing.
Stay Open to Change
Take some time to study your personal and/or business productivity over the last year. Temper your findings with the fact that we all faced multifaceted disruptions, i.e. balancing family/personal life, remote learning and working logistics and certainly the physical health impacts of Covid-19. Did output surprise you in a positive way? Were you/your team members able to overcome the social impacts of physical distance? Would a permanent or partial (hybrid) transition to remote make sense for your business, if applicable?
Capitalize on the Technology
I am willing to bet you’ve become comfortable with at least one new piece of technology during this pandemic. Maybe it was Zoom or a new software application. Maybe it was using a food ordering app or doing curbside grocery pickup. What worked so well you want to keep it? Does something that benefited you personally translate to your business? Can you optimize your workflow permanently to grow productivity?
Keep it All on the Table
I know some did not choose to, but rather had to make a professional change this past year. I suspect others may have, after taking stock, determined that professional change would benefit them. Don’t be afraid to explore your options. Visit with those in your trusted support group. Find an accountability partner and navigate new territory. The same holds true if you’re running a business. Are you still aligned with your corporate and personal values and goals?
Take it Slow
Whether you’re feeling the urge to make drastic change, eager to get back to the way things were or dreading the return to normalcy, my advice is the same: take it slow. Make decisions thoughtfully and strategically. Consider, for example, the following return-to-normal dynamics that may apply to you or someone in your professional orbit.
New people came on board during the pandemic. Have they only met their teammates/customers/bosses/service providers virtually thus far? Are in person meetings in order? I had one client arrange for an employee picnic outdoors where everyone could connect safely in person ahead of a return to a physical office.
I have had more than one person tell me they need to go shopping for professional clothes before transitioning back to the world of FTF (face to face), some because they put-on weight during the lockdown and their clothes don’t fit. Many of us felt no need to invest in professional clothing when PJs worked just fine. Don’t surprise anyone with a sudden call to in-person. (And if this applies to you, start preparing now for a return to professional dress code.)
Speaking of working attire, some early office returners (and those that never went remote) have unofficially adopted a very casual dress code. Do you want to request your team members go back to the pre-pandemic dress code? Are you in favor of keeping a more casual dress code in place? If it is your decision to make, communicate your intentions. If it is a suggestion you’d like to propose, craft your argument for consideration.
Finally, what is your stance on masking? What will you expect of your team members? How will your decisions impact your clients and vendors? If appropriate, gather feedback on the topic. Without a doubt, communicate what you decide for your team and your clinets.
You may have employees asking to remain permanently remote. Take time to analyze the requests. Importantly, keep in mind that consistency is important. If you make an exception for a few, do so with clear distinctions.
But don’t be afraid to trial something new. Communicate ahead of time the concept and anticipated end date for said trial. Maybe it is a 60% remote working format you want to try out. Or perhaps there is a specific job function or personnel level that you want to trial fully offsite to see how it goes.
Some families adopted unique strategies to accommodate childcare and child education during the pandemic. Some people took advantage of the opportunity to temporarily move. Transitioning back may require extra logistics. Check in with your people. And as always, if applicable, communicate expectations upfront and provide adequate lead time.
Safeguard Your Productivity During this Transition
I know we are not out the woods yet, but we are moving away from the worst of this pandemic. Change is always uncomfortable, even if it is change for the better. Acknowledging we’re now navigating a transition, not simply shoehorning things back to the way they were, sets the stage for greater productivity. I encourage you to take it slow – for yourself and those around you. Proactively gathering good feedback and clearly communicate with your team members, clients and vendors. Remain open to change to capitalize on the lessons we’ve learned and the technologies we’ve adopted. With this approach you’ll not only safeguard, but likely boost, your productivity as you transition back at your “normal.”
Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop. She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.