by Shayne Thomas
02 Jun 2020
What to Expect as Businesses Begin Reopening
If you think that “normal” is part of the equation, think again.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve experienced a lot of media whiplash. You may have felt compelled to keep up. But after a certain point, fatigue likely set in as it became clear that nothing about this current situation we’re in would stay consistent day after day.
First, there were rumblings about this thing called COVID-19. Second, a pandemic was declared. Third, the world came to a screeching halt. Fourth, governments are coming up with new ways to cope on-the-fly as the medical community continues its sprint towards a vaccine or a treatment. And now today, realizing that the world cannot remain inert for months on end, the latest headlines speak to the promise of reopening the economy.
No one would argue that getting things back on track again is a good idea. But assuming that this means life, as we once knew it, will suddenly return to “normal” is just wishful thinking.
There’s absolutely nothing remotely normal about the world today. As businesses begin to ever so slowly reopen, we have to come up with new and creative ways to get back on track. It won’t be quick. It certainly won’t be easy. We just need to give it time—and when we do, something that looks and feels a bit more like normal will start to come together. In the meantime, here are a few things to keep in mind as you carve out a new path forward in post-COVID-19 times:
1. Don’t expect business-as-usual
The entire definition of “normal” pre-pandemic is a far cry from what normal will look and feel like as we begin moving into post-pandemic times. All bets are off, and the rules of engagement must change completely. We’re in no position to adopt a business-as-usual mentality. Not only is it impractical but, given the nature of this pandemic and all the uncertainty surrounding how it spreads, it could be a dangerous assumption, too.
Instead, we must approach reopening the economy with a post-war-esque “rebuilding” mentality, focusing squarely on the health, wellbeing, and safety of people above everything else. This will be easier for some businesses than others. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard blueprint for how to go about rebuilding our businesses once social distancing orders slowly become relaxed. Patience is key.
2. Be patient with your timelines
Speaking of patience, we also need to anticipate this rebuilding process to take upwards of 12 months before anything really starts to feel normal again. Remember, what’s happening now in the world isn’t a one-time occurrence. It’s a virus, and it’s still spreading rapidly, although with much less velocity than before. But a second or third spike could pop up at any moment.
As the world awaits a vaccine or a treatment to become available en masse, we have to accept the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t have a traditional beginning, middle, and end. It’s not a straight path; it’s a windy road. We will get to an end eventually. Until then, the workplace, at least those that open their doors again, will be a very different experience for everyone involved. Social distancing, heightened hygiene requirements, frequent cleaning schedules, and other safety measures will reshape all aspects of how we work. And as HR leaders, you will play an active role in enforcing these measures.
Again, this won’t be forever, but it will be a big focus for you for many months ahead.
3. Take the time to “re-board” your employees
Some people are well adapted to remote work. Others have had a hard time balancing their personal and professional lives from the same place. And then there are those people for whom technology is their biggest foe (bless their hearts). Whatever the case may be, when people are thrown out of regimented structure, they have no choice but to create and adopt new habits to deal with the changing circumstances. We might as well call these coping mechanisms.
However, just because new habits have formed doesn’t mean they are good habits or even best practices for keeping your business’s productivity and operations full steam ahead in post-pandemic times. As people begin to come back to the office, why not treat them all like new employees, regardless of how long they’ve been at the company? Consider this a different kind of onboarding—let’s call it “re-boarding”—to ease your teams and employees back into a more normal groove.
Part of this involves resetting expectations and getting people to adopt their good habits once again. The other part is a bit more interpersonal. Managers should set aside a little social distanced one-on-one time to see how each of their employees are doing, to learn about the stresses and challenges they may have encountered during their stay-at-home period, and to understand how they may really need your help to get back on-track and succeed during this very strange and unprecedented time. We’ve all gone through some interesting ebbs and flows throughout this crisis. No one should be expected to simply “bounce back” immediately.
4. Spot the signs of trauma
Yet another perfect segue. Whether managers run their teams like a tight-knit family or embrace a more traditional manager-employee relationship, they must be on the lookout for signs of trauma, burnout, fear, depression, and other psychological factors that may have weighed their employees down during this tough time. This might not be easy to spot. Some employees may lead with a smile on their face, even though they’re struggling inside. Others may be easily distracted or have a hard time readjusting to office life.
The last few months have been a challenge for everyone. This psychological and physical trauma we’ve all absorbed during this crisis can (and will) manifest itself in different ways and in different times for different employees. Managers must be aware of the signs and lead with an extra dose of compassion to help their teams overcome the aftershocks of this pandemic.
5. Upskill your leaders
Many of us would agree that no one was prepared for this situation—much less to change gears almost entirely overnight. Some managers have really seized this opportunity to become better leaders, mentors, and coaches, using technology and other means to keep team morale and productivity high amid a flurry of challenges. Others may have felt as though they were treading water. But that’s not their fault. They simply have never had to deal with a situation like this.
If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that our businesses, leaders, and teams must be prepared for anything. This doesn’t mean simply having the right tools and technologies in place to facilitate remote working. It goes far beyond that. The biggest challenge we’ve seen throughout this crisis is the lack of soft skills that many managers, especially those who have risen through the ranks based on technical expertise or tenure alone, need to master when the very nature of work takes on a much more interpersonal tone than ever before.
To be honest, this is no different than providing teams with the technologies to keep collaboration going seamlessly from afar. Soft skills-as-tools are equally important, during normal circumstances and especially during times of crisis. And in many ways, it’s a great opportunity for leaders to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.” Many expect their teams to learn soft skills as part of their learning, growth, and development. Now it’s their turn to follow suit.
Cornerstone truly cares
We are in the same boat as all of you. Fortunately, as HR experts, we’ve got a few additional insights that can help us help you weather this storm with flying colors. A great place to start is by visiting Cornerstone Cares. Here you have access to free learning tools and courses to help you work through stress, excel at working from home, and overcome a number of the challenges that we’re all facing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unravel.
Remember, you and your business are not alone in this. Our entire team is ready to help you succeed as your business begins its first steps towards business-as-usual once again. This is not a time to be afraid to ask for help. Always know that Cornerstone has got your back.