COVID-19 has forced us as consumers, professionals, parents, and students to dramatically adjust our habits and routines. A complete re-write of the rules on how we interact, do business, socialize and stay in touch with loved ones. But how far will this rubber band stretch before we snap back to our past comfort zones? Will staying #togetherapart be what Apple did to the phone? An innovation so profound you can’t imagine going back to the old way – (A lesson learned early in my Access career from noted entrepreneur and mentor Scott Cook).
One thing is for sure: lives have been shattered. From families unable to gather physically to mourn, to the millions now out of work, to graduating seniors not given all their rights and privileges earned. To the delayed medals to the postponed betrothed to the mental and well-being of those on the front lines and sheltered alone at home or in hospitals. Collectively, the ash heap of COVID-19 has taken its toll.
Oddly, there is something else being shattered by COVID-19: myths. Business legends and lore’s that were once thought impossible have been inadvertently torn down or have turned the tide of impossibility.
Let’s examine the obvious first, WFH. A long-fought and divisive debate across the globe as to whether employees can work from home and still be productive to an organization. Necessity has shattered that myth. One could argue that employees are being asked to do even more, and work longer now sheltered in place. Another prime belief of why WFH doesn’t work is that a good manager cannot lead virtually or from long distance. COVID-19 has shown a good manager is a good manager. No matter where you sit – good, frequent communications about one’s personal and professional well-being doesn’t require physical connection, but empathy, intelligence and simply making the time to connect.
Of course, nothing replaces physical interaction at the office, or those impromptu hallway chat sessions where you often learn something new outside a Zoom call. But knowing that our self-reliance can be manifested in new productive ways is what we as business professionals must remember as this cloud lifts.
What about culture? We know culture eclipses strategy every time. This is carved in stone in any MBA course. But legend dictates that culture happens at the workplace. It cannot flourish remotely. What we have now re-carved is that culture is where the heart is, not where the headquarter sits.
Since COVID, some say, okay I say, Culture (with a capital C) has flourished. Not because it was mandated, but because employees rallied even harder to keep it alive and growing. Book clubs, meditation sessions, wine tasting, bitch sessions, team talks have all become a new mainstay. Crunch the numbers. Data shows higher engagement counts at these new “cultural” moments. More so than the legendary open bar happy hours. I’ll drink to that. This doesn’t mean our old definition of culture will never be again, but we now can say with confidence that resilience can help us adapt, add and change. Not for better or worse – just different.
What else will be shattered? The need to have enough real estate for every employee hired. Not if we have to social distance. There won’t be enough room. Commute times. Will it still take 90 minutes from San Francisco to the Valley or from Staten Island to Manhattan Island when the handcuffs are off? Perhaps not with these new rules of engagement as more people work remotely. What about talent? Does it always need to be sitting in the major cities of business and finance in order to make a client happy? I’m not sitting in a major city currently. Does that make me less valuable to our clients?
All these are new ways of thinking that in the end I believe will be better for business, employees, social and our own personal sanity. (Though I think many parents will want schooling to remain where’s its always been.)
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed our society. And while scary and unsettling in some respect, this period has also emboldened us, made us rethink and inspire more transformative changes in the future. Maybe we might be better off if the rubber band breaks and we don’t “snap back” but rebuild instead with a new mindset on how we work, eat, pray, love.
By: Matt Afflixio, President