We’re nearing the end of the beginning. The gates are lifting. States and businesses around the country are starting to open back up from the COVID-19 pandemic disruption – and business leaders are preparing their people and spaces to return to on-site work. But we will not go back to business as usual. And, if we’re smart, we won’t want to!

The abrupt move to massive remote teleworking and social distancing was largely unwelcome. But this new way of working has prompted some positive adjustments, as well. Here are four lessons learned from COVID-19 that will stay with us long after we return to work. 

1) The Best-Laid (Business Continuity) Plans … Are Faster to Adapt than No Plans at All

No one could have predicted the exact progression of COVID-19, including the  business leaders who imagined – and planned for – a pandemic. Business continuity and pandemic plans have been around for decades, guiding business, community and government leaders through disruptions caused by weather, infectious disease, civil unrest, and other unexpected events. Companies with established – and tested – plans can respond faster and can be more agile than those without plans in place. 

As this Forbes article points out, for COVID-19, the next pandemic or, really, any business disruption, the basics of business continuity planning are the same: set up your planning and response team, understand and analyze your risks, and devise your strategy. Once you’ve done that for your business, putting your plan into action is a matter of activating your teams and stepping through your action plan – adjusting to the realities of each specific event. 

If your team is building or updating your business continuity plans, check the FEMA Emergency Preparedness Resources page, which has practical checklists, worksheets, and templates for businesses. 

2) Employee Engagement: Keeping People Apart Can Bring People Together

Josh Bersin just wrote about this phenomenon. According to his conversations with HR leaders across the country, coupled with findings from a Willis Towers Watson study of the Employee Experience Implications of COVID-19, employee engagement is going UP! Though this might sound counterintuitive at first, it likely rings true when you think about it. 

Chances are good that your company – like so many others – is taking special care of your employees right now. Health and safety concerns are top of mind. Benefits are more flexible. Learning and development are encouraged. So is sick leave and paid vacation, when employees are unable to perform the full scope of their work duties. Some companies are even helping furloughed employees find new positions. 

Overall, communication with employees is up, as leaders share new policies, business updates, and productivity expectations of their workforce. Managers are closely monitoring (and recognizing) employees’ work – while supporting employee autonomy to make good decisions on their own. 

Not surprisingly, then, the Willis research found that “90% of companies believe their culture has improved, 83% believe their employee experience is better, and 84% believe employee engagement has gone up.”

3) Inspiration is Contagious and Culture Counts

Simon Sinek, optimist and author, puts it this way, “The more people you inspire, the more people inspire you.” As troubling as COVID-19 has been (so far), it has also sparked creativity, generosity, resourcefulness, and selflessness. Countless breweries and distilleries pivoted to crafting hand sanitizer instead of liquor. Manufacturers big and small are ramping up manufacturing – and deep cleaning – of much-needed personal protective equipment. And, of course, health care professionals, emergency responders, grocery workers, cleaners, truck drivers, teachers, and many other essential workers from across the country are working long hours to combat the impact of COVID-19 directly and indirectly.

Many who are considered “non-essential” are inspired to do what they can – post virtual concerts, sew masks, donate food, donate blood, deliver groceries to neighbors, celebrate birthdays and graduations with parades and signs, and so, so much more. 

Making a difference in the world is important to employees. Millennials, especially, are purpose-driven and want your company’s purpose to be central to your culture. Business disruptions – and the generous responses from individuals and organizations – can inspire the best of ourselves and our companies, for the good of all. 

4) Some Temporary Adaptations Can Prompt Long-Term Solutions

Flexible work shifts. Working from home. Video conferencing. Social distancing. These phrases (old and new) have become commonplace and have taken on new power as companies adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. But some of these adaptations may have a legitimate place in the work world for the foreseeable future. 

There is much ongoing debate about the value and viability of telework as a long-term solution. Certainly, some companies are unable to offer their essential workers an option to work from home. Others, though, such as the General Services Administration, see increased telework as an opportunity to recruit talent and reduce office space needs. 

The pandemic has also amplified and accelerated changes in business models that were conceived pre-COVID. Taco Bell, for example, accelerated its plans to offer an order-ahead option for customers. And telemedicine was quickly adapted for broader adoption during the pandemic; a change that could stick around, if desired by practitioners and consumers alike. 

This pandemic has affected nearly every organization, but effects vary across businesses and individuals. We’ve learned a lot from this experience. Now, as we “return to work,” we have an opportunity to intentionally do things a little differently. It’s a time to claim and build on the emerging skills that power new ways to work. If we do, the result could be a better-connected, stronger organization for all that comes next. 

If you are building or revising your business continuity plan, read our white paper, Before Disaster Strikes: Building Your Crisis Management Plan From Your Skills Inventory to outline how to map essential employee skills to your response and recovery. Or contact us to learn how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can help you develop actionable response plans. 

P.S. In partnership with our content partners, ej4 and Vado, we’re pleased to share this COVID-19 resource page with free videos related to the pandemic, including some newly posted content on returning to the post-COVID-19 workplace. Enjoy, with our compliments!

RELATED RESOURCES:

Business Continuity Planning – Preparing Your Skills Inventory
Business Continuity: How Can Competency Management Help Now?
How to Bolster the Employee Experience with Competencies
Building a Positive Company Culture with Competency Management

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