3 Ways to Create the Newer (and better) Normal Post COVID

leadership Jun 02, 2021

            Nobel Prize recipient and famed author Toni Morrison once asked, “What’s the world for if you can’t make it up the way you want it?”

            When we return to work, it will be anything but a return to normal. I think this is for the best. We have learned too much. Grinded too hard. We’ve grown in too many ways.

            We cannot go back to the same work environment that previously existed. Between the trauma of COVID-19 and the re-emergence of social justice issues, leaders and employees both are different people than the ones who grabbed their laptops and headed home to work over one year ago.

            As leaders start to rethink and rebuild, they must begin to reflect on what worked for employees before COVID, what did not work, and what changes they want to implement in this new world.

Newer Normal: Work habits to Keep 

            Last year, leaders and teams faced many unpredictable challenges. Everything from day-to-day meetings to sales to work routines all upended. While this was a time of uncertainty and frustration, recognize your team’s resilience and creativity found new workarounds, and press on despite the obstacles. Consider how the team came together to accomplish the mission—what methods worked? How was the team motivated? The team’s strength and spirit of triumph are things to bring forward into the newer normal.

            Another work trait to bring forward is the team’s flexibility. As we used to say in the Marine Corps, “no plan survives the first contact,” and I believe every business faced that same problem. Every change last year forced leaders to create new plans. Then, those plans were thrown out the window when another challenge popped its head around the corner. Think about how your team reacted and performed, despite unforeseen complications. The newer normal should include teams that can adjust and adapt when things change.

            Finally, think about what made “the good old days” of work-life pre-COVID special. Was it potluck Fridays? Or birthday cakes? Or monthly meet-ups? What personal touches did the office provide for its workers to bring them together informally, but also in a special way? Keep those experiences. 

Newer Normal: What Did We Learn? 

            Not all work habits are good or bad; some are neutral and need to be considered. As leaders create plans for team members to return to the office, they have a lot to consider. Take a step back and look at your team: who works better or is more productive from home?  Who works better in an office? Can you afford a hybrid option for some of your employees? Some of these answers will depend on a specific cost-benefit analysis; however, I encourage all leaders to look beyond cost and consider productivity and individual satisfaction for the job.

            We learned that the “must-have meetings,” were not necessarily must-have. Perhaps one-on-ones have become a better approach. Or vice versa: maybe all of the individual meetings can be done at one time for better leveraging of synergy across the team. We also learned that all meetings do not have to be in person. While some employees can be present, others can be participating from home.

            As a leader, you must analyze factors of company culture, talent, productivity and decide what methods worked and did not work for your business during the toughest of times.

Newer Normal: Work Habits to Ditch 

            The best part of re-entering the workplace is shedding all the work habits that should have never crept into the office in the first place. Leaders need to understand what aspects of the prior (old) workplace needed improvement.

Unrealistic Timelines and Workflows 

            For example, non-sustainable workflows or unrealistic timelines should be left outside to dry. Over the past year, employees have figured out how to still be productive and meet reasonable timelines. This needs to continue. Leaders must fight the urge to come back and make everything a priority. As the world slowly continues to come back to life, leaders need to recognize that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

            Unreasonable deadlines lead directly to another undesirable work habit: burnout. A Gallup study found that 23% of people in the workforce experience burnout very often or always, and an additional 44% feel burnt out sometimes. All this means that nearly two-thirds of employees are burnt out on the job. This is not a normal we should return to.

Tackle Burnout 

            Leaders can help prevent employee burnout by managing employee workloads and checking in with their employees.  Once the office doors open, employers may feel like they need to work long hours to “catch up” on the work they missed last year. However, leaders must set realistic expectations. Employees will feel less pressure to perform to pre-pandemic levels as soon as they get back into the office. This will be a significant stress-reducer. Finally, by checking in with their employees, leaders can get a sense of how their team members are feeling and managing the return to work.

Poor Communication 

            Lack of communication is the last work habit to leave back in 2020. With the increase of multiple platforms, plus the added benefit of face-to-face interactions, there is no reason why a company should suffer from a lack of communication. Consistent communication on the right platform, at the right time, with the right information, should be the goal. Ask employers how they felt about company communication prior to the pandemic: what could be improved? What should be sustained? The effects of COVID over the last year have caused proper communication to be more important than ever.

A Vision for the Newer Normal 

            Now is the time to imagine a new vision for your company. How do you reimagine your workplace? Is it a Zoom-free space where everyone is back in the office full time? Or are you reducing square footage because more employees can work from home? Or perhaps it’s a change in the culture? 

            The disruption of last year has allowed leaders to take a step back and see what is most important for their business. Leaders need to ask: What have I learned about what allows people to be productive and have a better quality of life? What do I need to revisit in the office to allow for that? Next week, I will dive deeper and examine how to create and chart a new path forward into the world after COVID.

            Leaders need to embrace this rare opportunity. The world hit a hard reset and everyone paused for a moment. Now is the time to make your world, your company the way you want it.      

Will you seize this opportunity?


Jenny DuFresne is the CEO, Leaders Transform. Our mission is to develop leaders who grow, inspire, and evolve people, culture, and impact. Our team supports executive and mid-level leaders with executive coaching, leader, team, and culture development in mid-market companies. Learn more at www.LeadersTransform.com

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