Changing Times!

We have all been in crisis mode for months, is there a risk that too many people are currently concentrating on the immediate effects of the crisis and are losing sight of any potential advantages there may be? To quote André Gide “When a door closes, there is one that opens. Unfortunately, we spend so much time looking at the closed door that we don’t see the one that just opened.”[1] This may be easy to state when so many different companies are facing the ruins of everything they built up over the past years, but without this kind of approach no country would ever have been resurrected after a war or another kind of catastrophe.

At the outset of lockdown, many companies made the (forced) transition to remote working, even those which had previously categorically refused to accept this option for their staff. Admittedly, the element of obligation did not leave companies with much choice, either employees needed to work from home or stop working altogether, so obviously the former option was more attractive. The scramble to set up IT connections and provide hardware was often not easy to cope with, but somehow the challenge was met, and everyone embarked on this new way of working. Some found it more difficult to adapt than others, but after a few weeks of ongoing practice and with the help of colleagues, most employees were starting to like the concept and even started worrying about how they would ever manage to return to commuting again. Zoom meetings took off both for professional and less formal meetings and again employees mastered new techniques, which they would perhaps have otherwise shunned. Where there is a will there is a way!

Is it really a new way of working?

However, in most cases this new way of working was only really a transposition of the old way on to the new situation, no one had the time to consider if this was appropriate and what the alternatives might be. Now a few months later, as it becomes increasingly clear that the times have changed and this “new” way is here to stay, it is the moment to take some time to assess what would really be best for the company and its employees in terms of working times, methods, processes, internal organisation, availability and responsibility.

This approach is not intended as means of cutting the workforce, but far more of putting employee’s skills at the forefront and making the most use of them. This is a period when soft skills matter more than ever, mastering the art of correctly interpreting comments made in virtual meetings and taking the time to touch base with colleagues and keep up to date on developments. Perhaps it would be useful to publish some communication guidelines explaining which media are best suited to which type of message/need, just as an update of the Intranet now seems more essential than ever before, since it is consulted for so many different types of information. Perhaps project management techniques will also have to be reviewed? Does everyone have access to centralised data, who is responsible for keeping it up to date? With teams working remotely, it is all the more important to ensure that everyone knows exactly what they should be doing when, for whom, in what way.

Upskilling and adapting

What about the staff who were previously involved in very office-related tasks? What kind of training could they be offered and how could their job descriptions be reassessed? Perhaps they would enjoy adding content to the newly updated Intranet or conducting that long overdue overhaul of the online data base? It is far better to attribute new tasks, than to take the risk of your employees becoming stressed about their future employability. No one could foresee this crisis, but companies have a duty – wherever possible – to respect their employees and create a meaningful environment for them to work in; this should be inscribed in the corporate culture. Many employees will make suggestions; they have already been thinking about how they could contribute to their own job stability; listen to them, because there is nothing better than an employee willing to embrace change!

Creativity and innovation

How about organising internal brainstorming sessions to come up with new ideas for ways of adapting to the crisis? Many employees will be delighted to rise to the challenge of developing new ideas, just give them the “space” they need to throw ideas around and see what they can come up with – you will probably be very positively surprised. This is also a great way of showing your employees that you value their input and their ideas, in fact no company should wait for a crisis before encouraging staff to be creative. Perhaps this will result in them testing collaborative boards such as Miro or Mural and familiarising themselves with new techniques, in this way “digital” becomes a welcome support and not something to be wary of. Far too many people are scared by the concept of digitalisation because it seems too abstract and unknown and may pose a threat to their very existence, by mastering new tools and techniques they will come to realise that there are many benefits to be had.

Change is all about accepting the need to move out of a comfort zone and understanding why this is so important. In most cases, we want to know why we are doing something, we need a purpose, so what better challenge than getting the company back on track and ensuring stability for the years ahead? At the moment, we have the advantage that everyone sees the need, it is the right time to tap into this and get your talents focussed on creating something really great. Many, many years ago Socrates already observed “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new!” Let’s accept the challenge and work together to rebuild the future of our economy and companies.

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[1] « Lorsqu’une porte se ferme, il y en a une qui s’ouvre. Malheureusement, nous perdons tellement de temps à contempler la porte fermée, que nous ne voyons pas celle qui vient de s’ouvrir » André Gide