Inevitably, as the coronavirus pandemic progresses and national lockdowns enter their third month, public attention has started to look hopefully ahead towards a light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses and governments alike are increasingly focused on their exit strategy. But the road back to normality raises many questions around what ‘normality’ will look like in the post-Covid world.

There will be no instant return to ‘the way things were’; no immediate reset. Instead, parts of the normality we have become accustomed to over the first half of 2020 will become embedded in our daily lives for the foreseeable future. ‘Normality’ will be a combination of our habits pre-lockdown, and the necessities we have embraced during this time of unprecedented change.

For businesses, this is no different. Any employers envisaging a fully staffed office within the next month or two has not been paying attention. Businesses cannot ignore the lessons of the past six months, so here are some suggestions for how best to prepare for ‘the new normal’.

Communication is king

This continues to crop up in everything we write, and continues to be the most important aspect of managing a workforce. Creating a culture of honesty and transparency within a business has to start from the top, and in times of uncertainty, effective top-down communication is more important than ever.

Lack of clarity on what the future holds can be extremely tough, particularly when there are potential job losses or furlough worries to consider. Business leaders should try to keep employees as updated as possible on their plans, answering likely questions such as: ‘when do you plan to reopen the office’, ‘what will that look like for the business’, and ‘what will that look like for me as an individual?’

It’s ok to change your plan and update your staff accordingly. Better to over-communicate than to leave employees in the dark until you’re certain you have the final version of the plan. Moreover, involving your employees in the decision-making process, and giving them a space to ask questions and express doubts or concerns will ensure that you end up making the best possible decisions for your workforce, as well as for the business as a whole.

Focus on the individual

No matter how close-knit your team is, or however resilient your company culture is, the isolation and remote working of the past couple of months will have emphasised that every team is made up of individuals. It is important to remember that not all employees will have had the same experience of remote working, so for business leaders, approachability and empathy will be crucial to understanding the needs of your staff.

There have been a number of studies on the potential impact of isolation on mental health, but conversely, the end of the lockdown will create a whole new experience of anxiety for many employees. Some may have medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of the virus, while others may be hamstrung by care-giving commitments at home. Sensitivity to the needs of individual team members will be central to effective post-lockdown business management.

Alongside prioritising open communication and empathy, businesses can also take practical steps, by investing meaningfully in staff wellbeing.

Prioritise health and safety

When businesses begin to return to their offices, it’s clear that some forms of social distancing will still be required in order to ensure the safety of employees. The health of staff members must be a priority for all businesses, and employers should plan for allowances as much as they possibly can. 

The physical office space will need to be altered to allow for spacing, and working habits adapted to include greater hygiene measures throughout the day. These modifications should be communicated to staff in advance to allow them to return to the office with confidence that their health and safety is being safeguarded as a priority.

Additionally, the lockdown has proven to many businesses that remote working is a viable option, and accordingly, many will incorporate more flexible working arrangements into their day-to-day operations. And it’s important to involve your employees in these decisions – survey your team to see how they’d prefer to work post-lockdown and incorporate this feedback into your plans. The chances are many will want and expect more flexibility moving forward. 

Stay flexible

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how we view the world, and the way that businesses run will also have to change. An organisation’s best asset is its people, so now is the time to build loyalty among your people. Long-term training and wellbeing solutions that prioritise the needs of the individual and can be implemented remotely, such as digital coaching, will not only help staff through these difficult times, but also provide a productivity and retention boost into the future. While businesses need to begin building for the future, a big part of this involves retaining focus on the little things that affect staff on a daily basis. 

The situation is still changing on a daily basis and returning to the office safely and successfully will look different for every business – the most important thing for businesses for now is to remain agile and flexible. If things don’t work out as planned, or external factors like a second wave of the virus force another lockdown, being able to adapt your plans quickly will be key to minimising business disruption.

This is the new normal, the new reality of doing business, in which only agile businesses, agile strategies, agile processes, and agile people will succeed. In order to prepare for and thrive in the future of work have a look at our whitepaper “Future Proofing Your Business with an Agile Workforce