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COVID-19 Initial Lessons for Businesses and Their Workers

I would like to begin this blog post by sending my best wishes to all my readers. Wherever you may be in this world, I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well at this very stressful time.

I have been watching the situation evolve over recent weeks and while I felt the need to check in with everyone, I wanted to bide my time until I felt I had something important to contribute. While lessons often emerge after an event, when a situation unfolds as the current global pandemic has, we can learn things at each stage of its development.

There are many negative effects of a pandemic, such as the one in which we currently find ourselves, but when we look, we can find the good too.

One of the key lessons I have taken away so far is that COVID-19 blasted into our society, a world dominated in recent years by talk of us and them, reminding us that we are one.

This virus has moved across the world from Asia to Europe and beyond. It doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender or religion and it won’t be stopped by man-made borders. Some people have been surprised to see high profile people such as Tom Hanks and Boris Johnson get sick and receive confirmation that they have the virus. Neither wealth nor status can protect you from catching COVID-19, and so, the hashtag ‘inthistogether’ was born.

The irony of this virus is that while the measures to counteract it drive us apart physically, the universal nature of the virus is bringing us together. While some businesses have had to cease trading, many that have supplies of personal protective equipment have donated these to hospitals working on the front lines.

Postal workers in remote areas have taken on extra duties to include delivering shopping and medical prescriptions to the elderly and at-risk groups. The ISPCC has had an incredible response to a campaign for more resources to support the children who are at risk in their homes during the crisis.

These are heart-warming examples of communities reaching out to support one another, but what about corporate life, can this crisis bring teams, co-workers and their leaders closer together in a more equal way?

There is a great opportunity here for companies to embrace remote and more flexible working arrangements.

Now that our hand has been forced, vast numbers of people are working from home. Those that still travel to work have been placed on staggered shifts to ensure social distancing requirements are met. Those companies who did not believe that it could be done have been shown that it can work.

RICOH Ireland's Workstyle Innovation Survey produced at the end of 2017, a little over two full years ago, revealed that only 37% of Irish workers were able to work remotely. Figures estimate a jump of 100,000 people in recent weeks. While many of those will want to return to their offices once this has passed, others will expect increased flexibility on the part of their employer in future. Technology companies seem to be more ready to deal with this shift while others may struggle.

A representative from technology company, Slack commented, “we are fully prepared for this situation… first and foremost, our concern is for the families and individuals affected by the coronavirus… For now, we are focused on helping people around the world adapt to remote work with free resources.”

There is a middle ground which can be adopted post-pandemic. Maintaining staggered shifts and flexible working arrangements allows for a greater work/life balance, reducing commute times and giving team members more time in their day.

This middle ground could allow parents to spend more time with their children without sacrificing their careers through remote working arrangements.  

Those who may have been cut off from employment opportunities due to lack of access to public or private transport or accessibility issues within the workplace are now able to contribute as much as any of their co-workers by working remotely.

Now that so many people are working from home, it is suddenly accepted that we show up as our whole selves. Noise from children in the background is less of a problem as it would have been a couple of weeks ago. Discussing fears and uncertainties is now becoming normalised as more and more people realise that we all have fears.

As teams are reduced, in some cases to a skeleton staff, our other talents come to the fore. We can offer our employers a much broader range of talents than may ever have been asked of us in normal times. Those with skills in live video, blogging, social media, and so on, can all deliver more value to their employer now that team sizes are reduced. Nobody is simply their job description, we all have vast talents. Now is the time for employees to offer them and for companies to draw upon them. 

Leaders of teams now need to step up and lead with empathy and vulnerability. It is time to support your teams as individuals and groups. Lip service isn’t enough anymore, your staff need to see and feel that they are heard, understood and valued.

The companies who engage with and support their staff now through these difficult times are the ones who will have a full team ready to fight for their company when the virus phase has passed and the economic phase that will follow emerges. The path to recovery could be a long one, no one knows quite how long this will last. But, what is clear is that an openness on the part of the business to work with diverse teams in flexible ways that offer a range of mutually beneficial talents and solutions will strengthen the business capabilities into the future.

We truly are stronger together.

If you would like help to support your diverse teams through this difficult time, please contact me, Adaku at PhoenixRize to discuss how we can develop a virtual programme that will work for your business and your team.


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