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Consulting Services • Published 5/29/2020 Looking Back to Plan Forward: Change as the "New" Normal


Last updated on 5/29/2020

In the Gulf South, our version of “normal” involves a lot of change. Whether it’s Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustav, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the Great Floods of 2016, or the COVID-19 pandemic, our world is continuously disrupted with the steadiness of change. Given recent history, we have to assume that these “once in a generation” events may continue as we try to get back to a “normal” life. With the uncertainty of additional stay-at-home orders and the potential to extend or revisit remote work options, it’s important to adjust to these forced changes by turning them into successful and productive change.

As the stay-at-home order was put into place, we saw business goals switch to reacting in the moment. New procedures and processes were drawn up quickly to conform to the situation at hand. Now that this phase has passed, businesses can start the transition to becoming proactive by determining what their goals, strategies, and workforce will look like moving forward.

The list below provides a new outlook to these forced changes by comparing them to a more welcomed change approach. The economy is entering a recovery phase, and now is the time to think proactively and create a safe environment for employees and clients. By adjusting our perspective, we can immediately decipher how to plan for the future and craft a more positive outlook.

Forced Changes versus Welcomed Changes

Unplanned business disruption

Creating established and blended working arrangements

Unclear and untimely decisions and communications

Proactive, leader-driven decisions

Undetermined transition period

Opportunities to blend and be flexible

Changes made in the moment with little input

Embracing a change maturity model

Balancing virtual and in-office work

As stay-at-home orders are lifted, who will actually return to the workplace and when? Identify employees who need to return to work in order to do their jobs, and who can continue to work from home. Consider the ability to bring staff back to the workplace in waves or with a staggered schedule. Implement tools and processes that allow employees to work together while keeping physical distance, including virtual meetings, new messaging systems, or updating conference phone lines.

Keeping the workplace safe

Employers will need to be proactive to mitigate risks and limit the possibility of a second COVID-19 outbreak once workplace operations resume. This is the time to develop a longer-term social distancing plan and brainstorm other preventative measures. Should desks be repositioned, space added between cubicles, or conference rooms be off limits? Leverage this opportunity to stock up on any necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies for employee use, such as masks, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers.

Re-prioritizing technology and security

Securing technology is even more crucial with a workforce operating out of several different locations. Think about how current technology standards and protocols are applied across your company and how they can be improved to protect data. Do remote workers have a secure internet connection? Are they using their own laptops or company laptops? If they have a tech issue or are concerned their security has been compromised, how will they let the appropriate staff know?

Communicating to your employees

Employees will need to understand that this is not a routine return-to-work situation and things may not operate the way they did prior to the pandemic. Develop messaging to inform employees how this process will operate and outline your exact expectations. This is also a time to reach out to your clients, customers, and office visitors. Keep them updated on your intentions so that safety remains a priority.

Focusing on mental health and well-being

Businesses should consider focusing on the mental health and well-being of employees. Everyone has been affected by this pandemic, but the exact impacts differ from person to person. Assess your current health coverage, including employee assistance programs (EAP), to confirm and communicate what is available to your staff. Teamwork between the HR department and managers can help create a level of certainty in this time of change.

Training your employees

After the above plans have been put into place, employees must be trained on the new normal environment.  This re-orientation may need to happen virtually, in a large space, or during different times to make sure all can participate. Be sure to save time for employees to ask questions and raise their concerns. Take all feedback into consideration and edit plans accordingly.

Looking back to plan forward

This is a chance to be proactive rather than reactive. The question is no longer where are we going to work but how are we going to work. Your employees are a major part of the transition and their buy-in is paramount to your organization's success during this re-entry and recovery period. Make this a time for growth and development by recognizing that change is actually the “new” normal and take the opportunity to learn from this abrupt transition now so that your business can be ready to adapt no matter what the future holds. Contact us if you need help navigating and planning for change in your organization.

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