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Learn from the Virtual Workplace of the Pandemic

We can all learn from the virtual workplace

Table of Contents

By Mark Samuel –

This is part 1 in a 4-part series to help organizations navigate the virtual workplace and re-entry after the initial impact of COVID-19.

A Roadmap for Re-Entry

After almost a year and a half of working virtually, organizations everywhere are eagerly awaiting and planning for re-entry as the spread of coronavirus slows and things are starting to go back to normal.

But what leadership teams around the globe are likely finding is that we’re in uncharted territory, with no historical model for success about how to safely and effectively get back to work after a pandemic. Your organization might be asking questions like:

  • Do we just try and go back to normal as quickly as possible?
  • Do we continue with our virtual workspaces or go back to the office?
  • Do we use re-entry to make minor changes to our business in order to ensure survival during this challenging economy?
  • Do we leverage the learning from working virtually to grow our workforce and develop our culture to balance compassion for employees with high performance?
  • Do we transform our organization’s business and culture upon re-entry to take advantage of this unique time in history?

Trying to figure out the right path for your organization during this unprecedented time might be frightening or frustrating, but having more questions than answers is a good place to be. When you rush to find answers, you are likely trying to use old thinking to solve new problems, leaving you at risk for becoming stuck and even obsolete. The key isn’t to find the right answers; the key is to know the right questions to ask.

This 4-part article serves as a roadmap for any business struggling to know how to approach Re-entry. It contains a combination of questions and approaches that will quickly lead you to set direction, develop multiple scenario plans as new information comes forward, and develop strategic communication plans for everyone involved. You will be able to approach Re-entry with grace, with clarity, and with confidence. There are four parts to this article:

Part 1: Learning from the Virtual Environment and the effects of COVID-19

Part 2: Creating an Outcome-Driven Plan for Initial Re-entry

Part 3: Adapting Your Re-entry Approach

Part 4: Solidifying Your Culture During and After Re-entry

Part 1: Learning from the Virtual Workplace and Effects of COVID-19

What is the Purpose of a Virtual Workplace?

While many people love going into the office, this unprecedented time gave a lot of people the opportunity to see what it’s like to work from home, to spend more time with their families, and even to be able to move somewhere they were previously unable to move to do the constraints of a physical workplace. A virtual workplace not only gives employees more freedom in their day to day life (hello doing laundry in between work calls!), it also gives companies the option to hire the best people, even if they don’t live nearby.

How Does a Virtual Workplace Operate?

By now, everyone knows what a virtual workplace is – at least under the conditions of necessity due to a pandemic. But if your organization has just been waiting to get back to the office, you may not have fully utilized a virtual workplace’s full potential.

Members of a virtual workplace need some way to communicate with each other. Some popular chat options include:

They also need some form of video conferencing such as:

Once you have the technology in place for how to communicate, you need a way to share files. Most teams do this on SharePoint in Microsoft Office 365 or Google Drive.

The truth is, virtual workplaces and in-personal workplaces don’t operate much differently from each other. You can easily get distracted in the office just the same as getting distracted from home. In virtual, you may need to be extra intentional in meetings and when requesting or sharing information since the person you’re speaking with isn’t just in the next cubicle, but we see this as a positive. Many people can actually be much more efficient working from home, allowing them extra time to be with their families or friends before or after work.

Learning from Virtual, Even if You Go Back to the Office 

The pandemic helped to get many of us unstuck from positions, philosophies and policies that were no longer working, but which we weren’t willing to challenge previously due to lack of motivation, fear of the unknown, or risks involved in challenging the status quo.  It also helped reshape the way we think about work, home, and work-life balance. But now we have the unique opportunity to learn from the changes this pandemic has caused. The first step to learning is curiosity. Start with these questions:

1) In what ways did we gain efficiency by having a virtual environment?

  • Meeting Effectiveness (less time traveling to a meeting within the building, between buildings and between cities)
  • Keeping people focused (shorter meetings with fewer topics that are more essential to everyone involved)
  • Social distancing in relationship to better physical health (Social distancing and cleansing not only protected people from COVID-19, but also resulted in fewer people absent with the flu, colds, allergies and bronchial infections)
  • Decreased travel costs
  • Work became “outcome-driven” rather than time or effort driven (less able to micromanage with a greater focus on managing results and expectations rather than approach to getting work done)

2) In what ways did you lose efficiency and effectiveness during this time?

  • Coordination and communication breakdowns
  • Ability to hold others accountable remotely
  • Inability to perform based on equipment or technology that is housed in the office and not adaptable to a home setting
  • Disruption and distraction due to working at home causing meeting interruption, lack of availability, dealing with time zone issues

3) What were the competencies of leaders who adapted well to a virtual environment versus those who didn’t adapt well? How will those competencies be maintained after re-entry?

  • Demonstrated care and connection with their employees by checking in with them personally
  • Kept people informed regularly, if not daily, with up-to-date information on changes, dispelling rumors, and alleviating unnecessary fears
  • Providing clear guidance, expectations, and priorities while giving people the flexibility to adapt their work schedule based on their home environment and needs to support their family

4) How did teamwork improve during the pandemic, and how will those behaviors and attitudes be maintained after re-entry?

  • More frequent and effective meetings through personal check-ins and sharing while staying focused on resolving issues
  • Increased support of each other as teammates by increased communication using technology
  • Allowing dedicated time for social interaction with each other on the team

5) How have your customers changed the way they purchase from your organization, their expectations for communication, and new positioning of your services or products

  • Home deliveries versus coming to a store to make purchases
  • Desire for more space between people – whether in a store or on a plane or public transportation
  • A clear mission and behavior to support your customer’s safety during their transaction with employees or other customers
  • Redefining teams to include a larger span of cross-functional inclusion

6) How did communication change during the last few months in terms of frequency, style, content, and connection? What improvements in communication and connection did you observe from the pandemic environment, both remotely and, if applicable, in the workspace?

  • More focus on connection, not just information and status updates
  • Multiple touch-points daily and during the week
  • Shorter and more frequent meetings
  • Messaging that took better care of the whole person, beyond the workplace
  • Demonstrated care for family and support

7) Which employees flourished during the last few months in terms of output, effectiveness and morale, and which employees didn’t? What were the factors involved including function, personality (introvert vs. extrovert), clear expectations, role, health, and other factors associated with your workplace?

  • People without family constraints making themselves available to others with home-life challenges
  • Employees who were more outcome-driven to achieve priorities and goals
  • Employees who were more adaptable and flexible to change and try new procedures without resistance
  • Employees being more open and transparent about their personal constraints and challenges

8) What new roles and functions emerged due to the coronavirus environment? (This can include housekeeping, technology positions, online merchandising, warehousing, and shipping, just to name a few)

  • The need for greater housekeeping services to cleanse the workplace
  • The need to strengthen comfort with using technology as a vehicle for communication, problem solving, and decision making
  • Flexible roles so that employees rotated their roles based on need rather than getting stuck by their fixed job description
  • Change workflow processes based on a shift in the business model due to social distancing

Once you collect as many responses to these questions and more that you add from your own experience and industry, it’s important to ask yourself: what is your “New Picture of Success” for your business, culture, leadership, teamwork, and collective execution? What new habits of execution, communication, and behavior do you want to maintain upon re-entry? In other words, considering your normal business constraints, changes in your market, as well as possible continuing constraints from coronavirus, what is your ideal scenario as an organization moving forward? As you consider your plans for re-entry, it’s important to know the “North Star” for your business.

Let us know your results in the comments below. 

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When you know where you’re headed, you’re ready for
Part 2: Creating an Outcome-Driven Plan for Initial Re-Entry

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