The easing of some of Australia’s harshest lockdown measures is a good sign when it comes to getting back to work. As the curve flattens and our grasp on the virus strengthens, the possibility of returning to normality increases. This ‘normality’ we speak of, however, is like none other before. Coronavirus has established a new normal – it is up to executives and other leaders to forge their organisation’s path ahead.
A collective narrative has emerged regarding the ‘end’ of the Coronavirus crisis. In Victoria, people are expecting Dan Andrews to stride up to the lectern in a few months’ time and announce that work, live sport and the pub are all back in action. The understanding is that, if we do the right thing now, we will be rewarded with the chance of things going back to normal.
We must understand that there will be no official ‘end’ to Coronavirus – until a vaccine emerges, that is. Even when the pubs open up again, things will not be the same. The nature of this virus means we will need to distance and wash our hands intensely even when we are allowed to socialise.
The same logic applies to going back to work. There will not be a day where we can drop the mindset we have adopted for the last few months and head into our offices as if nothing ever happened. The virus remains a risk. Just because the Government tells us we can be less cautious does not mean we can forsake our better judgement.
Executives must approach the oncoming transition with this reality in mind. We will be faced with hundreds of cabin-fever-ridden employees who are raring to make the most of the social opportunities our offices provide. Executives cannot let this pressure – and their own desire to get back to the way things were – blind them to our new reality. There will be no return to ‘normal.’ What is normal has changed. Coronavirus is our new normal. One day, we are going to wake up and realise that we have not thought about the virus in a while. The virus will still be there – we will have just gotten used to living and dealing with it.
With that in mind, it is vital that executives start accommodating for the particulars of this shifting paradigm.
A good example of this new mindset is determining what is the optimal time to begin and end the working day. If the Government reopens offices all at once, the usual start time of 8.30 or 9 in the morning will create a flood of people on notoriously crowded and germy trains, trams, and buses. If you add the impending tsunami of school students (who are much more likely to be asymptomatic carriers of the virus) to the mix, the morning commute could become a hive of contagion.
Executives could stagger their office’s start times to make social distancing on the way to work more of a possibility. If a third arrive at 8, a third at 9.30 and the final third at 10, you facilitate a safer workplace by allowing your team members to skip the most intense timeframe in which to catch public transport (and Coronavirus).
US commercial real estate magnate Cushman & Wakefield also provide a great example of how executives can organize their office spaces to minimise risk to employees. Their ‘6 Feet Office’ plan uses markings on the floor – a la Coles and Woolworths – to help guide social distancing and has a one-way route through the office so people are not brushing past each other while breezing down corridors. Moreover, non-shared keyboards and personal supplies are a necessity.
These sorts of measures, and the need to be conscious of them, suggest what many of us, deep down, already know: There is no ‘end’ to Coronavirus. We have to get used to living with the virus around us. This is our new normal. Executives cannot pretend our reality is otherwise. We all wish things were different – but they are not. Being sent back to work is not an excuse to let our standards slip.
An executive’s adaptive capacity is what separates him or her from the rest of the office. Coronavirus is the ultimate disruption. You will be judged on your capacity to respond appropriately, proactively and, most importantly, carefully.