I’ve been thinking a lot about what life looks like after the forced quarantine that we’re now a part of. How do the companies we work at look financially? Organizationally? What does life in general look like after this?
I wanted to share with you my thoughts because it’s something that I observe many organizations still being in denial about. My hope and frankly, my optimism, is strictly toward those organizations who will arise from this downturn stronger than before.
However in order to retain and expand a leadership position, organizations and leaders cannot fall victim to the same intuition that is driving so many in this time of uncertainty.
The Government, Testing, and Reopening
The most important place to start is at the top: the government.
At this moment, the dialogue within the media and among politicians is a drive to “re-open the economy”. Unfortunately that phrase is about as far as the plans extend. The result has been a game of reading tea leaves as we piece together information received from various sources.
We have begun to receive a sliver of insight in recent days. This includes Gavin Newsom’s planning that was released last week as well as statements from Andrew Cuomo alluding to a unified plan with other Northeastern states.
The most sobering takeaway is this: we don’t have a good plan in place and have been utterly unprepared for this event. I could provide tons of data and articles on this but you get the point.
So given that we are listening to an unprepared government, what will ultimately happen?
If you were to listen to epidemiologists, you’ll typically receive the most conservative and concerning take. This is the first side of the spectrum. Their position is straight forward: “If you don’t lock everything down, hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives will be lost.”
The other side of the spectrum is from those actively experiencing the repercussions of shutting down the economy. Their take is an obvious one: “re-open the economy” and let people get back to work before we make this downturn worse than it already is.
These two competing forces will drive policy-decisions for the next 6 - 18 months.
I personally anticipate governments to gradually reveal clear testing plans that gets employees back to work in phases. The unfortunate reality is that we are still weeks if not months away from being able to ramp up testing to any sustainable level.
Once people gradually return, we will be sending employees to a workplace that is completely different.
So how does an organization think about supporting their employees during this time?
It does not matter your political affiliation at this point: a huge swath of the population is scared. They are scared about their job security (if they haven’t lost it already), scared about vulnerable family members catching the virus, angry if not annoyed that they can’t get their food safely, and scared about general uncertainty.
I emphasize this aspect of things because the foundation of leadership for the next year or longer will stem from empathy. So what does this look like?
Let’s start with what it used to look like.
Google, was primarily responsible for inventing what is now the standard in incredible employee benefits. This came in the form of in house chefs with all meals for free, free laundry, free fitness, free daycare, and other previously unheard of perks. The outcome was that Google attracted many of the best technical talent in the world.
Numerous companies, especially technology startups, have followed suit.
In this crisis, we will see a new set of workplace standards emerge. It will be those organizations that cater to the mental health of employees that emerge as the new leaders. “Perks” in our forced remote world includes things such as meditation coaches , therapy resources, flexible work hours, and more.
Despite leadership’s own uncertainty within every organization, all individuals require a voice of stability and security. While companies can’t guarantee the future, they can offer support that at least comforts employees.
Radical Transparency The most significant thing that brings comfort to employees is having visibility and reducing uncertainty. There’s already enough uncertainty outside of work, we don’t want it inside.
Providing visibility into what leadership is thinking about brings more peace of mind to employees. Q&A sessions, forward signaling and more is critical. Is the organization limiting hiring? If so, what areas? How are things financially and do we have what it takes to make it through the downturn?
These questions among many others are key to address because they are on everybody’s mind already.
The other absolutely critical thing for every organization at this moment is thinking about how we return to work and what that looks like. While not definitive, it appears that strict physical distancing measures will be not only encouraged but required as part of the return to work.
This means desks that are at least 6 feet apart. This also means a drastic reduction in the number of commuters who take any trains or buses.
So how does an organization that was previously based primarily in offices emerge as a leader? They must think about a remote-first world. If physical distancing has a significant probability of occurring for upwards of 12 months or more, there’s no alternative option.
Organizations should be thinking about an environment where at least 50% of the workforce is indefinitely remote. How does this change office needs? How does the organization define who shows up? Can employees be required to actually work from the office anymore?
With physical distancing in place, how do organizations train their leadership to be effective remotely?
Depending on your organization size, scale, and customer base, the outcome from this downturn is remarkably unclear.
In times like these, all one can do is think through the multitude of likely depressing scenarios. First Round has published a somewhat sobering yet effective approach to navigating these treacherous waters.
Personally, despite my relatively gloomy take on things, I’m actually incredibly optimistic. There is a massive shift occurring in consumer behavior. It’s in that shift where so much opportunity lies.
While it will be here for much longer than most anticipate, Covid will eventually go away. What emerges will be a drastically changed world.
Those who anticipate this changed world will emerge as the leaders of tomorrow. Personally, I cannot wait … it’s the only option!