5 Key Principles for designing your new… ‘new normal’!

For the last 15 months or so a huge number of businesses around the country have been working in a predominantly virtual format and many staff haven’t seen the inside of their office since March 2020.  However, with the new Government guidelines and lifting of restrictions, that is set to change to some degree as the government urges us to return to our places of work.  This return to a ‘new’ new normal has massive implications for individuals and their organisations, probably representing a tougher leadership challenge than the original shift to virtual working.  The question is not – how do we go back to work? It is – how do we want to work going forward? A subtle but distinctive difference I think.

From the clients and friends that I chat to there is a huge range of views, perspectives and above all emotions about this return to the office / place of work – and the challenge is made doubly difficult because it feels like people believe they have a choice.  When we were told to stay at home back in March last year there was no choice – when you don’t have a choice change is much easier to effect, especially at scale.  Now there will be a large number of people that are happy working from home, they have delivered, organisations have continued to deliver and many have thrived – so why make them come back?  I heard an interesting statistic / claim the other day purporting that some 40% of employees would consider resigning if they are forced back to the office. 

There is therefore a need for organisations to help and support their teams create and adapt to a ‘new’ new normal that is right for them and that ideally combines the best of both worlds for both colleagues and the organisation, no insignificant leadership challenge I am sure.  Setting up the conversations that count and enabling the right perspectives to be heard and decisions to be taken is critical and I believe there are 5 key principles to bear in mind as you navigate these tricky times. 

There is no right or wrong – years and years of working in the office place a degree of legitimacy / ‘rightness’ to the model that says work needs to be done from an office, but the last 15 months have proved a different way can also work.  The word hybrid seems to be the description of choice, but for some people they can only see either / or, I think it has the potential to be divisive and the danger of a rooted and inflexible perspective is very real and will get in the way of the behavioural change needed to shift to whatever model you decide. Enabling and encouraging conversations to share and understand different peoples experiences and perspectives could well be very important.

Collaborate and co-create the solution – I am sure that this may well be a statement of the obvious, but I know leaders and leadership teams that feel this is their task to define.  Partly because of the principle above, I believe that greater conversations and actively seeking a diverse set of views, opinions and input is critical.  It may take a bit longer and be a bit harder to facilitate – but the impact on engagement and buy-in will be significant and that is what will be needed to make the changes stick and the model add value.

Take an Agile approach of test, review and refine – it is unlikely that you will hit upon the perfect solution first time and the very best solutions are ones that are developed and honed (paying attention to the principle above) over time.  It is very unlikely that one size will fit all, giving people accountability to feedback and suggest improvements will see you optimising the way of working much quicker.

Emotions and feelings should be front and centre – the last 15 months have been an enormous challenge for everyone in so many different ways and the much-vaunted impact on our individual and collective mental health something people are rightly concerned about.  Really legitimising the importance of feelings, not just paying lip service, especially where there is worry and concern and anxiety will be critical if you are going to enable people to truly engage in an open and honest way.

Keep talking about it – as an underpinning principle that applies to all 4 principles above, the need for good quality conversations, for safe and effective forums for people to share that enable people to contribute from the office and from home will be super important.  Good communication has always been the ‘not so secret’ ingredient that makes the differences between good relationships and poorer relationships – the ‘new’ new normal wants to maximise the best possible relationships to have the most positive impact.

I am really excited about the next few months and I think we will look back in years to come and see this as the one of the biggest shifts in the way the corporate world works since factories and mass production.  I really hope that leaders are seeing this as an exciting opportunity to create a win win that adds the greatest value to the organisation and colleagues alike. 

Of course – I am also excited because I think I can add real value to leadership teams as they pose and ponder these questions and if you think you could benefit from help and support navigating this challenge then please do get in touch.


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