Whew! 2020 is finally behind us! And what a tumultuous year it was. As we reflect on how the world has changed and, more importantly, how the world has changed us – 2020 will leave an indelible mark on all of us for generations to come. Whether it is the way we consume goods and services, the way we work, interact with family and friends, or the way we live our daily lives, 2020 has changed these norms forever. And while economic depression, political unrest, or worldwide pandemics are not new – 2020 seemed different, unique, and exceptional, to say the least.
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering”.
Friedrich Nietzsche (19th Century German Philosopher)
1.1.21 is the dawning of a new day for all of us. A fresh perspective, a clean slate and yes, an even ‘newer normal’. And, as we embark on the new year, we have a unique opportunity to gain insights from the unfortunate events, untimely tragedies and invaluable lessons learned from 2020. Recognizing that hindsight is always ‘2020’, we would be remiss if we did not learn from a year that was – with every intent to ‘find some meaning in the suffering’ that we experienced. To best illustrate these points, I will present my perspective through three distinct lenses: “Looking Back, Looking Forward, and Looking in a Mirror”. At the end of this article, please take a moment to check-out the organizational self-assessment on your company’s change journey in 2020.
Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article on ‘Leading Organizations Through a Virtual Workforce Transition – 10 Keys to Success’. The premise of the article was to prepare, equip, support, and enable managers to lead in an unfamiliar, new, all-remote work environment. This virtual workforce environment brought about by the COVID-19 crisis forced over 42% of a remote-enabled workforce to permanently work in a home office environment globally. As I reflect on that article, I was both surprised, yet encouraged, by the nimble way Corporate America responded, pivoted, and, ultimately, adapted to a ‘remote-first’ work environment.
I also discussed the importance of developing a change plan to aid in flattening the (change) curve for employees and leaders as they transitioned to their new normal. Shortly after the ‘shelter-in-place’ order in March 2020, the conversations I was having with Fortune 100 clients were also abruptly shifting. In many cases, our clients challenged us to shift the scope of our engagements from OCM leadership and solution delivery to upskilling managers and leaders globally. With an emphasis and goal to rapidly prepare managers to lead in a virtual workforce environment, our OCM consultants carefully modeled best practices for how managers and leaders would lead – representing a fundamental change in the way traditional managers led.
This shift in our operating model was a necessary evil for The CARA Group, CARA consultants, and our clients during such critical and uncertain times. While no one had a crystal ball and the future of our business was truly unknown, CARA’s ability to adapt our consulting model toward changing client business needs proved to be mutually beneficial. Looking back, our clients acknowledged that pivoting our consulting approach toward leader upskilling was paramount to the long-term transformational work currently underway. With that said, let us take a look at some key learnings from 2020:
LOOKING BACK: WHAT WE LEARNED FROM 2020
- We pushed technology to the brink (and lived to tell about it)
- We learned to multi-task like never before
- We learned to adjust, adapt, and even exceed in our day to day activities and beyond
- We learned that we could work remotely and be productive, as well
- We learned that remote work is here to stay, and that traditional “remote Fridays” are a thing of the past
- We learned to appreciate each other and the strength of our work relationships
- We wore more hats than ever before (i.e. professional, home schoolteacher, technical support, coach, counselor, Wi-Fi helpdesk, etc.)
- We chose empathy when dogs barked, children interrupted or Wi-Fi crashed
- We learned that the mute button is a blessing and a curse with web meetings
BACK TO BASICS: The 3Rs
Before the pandemic, the world was experiencing significant growth and prosperity. The norm for employees was to work in an office building setting, technology was an accelerator for work productivity, and we went about our lives mask free. In a matter of weeks, progress was halted, and productivity stifled. A new normal was thrusted upon us with no handbook to help us navigate the months to come. But with a new year comes a new perspective, a new direction, and a new lease on life. But how do we get from here to there?
To survive elementary school, we were taught the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic). Timeless skills that are still foundational to the way we work, live and play today. However, 2021 brings about a more appropriate meaning for the 3Rs: Resilience, Reinvention and Reflection. These modern-day survival skills are critical to leaders and employees in a pandemic world.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
George Santayana (Spanish Philosopher and Novelist)
If 2020 taught us anything, it was that the will of employees and leaders is unmatched in the face of a seemingly insurmountable crises like a pandemic. And, as we embark on 2021, we must look for inspiration from front-line workers who work tirelessly to care for patients stricken by COVID-19. We need to address ‘Zoom-fatigue’ with newer, more creative ways to work and collaborate. And we must adapt to our surroundings, maximize our relationships, and have the toughness and grit to tackle new challenges that come our way.
If 2020 was about invention – 2021 will be about reinvention and the need to continuously evolve the way we work. In March 2020, leaders and employees alike ‘reacted’ to the environment they were handed – with very little opportunity to develop a thoughtful plan and strategy for business continuity. In 2021, it will be incumbent on all leaders and employees to reexamine and reimagine how they work, how they lead and how they produce desired outcomes. With a continuous emphasis on productivity, reinvention will be a lifeline for many organizations in 2021 and beyond.
Empathy will be a critical skill for employees and leaders in 2021. A key component of empathy is the ability to reflect and understand the feelings of another. The pace of change in 2020 was so rapid and so unparalleled, there was little time for reflection; we were all reacting. For leaders and employees, taking time to reflect on the year that was and recognizing the challenges of the year ahead will be vital to organizational productivity and success in 2021. For employees, what has worked and not worked. Where have employees made huge productive leaps and where have they stagnated, tripped or fallen short. From a leader perspective, which virtual leadership techniques were effective and which management approaches proved to be ineffectual.
LOOKING IN THE MIRROR: Organizational Self-Assessment (Virtual Workforce)
Below is an organizational self-assessment to gauge how you and your organization adapted to the cultural and operational changes brought about by COVID-19 in 2020. The foundation for this virtual workforce assessment includes the ’10 Keys to Success’ that I highlighted in my article at the start of the pandemic. While an assessment score is arbitrary by design, this assessment may help you identify gaps and ultimately guide you toward a successful and productive virtual workforce transition.
Please contact me directly if you have any questions regarding your assessment results below or to discuss your path forward (Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org).
|2020 Virtual Workforce Transition Tip ||YES / NO ||POINTS |
We established virtual role models to serve as virtual workforce transition champions
| ||+1 |
We determined KPIs upfront and defined ‘what success looks like’ with a transition to a virtual workforce
| ||+1 |
We developed a virtual workforce communication plan with targeted messaging and FAQs
| ||+1 |
|We developed a change plan to manage leader / employee transition to a virtual workforce || ||+1 |
|We conducted a stakeholder assessment to capture hearts, minds, and fears of leaders / employees going through this transition || ||+1 |
|We executed a change impact analysis to determine traditional work environment vs. a virtual workforce || ||+1 |
|We conducted a training needs analysis to identify skill gaps between traditional work and virtual work || ||+1 |
|We conducted a readiness assessment to gauge leader/employee preparation to operate in a virtual workforce environment || ||+1 |
|We developed a training plan to ensure adequate employee and leader skill building throughout the virtual workforce transition || ||+1 |
|We continually surveyed virtual leaders, people managers and employees to gauge awareness, acceptance, and adoption || ||+1 |
| ||TOTAL POINTS: || |
- If you scored at least 8 points, you implemented a thoughtful approach and have likely enjoyed a seamless transition to a productive virtual workforce.
- If you scored between 5 and 7 points, you are experiencing a learning curve and some employee resistance, but are making significant progress on your virtual workforce journey.
- If you scored less than 5 points, you are likely experiencing daily frustration and much virtual workforce resistance. Thus, now is a good time to reset expectations, reestablish your virtual workforce strategy and reexamine your change management plan.