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Welcome to the New Normal: How COVID-19 has changed us

May 07, 2020

In the COVID-19 environment, one thing is absolutely certain: “business as usual” is gone. When organizations reopen and employees return to worksites, they are stepping into a new reality.

How can companies find stable footing in a changed environment?

There are five fundamental areas leaders need to assess as they transition out of emergency operations and into the new normal:

  1. Strategy
  2. Business model
  3. Organizational structure
  4. Employee health and well-being
  5. The phased return

Develop a post-pandemic strategy

Before the global health emergency, strategy development was an annual type of activity, focused on developing one-, three- or five-year goals. COVID-19 changed how far and how long we can plan into the future. Now, leaders need to be able to strategize and adapt in near-real time, making strategic planning a more fluid and frequent occurrence. 

In this environment, strategies are only relevant within 30-, 60- or 90-day timeframes — and even those require flexibility. Tactical plans need to be developed quickly; and execution and accountability should be measured weekly or even daily.

Leaders need to figure out which metrics are most important (or even relevant) in this new environment. The right metrics will help companies identify the right operational levers to pull. 

The board of directors will continue to have governance and oversight over strategy, but day-to-day leaders should take charge. The boots-on-the-ground view is more meaningful and responsive in times of constant change. To keep the board apprised, the cadence of meetings or amount of information exchanged may increase to match the new pace of business.

Assess your business model

If you build it… they might not come.

How do people want to be served now? What do your customers care about? Their priorities before, during and after the pandemic may be drastically different.

Post-COVID-19, every business, in every industry, will need to address the customer experience. Customers won’t return – even if they’re allowed to – if they don’t feel like their needs are being met and the experience is worthwhile.

Companies will need to adjust their business and delivery models to match customers’ new needs and preferences. For some, that means finding ways to deliver products and services remotely or with limited contact. Every business will need to communicate clearly and often to reassure customers and reset expectations for the new normal.

And all of this has to be done within the regulatory guardrails set by state and local governments.

Update your organizational structure

Once the strategic and business model impacts are understood, some level of reorganization must follow. Companies need to align people to the new plans, making sure staff are equipped and empowered to execute the strategic response.

Reporting structures that are based on geography, location or delivery models may become obsolete. Some teams may become geographically dispersed to ensure business continuity; others will become more nimble or fluid. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to organizational structures in this new world; but every box on the org chart should support the new strategic direction. Look at the organization through a strategic lens and the pieces should start to fall into place.

The people who lead and manage need to be comfortable in an agile and changing environment. They need the ability to think differently and innovate entirely new ways of doing business over short periods of time. Then, they need the leadership and communication skills to help bring people along. We cannot be successful if we leave our employees behind.

Take care of employees

When millennial employees came into the workforce, they made health and wellness a corporate priority. COVID-19 turned it mainstream.

Today, leaders and staff are openly discussing self-care. Some of the stigma around mental wellness has disappeared, since fear, anxiety and change are affecting everyone.

Those feelings won’t dissipate overnight. And we can’t predict all of the health impacts that employees may experience after months of heightened stress and anxiety. Companies need to decide how they will continue to support employees and their emotional well-being as part of the “new norm” and not just in response to a crisis.

Plan your comeback

Pre-COVID-19, companies could take years to plan and roll out changes. Then the pandemic threw everyone into the deep end.

Sink or swim aren’t the only options. It’s okay to fast-track some changes and spend more time figuring out others. Getting to the “new normal” can – and will – occur in phases.

Align reopening phases to the updated strategic priorities, customer and employee sentiment, and current guidance in your local jurisdiction (or industry or regulatory agency). Some flexibility will be required to juggle them all.

Honest, timely and transparent communication will help customers and employees adapt and thrive through each phase of change. Whenever you can, explain:

  • What is being changed
  • Why it is being changed (e.g., safety precautions, demand)
  • How it will affect different stakeholders
  • What to expect
  • How long the change will be in effect (e.g., permanent, until a vaccine is available)
  • When the change begins
  • How it will impact the employee

Implementing new strategies and organizational structures takes an enormous amount of effort. Companies need to implement and communicate them in thoughtful phases to ensure smooth adoption.

The new normal

A crisis is a turning point. It’s time to evaluate the immediate reactions to the pandemic and sift through what’s important in the new future.

Some short-term moves will become part of the “new normal.” Others will be quickly abandoned. But nothing will ever be the same.

Need more help with COVID-19 issues?

We’re here to help you navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on your people, finances and business. We have developed a library of resources in our COVID-19 resource center to help you stabilize today and prepare for tomorrow. We also have solutions that can help you manage your people, strategy, operations, business finances and technology. We’re here to help. Contact us today.

See our articles on:

Talent and strategy
Business finance
Legislation and regulation
Personal finance


Jeffrey H. Wulf
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Julia A. Johnson
Director, Organizational Performance
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