Frieda Murphy of 3Sixty shares her thoughts on how companies can take this time to reflect on what they’ve learned during Covid-19.
The past few months have been a strange time for companies across the country, with offices closed, teams dispersed and strategies upended.
Frieda Murphy is an executive leadership coach and senior people-matters practitioner with Cork consultancy firm 3Sixty. She spoke to me about how it’s now time for companies to start reflecting on the challenges they dealt with during the Covid-19 pandemic and figuring out how to move forward.
‘The big pitfall is the assumption we are going to return to the normal we knew three months ago’
– FRIEDA MURPHY
Why is it important now for companies to evaluate what they have learned from Covid-19?
If they don’t do it now, they will never get the opportunity to benefit from the lessons that are still fresh in their minds. Businesses will get consumed very easily with the need to become operational and return to what they consider business as usual as quickly as possible.
The focus will be on employees needing to be paid and possibly repositioned, bills needing to be paid, cash needing to flow and behaviours needing to change to meet the new requirements; all still underpinned by a lot of uncertainty, fear and worry. This is a mammoth task for businesses of all sizes.
However, we must not forget the speed and fury by which Covid-19 entered our lives. This speed gave little time for businesses to fully assess, manage and make decisions in a way they would have done in the past. Furthermore, businesses may have followed a process or made decisions which were contrary to their views and beliefs in the past. So, now is the best time to lock in the lessons learned and start planning for what might happen.
Despite Covid-19 being a global matter, it has impacted every business and every individual differently. Conducting a ‘lessons-learned’ activity with key players across your organisation will provide invaluable insight into your specific business and needs, such as identifying day-to-day operational needs, realigning processes, understanding staff needs better and determining a solid communications strategy.
What, in your opinion, is the first step companies should take?
Identify key employees, stakeholders and players across your business who played a critical role in supporting changing needs over the past three months. This, ideally, should include people at all levels of the organisation, and it’s beneficial to have an employee representative who can provide insight into how the changes were received.
These key champions should be involved in the lessons-learned activity. This is best held as a facilitated workshop or, depending on the size of a business, a series of workshops with the objective of creating the right environment so that people can feel comfortable outlining their experiences – good and bad!
How should employers go about a lessons-learned exercise?
Identify a strong facilitator for the discussion – ideally, an individual who is impartial, can go deep, ask the hard questions and help the audience look from the outside in. This individual will need to be skilled in removing barriers, providing a safe environment and breaking down defensive behaviours.
Identify the key players across the business who need to be part of this activity and take ownership for removing barriers and minimising risks for the business. Set aside one full day, with the possibility of additional days as required, to focus solely on lessons learned. Prioritise identified gaps and determine tangible actions to minimise gaps and risks.
What are some other key aspects of a return-to-office roadmap?
The impact of Covid-19 is enormous and I believe businesses will be reviewing and realigning for some time. The size, type and industry of the business will play a big part in how a return-to-work roadmap will look. However, below are some of the immediate actions businesses will need to consider.
Get a pulse check from your employees as to their concerns, fears and worries. Identify employee champions to support engagement and wellbeing activities.
Identify and implement a solid, well-rounded wellbeing strategy. Businesses can’t operate without their people and people need to feel confident that they have the support they need to be the best they can. Mind management, mental resilience and change support and management will be critical needs for employees across all levels.
Assess the requirement to build a flexible work practice within your organisation, if this is an option. Advance your organisational processes to ensure they’re aligned and fully operational to meet the needs of your business in the ‘new world’.
Identify and build an emergency management team for your business and ensure roles and responsibilities are clearly identified. Should an event or situation occur in the future, your business will have comfort knowing that a well-defined and cohesive team is established and ready to activate plans and make decisions.
Identify and implement a clear communication tree for your business. This identifies who is responsible for contacting team members and will also provide guidance across your business on how people can receive information when faced with a crisis event.
Prioritise business continuity planning and ensure regular review and assessment, taking care to cover all parts of the value stream from initial sale right through to invoicing and getting paid. Also remember the critical importance of including your customers’ customers and your suppliers’ suppliers in this.
What are some common pitfalls that should be avoided?
The big pitfall is the assumption we are going to return to the normal we knew three months ago. This normal is gone and we need to accept that dealing with Covid-19 is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.
Permanent changes in the way businesses operate have occurred, big and small, because of Covid-19. Some of these changes are welcomed and more are difficult to digest. Businesses may be inclined to focus efforts and energy on returning to what they see as their business-as-usual or the way it was before Covid-19. In most instances, it will be a new business-as-usual. Businesses will need to accept that and the quicker they do, the easier it will be to move on and focus on new opportunities.
Many businesses have been forced into remote working because of Covid-19. It’s easy to use these past three months as a trial period to understand if remote working and flexible work practices could be successful. It’s important to highlight that there is nothing normal about this trial.
Working parents are at home taking care of and homeschooling their children while attempting to put in a productive workday. The proper planning and logistics required for setting up a home office did not occur due to the exceptionally quick lead time that Covid-19 gave us and, in a very short space of time, we all had to adapt to a ‘new world’ in all areas of our life.
Companies will need to consider a real trial period if they want to continue to attract and retain the right talent, increase engagement and drive productivity. On the contrary to that point, businesses can’t assume that everyone wants to work from home. Their voices will need to be heard and appreciated, too.
What was once considered a flexible benefit may no longer hold the same weight and enthusiasm when the social interaction, solid routines and structure they value is compromised on a permanent basis. We will find mindsets shift on multiple levels as we begin to assess the aftermath of Covid-19.