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Old Normal, New Normal or Never Be Normal? Is There a Silver Lining?

Michael Tipper

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new normal

Michael Tipper, Managing Director of Zoltar Consulting, discusses the “new normal” and how organisations are adapting to a post-Covid environment. 

It’s been a rough few months. The stock market has declined, furlough is now a common word, “R” rating is real thing and a recession appears imminent.

More recently we have seen many companies “right-sizing” and, although the UK Government is lifting certain restrictions, we are still in the grasp of a global pandemic, but is there a silver lining?

Employers and employees across the UK of every size and every nature are striving to return to work into an environment we hear is being defined as the “new normal” – or is it?

To have a “new normal” we must have had an “old normal”. I wonder if there was such a thing. Normal for one person, one company or one department is certainly not normal for another.

Who or what is defining your digital strategy, Covid-19 or the board?

The past few months have been challenging for many of us on many different levels; Companies mothballed; businesses effectively closed for a lengthy period; workers furloughed; schools and theatres closed; health clubs and facilities shut; separational and directional flow arrows in large supermarkets and travel restrictions initiated all for the greater good of the many.

How long will this predicament prevail? Who knows? I’m not sure anyone does, but logically, we can see a continuation of the effect for some time well into 2021.

As I write this, the UK Government has decided to reduce the social distancing measures to one metre, and to the joy and cheers of many – pubs, restaurants and hair salons are planning to re-open on July 4th. Independent socially distanced pub and haircut day or should that be haircut then pub day?

Theatres can open but cannot deliver performances (don’t understand that one), you can’t swim at a local public pool and other health and spa-type business and leisure clubs still cannot open (frankly I don’t understand the health spa one either).

I am a keen squash player and see little hope of getting back on the court anytime soon and by the time they do open we are going to need bigger doors.

Around the world, we are witnessing a prolonged time lag as the pandemic impacts countries, societies and cultures. As wave one hits certain countries, wave two starts to rise in others as workers attempt to return to work and into some kind of normality.

What is the “new normal” and what does it look like and how will we work for the foreseeable future?

Our employees and colleagues need to be able to work in a safe – healthy environment and to easily, consistently and securely communicate and collaborate with customers, suppliers and peers using the right devices, applications, tools and services.

Normal is going to be defined by leaders – you and me and our people with degrees of flexibility and agility in a world that is changing, morphing, adapting and redefining work. As noted previously, the effect of the pandemic is impacting global or local economies and society at different times in different regions around the world. We need new or future ways of working.

Now is the time to be proactive, not reactive. Employees and customers need to feel engaged and that they are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

The new normal may never be normal again. It will be different. The way we offer customer service, the way we sell or the methodology we use to manage teams or the way in which we communicate, market or interface with others will need to be agile.

The “never normal again” could be the inspirational leap we as business leaders need to enforce the age-old principle that work is ‘something we do’, ‘not somewhere we go’.

For some, working from home for 12 weeks or so has been enlightening, difficult for others and downright impractical for many. However, it could be beneficial to business and across many aspects of day to day life.

An old colleague commented to me a few weeks ago (once he was into his new way of working from home) that he didn’t know how he found the time to commute into work.

There is, of course, a simple answer – it was his time and money, his families time and frankly time wasted more often than not standing on an overcrowded train for an hour or so each way.

Consider too the net effect of working from home will have on commercial real estate. Over the next few months or years will we see a decrease in the need for high density very costly office space in very expensive locations? absolutely – yes. Employees have proven their agility to work remotely and it’s something you as business leaders can leverage to reduce cost, improve the bottom line and positively impact work-life balance.

For us, as business leaders, it’s time to embrace different, embrace a new culture a new work-life balance and a new way of being productive – of being optimal and a new way to inspire, motivate, manage and innovate with new ways to enhance business potential.

Could Covid -19 be the catalyst for change and digital enablement for the many, not just the few? Business’ need a stimulating environment to thrive and provide excellence in customer service and business development. Managing, motivating, innovating or prospecting and selling will not be the same for the foreseeable future, therefore how will you and your team achieve positive results?

Of course, it is not all about technology, because technology can’t and won’t fix everything. I like to see vendors’ marketing videos or material which depicts perfectly sterile people with perfect teeth, hair, make-up and annoyingly perfect complexions sitting in perfectly-lit environments using the vendor’s version of video conferencing.

All in an ideal world.

Contrast that situation to real life. Sitting in your kitchen or dining room/lounge, for example. I can guarantee the dog (if you have one or if you don’t the neighbours) will bark, the long-awaited delivery man will arrive at just the right time and the ring doorbell will sound loudly as you into the throws of deep discussion.

Your local access broadband speed will deteriorate in perfect proportional harmony with your children’s rise in needy volume as they access a bandwidth chasm consuming online world of nuclear warfare, future teen avenger movie 14 or whatever it’s called in the playboxone shared environment which all sits on your WiFi. All of which will occur immediately before or during the need to speak to the highest echelon in your contact base.

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Every time, without fail. It just happens, real life is like that. It’s at that time Lord Baden Powell and Cub Scouts motto comes to mind; “be prepared”.

This happened to me just as I was due to talk to a very senior representative of a government department. Plan B had to be swiftly enacted.

Many times I have witnessed the event of new employees joining a business or the business refresh process of simply presenting the employee with a PC, phone and cloud-based corporate applications with the IT department saying “here you go it’s all set up for you; usual username and password and there are some corporate HR videos on there that you need to view. Also, here is our CRM and some new toys to play with”.

It will not work. Well, it might eventually after a world of pain talking to desktop support services globally located to reduce cost…but not very efficiently as people find workarounds to suit their needs that often create a significant cost of delay or in some situations involve non authorised external applications or services.

To solve complex problems and create positive outcomes and excellent experiences for the user and for your customers, I would like you to consider four principles of Future Ways of Working.

People, Process, Environment and Technology

Future ways of working consider the needs of the individual with the aspirations of the enterprise to achieve successful solutions. Every business or employer is different. Every business or department has a vast range of people with different personas, skills and capabilities. Some employees are introvert, some extrovert or ambivert, yet employers feast a standard set of tools upon them that for many are not aligned or are irrelevant to their persona, environment or requirements.

Let us also consider how users use the tools provided? Take a video as an example.

I believe that users should be trained & educated on how to host (or attend) video meetings – you are after all presenting or performing or attending on behalf of your business, department or enterprise.

Be professional – Hybrid recorded and live content, lighting, camera position, microphone, real-time feedback, scripting, transcribing and packaging should be considered.

You have probably seen the Covid-19 Downing Street updates. Our esteemed national press in their full glory – backlit so you can’t see their face, nose cam central for that extra special nasal hair view and who are those people wandering around in the background?

Earphones in one ear, talking whilst on mute and not listening to the previous dozen questions and answers and sometimes so unfamiliar with the tools and the environment such that you can play a superb game of conference call bingo. For those who have not tried it – please see an example.

Everyone one of these “mistakes “ could be avoided with just a little care, attention and education. Future Ways of Working aligned to the new social aspects of work solve these challenges.

  • Understand the demographics and needs of your workforce
  • Understand where and how people of all types actually work productively
  • Create an environment to optimise their potential
  • Offer tools applications, devices and services aligned to the function and the individual with training to ensure that they can be used efficiently
  • If employees are working from home for extensive period of time why not consider installing separate broadband into the user’s home specifically for work purposes – separate WiFi which is then air walled from domestic use
  • Training and familiarisation to make sure that users create the right local environment and a backdrop that reflects the nature and professionalism of your business

You can save money, increase revenues, improve the work life balance and substantially increase employee retention. Employees do not need to cover the time and expense of physically travelling to work which in some areas is more than a significant pay rise.

That is certainly something to think about that when the next pay review comes around and the annual investment in separate broadband and training is minuscule by comparison.

Is there a silver lining? I think so.

People, process, environment & technology = agile users, an agile business, improvements in work life balance, improved employee retention, better customer satisfaction, new channels for sales & marketing.

At times of crisis good leaders emerge and during those times opportunities will arise to advance your business, are you ready to seize those opportunities?

Michael Tipper

Managing Director, Zoltar Consulting

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