As a consultant in change & transition management I have never faced a change as abrupt as this corona virus crisis. Not even when the financial and economic crisis hit the world in 2007/2008. Some of what I saw in movies about virus outbreaks is now unfolding in front of my eyes, real life and real time, though it still feels somewhat surreal.
Yes, I am following the recommendations. I stay inside as much as possible and take all possible disinfection measures. And in the few moments when I am outside I wear gloves and a mask and I keep distance of people. All this is very real. But still, when I look outside or take a walk in the park, it is as if I am having a supporting role in a futuristic movie.
While working from home, signs of reality dawn upon me seeing my clients do whatever is necessary to secure the safety and health of their people as well as the continuity of their company. In an incredibly short time and fast way they take decisions and execute actions that comply with the regulations set and the recommendations given, and beyond. No time for a change management plan with defined transition stages and scheduled interventions. And it is remarkable how an unmistakably high sense of urgency can unite people to act fast and support each other on the way.
However, the biggest challenges come after the necessary urgent measures are taken. In a usual change project I focus on the transition process, in other words the mental and emotional process of employees in dealing with change within the organization. But this particular change, hopefully but not likely lasting very short, affects both people’s professional and private life. It is about staying safe and healthy but also about financial security. It is about socializing within the close family but remotely also with colleagues. And it is about redesigning the work-life balance.
Let’s take the example of people having to work from home (WFH) and especially those who hardly ever did it before. Who have a family with kids in a situation in which schools are closed and any outside social contact is minimized. As I mentioned before, the main concern of the companies is the safety and health of their people. On the other hand, they also have the responsibility to secure the continuity of the company. So what do you do? Do you facilitate your people to have all the means to work from home? Of course! Do you set a list of rules how to work from home as efficiently and effectively as possible? That is debatable!
It should be taken into account that this crisis and the intervention to WFH involves both a serious professional and private change simultaneously. And exactly that makes this situation exceptional! Therefore I strongly believe that most attention should be paid to reducing the pressure on the families by facilitating them as much as possible in building a new work-life balance that works for them. For some there may not be any problems in the beginning. They may even perceive it as a little holiday. But that will only last for a short while. In a real holiday you don’t need to work and the children can play outside, which is an essential difference.
Imagine that both husband and wife are in the situation of WFH for a couple of weeks for the first time. Then they have the challenge to find a suitable workplace to share or to find one for each of them. And besides that there is the sharing of the parental and household tasks to be managed. Agreements to be made with the kids, if old enough to understand, on spending leisure time together and when mom and dad are not available because they need to work. And what if the husband and wife don’t have a separate room for their workplace? Do the children have to be quiet so that the parents can work in peace, or do the parents have to speak less loud on the phone or via skype or any other means in order not to disturb the kids? And how will they deal with the feeling of isolation both of the parents as well as of the children if this period lasts longer?
On the other hand, you may ask yourself: “What about the company’s interest?” A valid question for sure, and the answer is very much depending on the words ‘TRUST’, ‘UNDERSTANDING’ and ‘SUPPORT’. How much do you TRUST that your employees dearly want to make the best of this period, also for the company? How much do you UNDERSTAND that this period both affects their professional as well as their private situation? And how much are you willing to SUPPORT them in both their professional as well as their private challenges during this period?
One thing is for sure. When this crisis is over, a crisis that affected your people very much, and they come back to their normal workplace, the fact that they experienced trust, understanding and support from the company and their manager during this difficult period will leave an un-erasable impression in their minds and hearts. And it will strongly influence their level of commitment and loyalty towards the company.
If you are interested in both simple as well as creative interventions of companies and employees to tackle their WFH challenges, I invite you to read my next article!