After these many weeks of Covid quarantine, you and your team are probably itching to emerge from the land of “virtual” and return to business as usual. But are you ready? And what, exactly, should “as usual” look like after all this time at home?  While there are many details to take into consideration like government mandates and necessary safety precautions, it is possible to make some decisions about what steps should be taken before you and your team can return to some semblance of a regular business routine. To help you prepare for re-entry, I would recommend that you carve out time for the following two vital conversations with your team.

The first conversation is all about the how of your work.

As you enter into the “new normal” it requires that you and your team take on the following three simple questions. The first is to ask your team “through this period of working remotely what has gone well?” Consider the things that have been surprises, either personally or professionally, that you and your team would want to continue going forward.  For example, perhaps you have really enjoyed getting to know the families of your team members.  As one leader shared with me, after seeing the life demands on her team (specifically, the challenges that two working parents have with young kiddos) her views on flexible work hours have changed to a more positive stance. 

On the professional end of the spectrum, in what ways has your team innovated how you go about your work that has worked better than expected?  Don’t be shy to challenge the status quo. The most common example I hear is that virtual meetings have been be surprisingly effective ways to collaborate and get things done (when used sparingly).  And let’s not forget all of the “saved time” by avoiding the long commutes.  That said, don’t stop at the obvious “wins.”  I would encourage you to ask your team their thoughts about the frequency and manner of communication that you have employed during this time for their feedback.  I wouldn’t be surprised if your team has enjoyed the extra effort and attention that you have placed on communication and connection.  The second question is the other side of the performance coin. “What has not gone as well as we would have liked?” Here you must determine either what hasn’t worked or what you’ve been missing in working in your remote settings. For example, while many of us have enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, I’ve had just as many leaders who are itching to back to their office. For them, working at home has been stressful, distracting and less productive.  The final question sums up all these pieces.

“As a team, how do we want to operate going forward so that you can be even more productive?”

What are the practical changes you can put in place using what you’ve learned that will allow you and your team to function and do their work more efficiently and effectively going forward?

The second conversation is a strategy conversation.

This is when you ask the team “what have we learned about our business or function that we need to change going forward?” This is not about how you do your work, but more about what work you should be doing.  In every major disruption, there always exists some form of opportunity.  This conversation is all about helping your team to process this massive disruption and focus on the new priorities that will be necessary to thrive in the “new normal.” To help you identify strategic opportunities with your team, I encourage you to use the classic strategic framework of a SWOT analysis. You may be familiar with this framework as it common place in strategic planning. We’re going to repurpose it for use today.

Let’s start with the “S,” your strengths. What have you seen as your business’ strengths during this time? Where have you survived and perhaps even thrived? Essentially, what has held up well under pressure?  If you look closely, I am certain you’ll be pleasantly surprised at pieces and parts of your world that have weathered the storm quite well. As an example, one of my retail clients was pleasantly surprised to realize that the e-commerce side of their business was much stronger than they had thought.  In addition, they creatively decided to restart an older business model that they had shelved several years ago as another alternative to reaching customers when their brick-and-mortar stores are threatened.

Next, look at your weaknesses (“W”). What has this time highlighted as your weaknesses in how either your business or your department functions? Perhaps you’ve learned you’re not as diversified as you need to be. Or perhaps you’ve learned you don’t have the proper resources that you need to survive in challenging times. Regardless, this conversation is all about those areas that are true gaps.  There are so many business models that have had their weaknesses exposed over the last few months.  From movie theaters to amusement parks, from hotels to airlines, the list goes on.  Business models that require an “in-person” experience have definitely had more than their fair share of challenge during this very difficult time.  Identify your weaknesses and write them down.

While no one enjoys focusing on the negative, acknowledging weaknesses allows your team the ability to move to the next exercise, which is to identify the “O”, opportunities. The last few months have brought about many new opportunities if we look closely. Can you see them? Think along the line of Tito’s decision to devote part of its vodka distillery to the production of hand sanitizer rather than operate its full alcohol production. This conversation is all about the ways in which the marketplace or even how your department functions could make improvements. Is it in its ability to deliver to clients? Is it in the way your group communicates and connect with customers?

There are a myriad of ways to pivot.
How will you?

Finally, our last discussion is about the “T”: threats to the business. What threats have you discovered in this experience that you need to be prepared for going forward? What kind of disruptions have not been planned for that might need to be considered for your business and industry?  

When you finish these conversations around the “what of your work,” I encourage you to identify those items you want to prioritize as you move into a new normal so you and your team can be better, faster and stronger going forward.  If this experience has taught us anything, it is that the teams that are the most flexible, open to new ideas, resilient and diversified have pivoted the easiest. 

And there you have it. The two big conversations you need to have with your teams to get you ready to not only survive but thrive as you re-enter into the remainder of 2020 and beyond.  I look forward to hearing the great things that come from your discussions!