How corona will (permanently) change the way we work

Coronavirus is leaving its mark on the business world. It might change the way we work forever and that means new protocols. How can you prepare the organization for the new ways of working after corona?

The corona crisis has been going on for several weeks now. Some people – mainly those working in essential roles – are still physically going to the workplace, while the rest have been working from home. At the kitchen table, on the couch or in a hastily thrown together home office. Sometimes alongside their children. Some of them are going crazy, while others have gotten used to it surprisingly quickly. The consequences for the economy are becoming increasingly clear. Some sectors were hit hard right away, but others will only feel the impact later. It’s plain to see that coronavirus has taken a hold of the world, but sooner or later, we will slowly need to transition back to ‘normal life’ again. Office buildings will fill up and employees will be able to go on customer visits again. Hallelujah. But the word on the street (where there are still people are on the streets at least) is that ordinary life won’t be quite so ordinary any more. We’ll still be feeling the impact of the pandemic, and the way we live, work and do business might change forever.

Procedures after the crisis

Even though we’ll be able, and will actually have to, get back to work eventually, the virus will most likely not have disappeared by then. The current measures, such as social distancing, not shaking hands, washing hands and other hygiene-related measures, like cleaning equipment and our living and working areas, will remain in place for months, maybe even years. These measures have an impact on the way we work, which means that ‘old’ protocols, such as the code of conduct, hygiene policy, etc. will change forever.

Old habits die hard

How do you make sure employees don’t slip back into old habits once the lockdown is lifted? That they don’t greet each other with a hug and shake hands with customers the first time they meet? That would take us back to square one in no time. Something’s got to change, and while it won’t be fun, it’s necessary in order to ensure the continuity of the business. So you will have to change the policy and incorporate new rules into existing protocols. Behavioral change is necessary. And, above all, we need to raise awareness both for the new policy and for the new way of doing things on a day-to-day basis.
This needs to happen pretty quickly, certainly before everyone gets back to the workplace. Create new protocols, or transform the existing ones into the new policy. Although some rules are completely new, some will only need an update.

Awareness among employees

After you’ve created new policies, you have to make sure that they are actually communicated to all employees and that your employees learn the new information. So be sure to involve Learning & Development early on in the project, as they can help you transform the existing rules and get the new policy across to employees effectively. That sounds like a logical way to go, but it’s not that easy in practice, especially not now. Classroom-based training is impossible, e-learning modules are not developed in half a day, and ‘catching up’ every employee on Zoom is not an option either. You could post a message on the intranet or send an email if you were just implementing one policy change. But we’re talking about changes that have a lasting impact on daily operations. People need to really remember the new policy, so it has to be communicated well.

Large-scale behavioral change

Once you’ve communicated the new rules, you need to make sure they stay in place and are actually complied with. But habits are often deeply rooted and you can’t ‘just’ replace them with new ones. So as well as creating awareness, you need to make sure permanent behavioral change takes place. Among all employees, i.e. on a large scale. You can only achieve this by repeating the new rules often. So instead of sending round a one-off e-learning module or test, continuously draw your employees’ attention to the new policy and make sure that it remains top-of-mind with everyone. When employees are confronted with the new desired behavior often, and this behavior is displayed by managers and direct colleagues, it will be copied more quickly and eventually become the new standard.

The new standard

So choose a solution that makes it possible to repeat the subject matter on a regular basis, and make sure it can be done efficiently. Nobody wants to read a thick book over and over. It has to be doable. It’s also better if you can easily make adjustments to the learning material. For example, when there are new changes, or perhaps when the rules can be loosened a bit. Or if a new crisis happens (but let’s not assume it will). You need to be able to make new updates easily and quickly, otherwise, your job will never be done. Go for fast and efficient knowledge sharing, which promotes knowledge anchoring and behavioral change through the power of smart repetition. This will help prepare the organization for the new ways of working after corona.