All around the world, there are signs that life is getting back to normal. After months of quarantine and tragedy, towns and cities are starting to come alive. Businesses are opening their doors, consumers are emerging to make purchases, and employees are getting back to work. 

The news is filled with hopefulness that augurs a return to life before coronavirus

In the face of all of this optimism, I would like to offer the following counterargument: Life is not going to go back to the way it was before. Certainly not soon — and probably not ever. Even if the virus were eradicated tomorrow, too much has changed for us to simply revert to the way things were

Smart businesses should prepare themselves to adapt to the new world we are entering, not the old world that we all miss. 

The sooner we all shift our priorities and embrace the sea-change that has swept across the world these past few months, the sooner we can revamp and grow our businesses.  

At no time in my life has the world been more open to change. For me, the post-COVID world offers the most exciting opportunity I’ve ever known. 

The emotional aftermath of COVID

Businesses are made up of people, and every single person has handled this experience differently. Some have been touched directly by the virus, many have dealt with the economic fallouts of lost income, nearly everyone has, understandably, come to fear leaving the house.

As the worst of the pandemic passes, you’re going to see two extremes: On one side will be  those people who will be very protective of their health. They will continue to live as we’ve lived these last few months — in strict self-quarantine, venturing out only when necessary. 

On the other side will be those who are first in line at their favorite restaurant when it reopens, ready to welcome a return to normalcy. I will be one of the latter.

At every business, you will have people on both ends of this spectrum. Colleagues and close friends will have polar-opposite responses. 

Business leaders have the ability to influence their company’s response by the way they act as quarantines lift, but of course, they must be mindful of everyone’s comfort level.

Business leaders must walk a fine line between empathy and true leadership. At the end of the day, business needs to get done. Do what you can to make your people feel supported, but be sure to convey the high expectations you maintain for everyone in your organization. 

This means continuing to be flexible for people’s schedules and continuing to allow the freedom to work from home, while also expecting that your employees bring their best selves to work each day so they can perform at the highest standard possible.

Getting ready for the months ahead

Business leaders need to prepare for best and worst case scenarios, taking all the data they have and constantly revising and updating their plans.

In two months, we might have regained some economic normalcy. Or, there could be a backlash, a second wave, and a return to full quarantine.

The federal government might approve additional stimulus funding, or they might cut off any further assistance.

Businesses need to know that anything can happen, so they should build a model for both extremes. 

Our good friends at Petra Coach have developed a playbook that outlines how you can go from defense to offense. 

When the pandemic first hit, businesses went into safety mode. They cut expenses, cut staff, cut marketing budgets — all in trying to hold on to as much cash as possible. This was defense.

Then, according to Petra, businesses move into the stabilize stage, when communication (both internal and external) becomes the focus. Frequent meetings help you take stock and align your priorities. 

Then, when you feel you’ve found some stability, you enter the reset stage. You’ve put out the fires and are ready to begin moving forward. The reset stage is an exciting time of planning — both revising old strategies and crafting new ones. This is when you strategize pivots you can make to seize new opportunities.

Finally, you move into offense. You put your plans in motion and begin to execute. 

I advise all businesses out there not to dwell in the stabilize stage, as tempting as it might be. Even as things are uncertain — even as things could take another turn for the worse — think about ways you can see COVID as an opportunity. 

What market share has opened up? What new revenue streams have presented themselves? 

Be smart, but be prepared to pivot and move forward, should the chance present itself.

Hiring in the post-COVID era

We’ve been in a tight labor market for years now. Suddenly, that’s flipped. Right now, there is an amazing talent pool that is looking for work. If you’re in the position to hire, if you’ve pivoted and need staff to help execute your new plans, you will have great choices. 

Increasingly, we will see companies be willing to take on remote workers — even if they didn’t have a remote culture before. COVID-19 has taught many industries that remote work is possible, that collaboration and efficiency are not significantly hurt by physical distance. 

I also believe we will see a glut of workers looking to make a change from one industry to another. When a major crisis shakes up the economy, people start reassessing their career goals. You will see professionals willing to start at the bottom in a new field, eager to learn. 

For employers, now’s a time to really focus on the way you read resumes and the way you evaluate experience. What skills and competencies does a candidate need to bring to the table? What can be taught after they start?

If a person brings the right mentality, the right ethos to a job, if they show they’re willing to learn, they might be the right hire, even if they don’t have industry experience.

Lasting effects of COVID-19

The most significant and lasting effect of COVID on the world economy, in my opinion, has been the fast-paced adoption of remote work. Jobs, companies, and whole industries have embraced remote work culture, virtual sales appointments, video demos, webinars, virtual events, and more. 

People often tend to avoid change until something forces them to embrace it. In the case of COVID, tech laggards could no longer be laggards. They were forced to adapt — and to do so at breakneck speed.

Now that the dust has settled, can you really expect the business world to go back to the way it was?

How many companies will fly their workers across the country or around the globe for a meeting? 

The reality is that business travel will never be the same. Although in-person collaboration will still play a role in the future workplace, virtual tools offer too many benefits to ignore. 

Smart businesses will continue to embrace technology as a means of connection that enhances their humanity and output.

Choosing change over comfort

The COVID crisis has impacted mankind to an extent not seen in generations. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. Millions more have lost loved ones, lost jobs, or lost financial security.

In the midst of such devastation, it is appropriate to grieve, to feel malaise, to ask big questions about your life and worldview.

But every tragedy brings forth change, painful as it may be.

As the virus raged for these past months, it became more and more clear to me that that change was here to stay. 

Now, every business in every industry is tasked with asking hard questions of itself. 

Step boldly forward into the new world that lays before us. 

A few months ago, as the pandemic was ramping up, I wrote to all of our employees with this message: “Now is the time for excellence.” I told them I would need their best work as we steered through the storm.

The need for excellence continues. But now is when the fun begins. 

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