Intermediate Pandemic Period: Points of Focus

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November 5, 2021
September 5, 2021

Intermediate Pandemic Period:  Points of Focus 

In my last blog, we discussed the book, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, by Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and social scientist at Yale University, who has studied pandemics and plagues almost his entire career. In it, he predicts we are about to enter into the “Intermediate Period” of this pandemic, approximately from the beginning of 2022 through the end of 2023, or about two years. What does that mean exactly?

During the intermediate period, trends that were accelerated during the immediate period of the pandemic will compete for ongoing viability with trends that existed prior to the pandemic. The following three areas are the ones I am asked about most by my clients, and those where I am focusing in order to navigate the next two years:

Organizational Culture

I have written ad nauseum about culture being defined as the beliefs, behavioral rules, traditions, and rituals that tie us together. I have also written and offered examples of how culture begins at the top of the organization.

One of the most common questions I receive is, “How do we keep the culture we had pre-pandemic?” The short answer is, “You can’t.” If you understand that culture is all about context, then you understand that the pandemic has changed the context of our culture. Therefore, your culture will change – the question is, “How?” For better or for worse?

Leaders and leadership teams must discuss the following two statements, earnestly and honestly, to prepare for the next two years of this pandemic. These statements speak to the beliefs in your culture. Do you believe:  

  1. If I can’t see people at work doing work, then they are not actually working.
  2. With the right tools, equipment, metrics, rewards, and environment, people can work effectively, regardless of where they choose to work?

Which of these two statements resonates more in your culture?  If you believe and support the latter, you have likely thrived and will continue to do so during the intermediate period of this pandemic. However, belief in the former has likely challenged you and your organization during the pandemic and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I would urge you to look at metrics – both yours and those of other organizations inside and outside your industry – to see how others are managing performance with a distributed workforce. 

Talent Acquisition

Morgan Stanley CEO Jamie Diamond said, “If you can eat at a restaurant, you can go to the office.” He has a problem – one that other CEOs who share his perspective also have. CEOs won’t dictate how people work in the future, employees will.

If you are a CEO who insists that you must have all your employees back in the office, ask yourself this one question: Do I want to pick from the entire talent pool or from just a subset of the pool willing to come into my office and who live (or who are willing to move) within commuting distance of my office?

Most leaders realize that you need to compete for the best talent. Particularly during this intermediate period of the pandemic – as well as post-pandemic.  After an employee has met his/her financial needs, a culture that allows for autonomy is more enticing than a higher salary. This is why employees will determine future employment arrangements. This is also why culture will continue to be your competitive advantage.

Blended Life

“Blended life” is a term that originated in the Millennial generation. It basically means that if everything I do has meaning and purpose, it doesn’t matter where I get it done, it just matters that I get it done. This is in contrast to the GenX concept of “work-life balance,” finding ways to separate work-life from personal life. During the pandemic, blended life has gone mainstream.  

Prior to the pandemic, most people occupied two-to-three spaces in their daily life. They would live at home, work at the office, and occasionally travel to a third place. During the intermediate period of the pandemic, all three spaces can be anywhere. People can live, work or travel wherever they want to be. Hybrid work will allow people greater flexibility of when and where they want to work and live.

CEO of Airbnb Brian Chesky announced that prior to the pandemic, two-to-three-night stays were more than 50% of their business. Post pandemic, 50% of stays are now one-week or longer. Twenty percent of Airbnb users are now staying longer than one month. This shift would simply not have been possible prior to the pandemic.  

What is Left to Figure Out?

During the next two years and post-pandemic, there will be a small group of employees who are 100% collocated. There will be another small group of employees that are 100% remote. The vast majority of employees will be hybrid. What must be answered in the next two years is this one question:  What is the amount of time that employees and employers need to see each other in person to maintain human connection and be productive?

Many companies realize savings in real estate leasing, benefits to hiring a more diverse talent pool, and there will still be a risk of distributed workforce employees experience loneliness and isolation.  These risks are already being addressed through active socialization events that bring people together, such as offsites and other activities.

So, where will you and your company fall on the intermediate pandemic period continuum? What do you think about the changing workforce and the dynamic shift from an employer-driven to employee-driven work environment? I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note

Until then, let’s keep cultivating our culture together!

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