Restarting the Engine after Lockdown

“Cars that have sat un-started for months, maybe even without oil, don’t take kindly to an abrupt wake-up call. They can be as nasty as a grizzly bear prematurely jolted out of hibernation, and you will pay the price of its wrath.”

As we begin to recover from the effects of so called pandemic , which has not only locked down individuals but put many businesses into near hibernation, our thoughts have turned to getting life back to normal. The above quote gives some sound advice on how to treat your pride and joy classic car which has sat under covers for the winter, the rule is don’t just rip off the cover and turn the key! That makes me think about how we restart the engine of our businesses as  we get back to some form of normality… Whatever that may be.

The words lockdown, social distancing, symptomatic, asymptomatic, positive, negative, isolating, quarantined, and furlough will soon be put to the back of our memory bank, as we resume our lives from a period which will hopefully never be experienced again. But getting back to normal won’t be easy, business is about culture and despite the often promoted hype about working from home, the fact is the structure and intimacy of business is what creates the “why” 

The so called lockdown meant the daily commute was replaced by staying at home, a novelty and much needed rest for most people. A chance to walk the dog, read, take up yoga and find our spiritual self. A 14 hour day didn’t allow much time to reflect, or think. Initially everyone seemed to take the opportunity to just stop, for once slow down from the 24/7 always on, e-mail, social media, too busy being busy world we lived in. But now what? 

The daily Zoom calls will dissipate(as will the share price) but we’ll always cherish joining our colleagues on camera, without the customary suits, but replaced by the worst array of novelty t-shirts ever seen ( especially IT people) hair disheveled as they peered into the camera from their bedroom with the customary well stocked book shelf behind them. Were they real? And did we ever realise so many people had dogs? I’ll miss people talking on mute, the background of San Francisco from a house in Luton, people wearing a fleece, and ending the call wondering what was the point, pretending I had another to go to just to excuse myself from the chaotic scene. Give me a room and a white board any day please. 

 I for one missed putting on a nice crisp shirt, getting in the car and driving with a purpose, rather than for a loaf of bread. The joy of a proper Italian coffee from that rather nice deli near the office is something we’ll never take for granted again. The chance to jump on a plane again is a novelty as though it were 1920,  and I even missed the security screening at the airport… Well maybe not that!  

So how do we get back to “normal”? What will the new normal even be? There are two ways this will go. In some of our businesses we’ve found remote working has actually increased efficiency, the multitude of tasks on the back burner have had the focus they deserved, the packed meeting calendar has given way to productive short punchy video calls, and generally people have taken this time to tidy things up. In a sense the true meaning of Agile working has been forced upon us, and it’s worked for some. 

But on the other hand old habits die hard, there is much talk of things never being the same again, will we ever travel as much, why go to the office when working from home has worked so well? Did we really need all those long drawn out meetings with the requisite biscuits followed by a two hour commute?

We are creatures of habit though, give it a while and many of us will be back in the old routine as though none of this ever happened. We all promised ourselves there would be a new normal, but the memory fades and habits reform. Rather like the promise  to never drink rose again the morning after the night before. Until the next barbecue on a sunny evening… How a  business copes as the lights are turned back on will be a true test of leadership. 

But beware, the engine won’t start first time, in fact as our car friend suggests it may be terminal to even try to turn the key without some proper thought. Business leaders need to have a plan for getting everyone back into work mode. Strategic plans  will have been forgotten, customers neglected, relationships temporarily broken, Sales people out of practice. All of this needs careful attention if the return to optimum working effectiveness is to happen quickly, or it could take months. 

We’ve had the green light to restart the engines, but make sure when you whip the covers off you’re very careful how you start that engine!