Will you lead or lag the virtual revolution?

Just like the smartphone revolutionized the way we live and do business, it is inevitable that COVID will transform the way corporations work and do their business.

Why is this transformation inevitable?

Survival is a very powerful instinct. COVID very abruptly required companies to shift the way they manage their employees and customers, and the way they conduct their business.

At first, most companies scrambled to stay afloat. But for most, it didn’t take long before they found their new bearing. As I wrote in a previous blog, some companies even excelled in the last few months, finding and creating ways to take their internal and external business to new heights that surpassed pre-COVID times.

Many large corporations are weathering the COVID storm. Others will eventually do the same as well. However, many of the radical changes and innovations that companies had to create and implement in order to survive during the last few months, as well as their benefits, cannot and will not go unnoticed.

Companies are having and will continue to have new realizations about how they think about and manage their business, employees, and customers.

Here are three selected examples out of many more I heard from clients:

  1. “We were afraid of how to stay focused and productive, but we actually managed to be more focused, productive, and efficient working virtually than in the office. We got more things done…”
  2. “We were afraid of how to keep our teams united, motivated and in communication when everyone works from home, but our teams are probably more aligned, united, motivated and coordinated than ever before…”
  3. “We were afraid of our ability to maintain customer presence, value and loyalty due to the fact that everyone was working from home, but it turned out that our presence with, and value to our customers has only increased given the fact that we conducted more virtual webinars, presentations, training sessions and other customer events than ever before…”

The most significant realization for many companies may be that they actually can continue to grow and improve their business with much less overhead, by incorporating a radically different virtual strategy to their business.

Many companies have rejected and resisted programs like working from home or as it is commonly referred to as “flexible work” for the belief that it undermines productivity and effectiveness. I am sure this myth will dissipate across the board.

I know of a few communication technologies companies that have not used their own video and conference call products to run their own business pre-COVID and, during the last few months, they have had to use them to conduct day-to-day work. They stayed very productive during the last few months at home. They and other companies like them are going to start using their own technologies post-COVID.

In fact, for many companies, the use of communication technologies previously had been almost solely to offset and reduce travel costs. In simple terms, instead of people traveling to an off-site meeting/conference in one location, they conduct their meetings virtually and save a lot of money.

Some types of events and meetings are far less powerful and effective virtually, and some are flat out impossible to conduct via video. However, now that companies have experienced the virtues of virtual platforms, they will feel much more comfortable to take advantage of them.

Many companies own or lease a large amount of very costly real estate footprint based on their traditional way of doing business. I am sure many companies will reassess their real estate needs and resize their portfolio, now that they have proven to themselves and their customers that they can be as successful, with a much greater reliance on virtual tools, platforms, and approaches.

Lastly, it seems to me that the virtual revolution will address the gender imbalance in the workplace.  I believe that to a large degree the pre-COVID ‘work from home’ trend was initially promoted and primarily driven by and/or for mothers wanting to continue to develop their careers while having a family and caring for their children.

Therefore, the more the virtual revolution is accepted and takes hold, the more opportunities it will open up for women to take on more prominent roles in corporations. After all, in many of the old-fashioned companies that have resisted enabling working from home, opportunities for women’s advancement have been scarce.

The virtual revolution is inevitable. It is already underway. However, as always, some companies will lead the trend, and others will follow.

Will you be among the leaders or laggers in the virtual revolution?

Stay out of your head!

The last few months have certainly tested our mental stamina and resolve. One person I spoke to told me that COVID is easy for him because he loves to stay at home and not go out. However, I am sure that for most of us staying at home with minimal-to-no going out is a challenging proposition.

I have been working virtually for many years, so I am quite comfortable working in a virtual-mode. However, working solely virtually without physical meetings and interaction with clients or going out of the house has been trying for me too.

Repeated instructions like “Stay at home!”, “Stay in touch with family and friends” and “Stay 6 feet from others” have been ringing in our ears as they mark this periodI want to add another strong recommendation to the list for those of you who want to stay centered, focused, and strong in these challenging times: Stay out of your head!

The conversations that go on inside our head are not innocent, arbitrary or random. Their aim is to keep us contained and ‘out of trouble.’  They achieve that purpose by filling our consciousness with discouraging, gloomy and scary information and warnings.

Each of us has our fears, baggage, and demons from the past. The conversations in our head exploit those to their end. They make us draw disempowering conclusions about situations that seem bad, which leads to disempowering reactive decisions.

It’s no surprise that the media is speaking about a spike in anxiety, depression, and suicide during the COVID months.

It’s not because people have spent too much time at home. It is because they have spent too much time in their head.

Most of us consume way too much TV, news, and social media, and for many, it can also be their primary source of information and knowledge. Both mainstream media and social media – regardless of your political persuasion – have been polluting our minds and stressing us out. Many people believe what they hear and see without questioning it, and can struggle to distinguish between what is real and what is fiction.

This predicament is discouraging and demotivating.

So, how do you stay out of your head?

Simple, be in action!

Being in action is the only alternative to being in our head. Action takes place in the real world.

When you are engaged in any kind of action – be it exercising, drawing, dancing, listening to music, playing an instrument, knitting, reading or communicating/sharing your thoughts and feelings with a friend or family member – you focus outward.

In fact, if you think about it, when you are engaged in action, you stop thinking about your worries and fears. All noise disappears into the background, and your entire attention, focus and consciousness are on what you are doing.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you stop watching TV and/or engaging in social media, this is not necessary or practical, and you wouldn’t do it. I am, however, strongly suggesting that you manage your time to reflect a healthy balance between doing things that throw you into your head (exacerbating your fears, worries, anxieties, etc.) versus the actions that keep you out of your head.

I have found that when I spend most of my days in activities that pull me out of my head and require me to focus outward (activities such as supporting others, writing blogs and articles, and/or playing my classical guitar), it enables me to overcome any fears and anxieties if/when they arise.

Whether you are at home or not, working now or not, I recommend you take on a conscious commitment to spend the majority of your days out of your head.

To that end, make a list of the things you love/like to do or something you could do that would get you out of your head and start doing them.

What is your mid-term mark for leveraging COVID?

If you had to give yourself and your organization a mid-term mark (four months in) for how powerful you have been in leveraging the COVID era, what would it be?

Based on my observations, from supporting several companies and teams in the last few months, you could be in one of three spaces:

  1. Hoping to survive COVID,
  2. Trying to stay productive,
  3. Excelling and taking your business and culture to a new level.

I am sure most if not all companies went through some degree of survival mode in the beginning when the business and economic reality of COVID hit. At first, some leaders were in denial, brushing off the severity of the pandemic. Other leaders expressed hope that it would simply go away, even when there was mounting evidence that the epidemic was spreading globally and here to stay.

I would like to believe that most leaders were able to collect themselves, think rationally and strategically and move on to a more productive space.

Unfortunately, I saw some leaders who didn’t and remained in panic and reactive mode.  They continued to make panicky decisions such as: freezing all budgets across the board without distinction; stopping all corporate programs – “run the business” and “improve the business” without exception; and laying off as many employees as possible to mitigate short term risk, without any enlightened regard for longer-term consequences.

Some companies seem to still be in that space today after four months. What a waste of energy and time!

Other leaders pride themselves on the fact that they quickly and efficiently shifted their entire workforce to a virtual work mode from home. In many cases, this shift was an admirable logistic undertaking given the size and geographical spread of their workforce.

Some companies are used to working virtually; they have the platform and technology to do so. However, for some companies working from home is an entirely foreign concept. In one case, employees literally unplugged their desktop computers (not laptops) and took them home via Uber.

The physical move to home was no small task for many. And then, establishing a virtual routine of productive business performance and customer service is also an admirable accomplishment.

Unfortunately, many leaders stopped there, settling for uninterrupted productivity.  As long as they could continue to provide the same services (or close) that they were offering pre-COVID virtually and uninterruptedly, they were content.

In one case, the CEO of a large regional division (which was faring well in virtual mode) told his executives to put on-hold all improvement and transformational programs for the time being, because as he put it, “They are ‘excessive’ during these challenging days.”

I believe this CEO’s mindset is quite common these days, and most companies feel that staying productive is a high enough mark.

The companies that inspire me most are those who quickly passed the first two spaces and then pushed themselves to the next level.

One CEO told his leaders to “discard COVID as an excuse.” His words were blunt, but he succeeded in setting the bold expectation of continuing to take the business, that was already on a path of transformation, to the next level – full speed ahead, without reservations.

Another CEO of medium size lighting company with the same mindset launched the most significant improvement programs his company has ever had focussing on many critical areas, including Sales, Production, R&D, and Marketing. By doing so, he increased productivity, effectiveness, results, and impact beyond the best months pre-COVID. His company will never be the same.

In fact, the two CEOs and other leaders who took bold initiatives believe that COVID is not a time to be cautious, think conservatively, hold back resources, or play safe. On the contrary, the COVID era is the perfect opportunity to rethink things, challenge the status quo, figure out approaches to truly work smarter, scale, and significantly improve processes and ways of doing business. Actions not merely to survive or overcome a tough epidemic but to generate lasting breakthroughs in their business.

Much has been written about the influence of COVID on businesses, and much more will be written over time. But when all is said and done, what are you really going to learn and take forward from the COVID era?