The “New Normal” – getting back on track
The “new normal” is a phrase I hear bandied about a lot at the moment, and I have to say it totally confuses me. Do we even know what the new normal is? Are we even close to being there yet?
Here, in the UAE, we are beginning to see restrictions lift and perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to glimmer in the distance, but I believe we are a long way away from stepping out into the daylight of a static “new normal”.
Currently the new normal sees SME business owners coping with an extremely challenging business market, with most in survival mode. A recent survey conducted by CNBC concluded that 70 percent of Dubai companies expect to go out of business within six months due to coronavirus pandemic. This is a shocking statistic, and one that all business owners are trying hard to prove wrong.
To survive, companies require the ongoing support and hard work of their employees. Many of these employees have been asked to work full time on half salaries. They have been required to clear a space in their bedrooms to set up a home office, juggle the role of teacher/entertainer to their kids and productive employee to their managers whilst trying to stay motivated and committed when uncertainty is an ongoing worry.
Managers have had to learn new management skills to manage from a distance, a management style that is a challenge in itself for many who are used to having their team sitting in front of them. But everyone has managed, and, dare I say it, perhaps on reflection this situation has forced innovation, creative thinking and a more productive team.
As restrictions lift, employees can start returning to work under strict guidelines, which are opening up many additional questions and challenges. Maintaining physical distancing will be a difficult ask for many SMEs that do not have the office space to ensure a two-meter distance is maintained at all times. Basic challenges of how an employee can get to work on time if they use public transport, need to use the lift in the office block to get to the office located on a higher floor need to be considered. Many new challenges which may be possibly distracting the company from doing business, at a time where they need to focus on the second half of the year.
But there seems to be a desire to get back to normal, without checking that the old ways of working actually worked. Its human nature to gravitate back to what we know from old, it makes us feel comfortable and safe, however it will not get business back on track at the speed a business needs it to in order to survive and perhaps the changes we were forced to implement are the best to maintain, even in the short term.
I would recommend SME business owners to sit back for a moment and review how they been operating over the past months. Do they actually need their employees to come into the office daily? Can they implement a variable working-from-office system? Would furloughing 50 percent of the desks in an office to maintain physical distancing and rotating staff in so that they work part time from the office and 50 percent from home work? Which roles need to be present at the office and which do not?
There is a lot to consider. Managers should involve their team in creating the new company working procedures. They will have a much better idea of what will work for them and the company. Involving the team from the outset will show them you have plans to get business back on track, and help to catch up on business lost in the first half of the year which, in turn, will help lift some of their job security concerns.
Perhaps its time to take a leaf out of Twitter’s book. They recently implemented a new work from home policy, where their employees “don’t ever have to go back to the office, unless they want to”.
Taking the leap to implement this type of policy does require the company to have the right employees working for them. Employees who are productive and trust worthy, however the biggest questions needs to be around the company’s methods of setting work-based targets and measuring outputs.
The lessons learnt from having to work remotely over the past months will have already given a great foundation to build on, implementing innovative solutions that quickly get businesses back on track.