Are You Ready for the New Normal?
What have you learned from this experience of a global pandemic so far? What has it revealed to you about what is and isn’t working in your life, your organization, and your community? What needs to change and what is the resulting new normal you want to see?
These are the questions we’ve been asking in conversations with leaders in our community and here is some of what they are telling us.
People want a new normal
There is something about getting yanked out of your life that has you see it with new eyes. While there was a lot about this experience we never want to repeat, there were also things to appreciate and even some things we don’t want to lose such as a strengthened connection with family, a better sense of integration and balance, or more time for reflection.
As we look forward, some aspects of what’s ahead are not what we would have chosen for ourselves – many more months of wearing masks in public, the continuation of social distancing, and potentially, intermittent future lockdowns – but many people are recognizing that the old normal had serious flaws and that a new normal is not only desirable but essential.
Leaders are seeing this as an opportunity to reset and rethink everything from the quality of our daily lives, to personal and professional priorities, to how we lead our organizations, to the systemic and global changes necessary to create a sustainable and just world.
The value of slowing down
Working from home and the cancellation of many social and business engagements has, for many, freed up precious time for reflection and creativity. Some leaders tell us that this forced pause has delivered clarity, insight, and improved productivity. It has also reduced stress and enabled greater responsiveness in their leadership. The reduction in noise in our environment has enabled us to unpin our shoulders from our ears and breathe deeply again.
Leaders want to sustain this sense of perspective and spaciousness when the restrictions are lifted.
The importance of daily rituals
Not everyone experienced the positive aspects of the lockdown. Some people found the stay at home orders and the lack of human connection profoundly isolating. There is evidence that the pandemic has created a secondary mental health crisis that is having wide-ranging consequences every bit, if not more dire than COVID-19.
One of the common coping strategies that our clients and colleagues reported as helpful was the resumption of some form of daily routine. For those who had to work longer hours to respond to a multitude of health and economic crises, these practices were abandoned because people felt there was no time. For others, working from home and the sudden and dramatic lack of imposed structure was disorienting. It’s common under stress to let go of those rituals that contribute to our well-being and resort to coping strategies that numb us such as letting go of regular sleep habits, binge-watching television, over-eating and drinking. And yet, those clients and colleagues who resumed or introduced daily rituals associated with good health such as meditation, daily exercise, walks outside or mind-body practices, seemed, at least anecdotally, to fair better.
Our take-away from this is that these daily rituals are vital in times of crisis to support resilience and require the counter-intuitive move of making time for them especially when our world feels upended.
What it means to stay connected
The way we connect has changed. Who we connect with has changed. While nothing can replace being together in the same space, for many people, connection with colleagues, friends and extended families has become more deliberate, intentional, and, in some ways, more meaningful.
This crisis has changed the way our team at Fire Inside connects. At the outset of the state of emergency, we initiated brief Monday morning and Friday afternoon video calls with clients and colleagues. They provided wonderful opportunities for reflective and intimate conversations with fellow leaders and have strengthened our leadership community. For our team, they provided an opportunity for us to hang out as a full team following the calls. This connection time with no agenda was a highlight of my week and reminded me of how privileged I am to work with such an outstanding team.
We’ve suffered extraordinary losses through this crisis. In Nova Scotia, we’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19, we endured an unspeakable criminal act that claimed 22 lives and the tragic loss of young military officers in two unrelated accidents. For a time, we seemed to be moving through a soup of grief. These events and other tragedies around the globe call on us to be compassionate and kind to one another.
This situation also invites us to self-compassion. It calls on us to let go of self-judgment – to be okay with bad hair days, to be okay with kids and pets joining our business meetings, to be okay with figuring it out as we go.
Compassion heals. We are going to need healing in the days ahead. Compassion belongs in the workplace. Leaders want it to be central to how they lead in the new normal.
The power of necessity and collective resolve
A fascinating by-product of this crisis is the discovery of how quickly old intractable barriers to progress fall away in times of crisis. Some leaders have reported that initiatives they assumed would take months or years to realize, suddenly were accomplished in a matter of weeks. The combination of necessity, urgency, and collective will showed leaders that many barriers to collective action were self-inflicted, failures to listen, connect and collaborate, or cumbersome processes that were not adding value. We have accomplished things in record time, like getting viable vaccines into clinical trials, delivering healthcare and education virtually on a massive scale, or getting support into the hands of people in need.
It has us rethinking what’s possible and questioning long-held assumptions about what can and can’t be done. Leaders are wondering what can be learned from this about the real and imagined barriers to change and how they can mobilize the will and the creativity of their teams to solve the complex problems facing us.
The need for extensive social and system change
The pandemic has revealed the most vulnerable places and people in our society and the world. It has shone a light on terrible inequities, on problems with how we care for our elderly, on the cracks in our social safety net, and how systemic racism and conscious and unconscious bias create harm to large segments of our communities. It has revealed weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our organizations and institutions. It has also revealed both how slowing our consumption can produce immediate positive environmental impacts and how business as usual degrades our natural environment.
The leaders we talk to want change. They want to leverage these insights and impacts to create stronger communities and better systems to serve them.
Beyond wishful thinking
As the restrictions are lifted, it will be very easy to become complacent, to go back to sleep. This transition is a test of our resolve and our leadership. It is time for each of us to ask ourselves:
What do I want the new normal to look like and what am I prepared to do to create it?