I read every day about the New Normal, yet no one seems to know what it means or how it will look like. New Normal sounds like a cliché to define a future defined by a few experts for the majority of us who have very little insight into the world to come. We can observe some trends emerging shyly, but not much more than that. And in a situation like the one the world is going through, any expert, today, can only be an expert on the past. There are no experts on the future.
Very few times, if ever, have we been faced with this kind of uncertainty, and we are not well prepared to live in uncertainty. We need frames of reference to which to relate our views, thoughts and decision making. Yet, in the midst of uncertainty, we seem to hear and read so many statements about what will come. Maybe we are confusing our need to know, for certainty, with our desires for normality, whatever normal, any normal.
Normal is habit and we are creatures of habit.
Yet, what is normal? What was normal? Was the world we lived in the world we liked? Was the kind of life we had got accustomed to the one we were freely choosing?
Many years ago, I learned that freedom is not only about choice and choosing. It is about choosing with inner joy. Joy is the acid test for real freedom. Choosing between two or more bad offers, just because we have to, is just a rational option. Maybe better than no choice at all, but far from real freedom. This circumstances we are facing allow us to give birth to a chosen future. The world, our own world, is being turned upside down in more than one way.
On the one hand we are in a life slowdown that allows us to revisit what we are doing, why we do it that way, and how we would like to design our future. And it gives us the opportunity to revisit our values, rediscover our natural ways, and change our questions, rather than running for the safety of the immediate and popular answer. No one has the answer. Doctors don’t have them. Politicians don’t. Economists don’t. Businessmen don’t have them. Neither do Scientists, Artists, Religious Leaders or other usual authorities of their fields.
It is a most interesting time for questions and allowing for the answers to develop, unfold, emerge.
Uncertainty invites to questions, and questions upon which we can reflect can help us build our future as persons, as family members, as community and social members, as company or corporate members. We can only have good questions that help us in connecting some dots and imagine how the emerging web may look like.
On the other hand what this unpreviewed situation kicked off, is a full acceleration of digitalization projects and processes around the world. Many companies had their plans set for the next few years, and a good part of those have been pressed by circumstances to happen in next few weeks. The announced Digital World has finally arrived in the corporate world, and we might believe it is here to stay. The companies that are helping us through the challenges of this circumstances, and strived as a result by manifolding their business opportunities, are the ones which were built as digital companies and understood the concept of Digital, right from the beginning. Digital is not just communicating and interacting online.
Digital is about integrating processes with the least human interaction, thus reducing time and human intervention.
One of the biggest questions we face is how we will design our work, jobs and redefine our roles in such a way that we can find the opportunities for new possibilties, new creations, new learnings, new careers. Maybe we will not find a New normal. Whatever comes, we will not recognize it as well known. We will be dealing with many “News” and few “normals”. But our human spirit, resilience, and creativity have always strived in the face of difficulties, so let us look into a world that will bring many challenges and many opportunities as well.
May I invite you to explore on the following as a possibility of reflection and connection with yourself and your spaces of influence, so that some insights and inspirations for the world to come may emerge?
Exploring our Personal World
- What has (or still is) confinement been allowing us to learn?
- Is it possible that we had become uni-dimensional beings? Economic beings, producing, earning and spending in a certain automatic pilot fueled by the needs of the economic wheel of the world?
- May we have re-discovered our other dimensions? Our creative capacities and abilities, our forgotten social needs, our spiritual beliefs and guidelines? Our driving values?
Maybe we get to understand that life is the process of becoming who we are.
- What have we learned that we can add?
- What have we learned that we can take off because we discovered that it is not who we want to become..?
- What are those things in you that could never be reproduced by digital entities, yet complemented by them?
- What ways do you see yourself using the digital world in order to master it, instead of being ruled by it?
And what about our professional life?
- How will the new thoughts and perspectives impact the choices we make in our profession? Are we on a path we like?
Maybe we are on a comfortable path but let’s also increase our awareness that different ways are possible and beneficial.
- How are the dynamics of work withholding or promoting healthy environments for us and most around us? How may those environments be impacted?
- Which might be the new ways of work?
- How has working remotely impacted our relation with our fields of influence and our contribution to the organizations we participate in?
- What of all we do has shown itself of scarce relevance and what spaces of maximum contribution with the least energy expenditure may we have discovered?
Maybe we have realized that we become more productive and more enthusiastic in certain settings, regarding specific challenges and certain tasks and projects. Maybe we realized how much less than we thought is needed to be productive and joyous. Maybe we have discovered how much time at the office we are being effective and contributing, and how many hours we are just being there in useless meetings, until time to go home or getting out to private activities arrives.
Exploring our Relational World
We may most probably have become familiar with joining meetings where we see each other in our respective screen rectangles. How is our identity and self confidence being impacted, when we depend much more of what we express in that “just face and trunk” small rectangle among many others on a screen, and can not rely on the physical ways or expression attributes we have grown to rely on in our communication?
- Has it increased our communications assertiveness? Have we developed an online style?
- Has it impacted our authority, did we feel the same as in physical gathering meetings?
- What did we miss? What did we realize we felt deprived of and what does that tell us about ourselves?
Maybe that if we formally occupy positions of power, we are accustomed to the symbols and semiotics of power, which now become unseen and unperceived for the natural restrictions of the digital interaction. Our bigger or nicer office, our material benefits, our cars, suits and dresses and other material expressions of success or achievement cannot be seen. It is just about our face, almost barely just ourselves, with who we are summed up in what our minds and emotions can say and contribute. Social democracy as good as it comes.
- How does our social presence feel that way and what does it tell us about who we are?
- What about our external business relations? Will the ways of interacting with customers change?
- How much of our interaction will keep being online?
- How will the acceleration of the digital integration impact what we do?
- Will supply chain progressive integrations affect the demand of our interactions? Will our part of human activity require new skills?
We may have to reflect and learn about ways of influencing, sharing insights and negotiating in a space where different sensorial impacts may be needed.
- How will transversal teams integration evolve? Will remote access empower or disempower integration?
- Maybe we will be holding hybrid / in-presence meetings and maybe we integrate matricidal teams in different ways.
- What communication skills and awareness attitudes will we need to explore and learn?
There will probably be implicit emotional challenges and we may need to understand how to manage those emotions.
- Will the new way of meetings change the balance of interaction between introverts and extroverts?
How does remote interaction help to bring out increased exposure for introverts, who usually have lots to contribute but may restrain themselves in the fully in presence meetings?
Maybe we will discover an increase of valuable insights if allowing choice of interaction channels for different persons.
What about our Ego?
- What happens to our ego? How does our perception of what others see in us impact?
- How may your peers and reports observe you in this at-distance relation? What kind of adjustments will we need to install in our communication?
- Do we need to get emotionally closer, when the physical distance and presence is avoided?
- How does our family perceive us, and how does it impact our relation?
If you were usually going to the office every day, and you are suddenly home everyday, how does this relate to the stereotypes of “going to work” we have ingrained in us since early days? Is this an advancement of how the future will look and a good example for children and youngsters of the natural way of working?
- Does it make you feel a successful modern professional or does it feel like a marginal one?
- What about our relation with vulnerability?
We may be accustomed to being in a steady professional image and role.
And now a child cries, a dog barks in the background. Do you feel as unprofessional in front of others when this happens? Maybe this helps us to allow ourselves to be and act more human. Accepting that this reality of life affects us all in similar ways.
Maybe this shows us that the strong Power Dressed non-vulnerable hero people seen at the office and in power meetings every day, actually have a puppy, and a child, and a spouse at home which make them so more human than the facade of the daily role we were accustomed to. And it might take the burden of appearance off many bosses backs.
Handling Time and Responsibilities
The initial remote work days seemed to be longer and quite disorganized. All that could usually be dealt with in a few minutes at the office required a scheduled meeting, and the different information sharing systems took a time to be managed by everyone. But the learning curve was quite fast and meetings over the different video conferencing platforms multiplied.
- How is time handled?
- What are the boundaries between work life and private life while at home?
- How do people who have school age children in charge at home organize with several duties simultaneously?
- What did we learn? Will our ways of working and distributing time ever be the same?
It is very possible that once and for all we stop thinking about work as a matter of hours as it was in the industrial era of the 19th and part of the 20th century and start accepting that in the knowledge era work is about getting things done. Its is about smart work mindset replacing hard work mindset. But are we ready for that? Will we able to get our work done and up to date in less hours than at the office and use our time for other things that fulfill us and contribute to society?
- How will work be rewarded: by time/ hours devoted or by effectiveness in completion of tasks and projects.
- What will be the financial implications ?
We will most probably face a very varied menu of choices and varied kind of agreements between employer and employee. How will we handle implicit responsibility if we choose to go the smart work road? Will those of us who learned that work was a ten hour day ( at best) at the office routine feel guilty if we are not working around the clock? How will we deal with the need of this new mindset?
Maybe we need to take a more entrepreneurial attitude, even when we have the benefits of our companies containment.
But entrepreneurs are the ones who need to battle the most against entropy, against the possibility of spending energy in low return activities. The energy they spend needs to be at least a bit less than the one they produce and that unavoidable requires working smart. What are the areas in which you work smart? Where you produce the most with the least expenditure? What is the 20 % of your efforts that delivers 80% of your results?
This is probably a good time to have this clear, because if not, we may be exactly at the opposite equation. It’s an opportunity to start designing our future. We may just take what comes given, or we may bring some strategic thinking into the design of our future. As mentioned earlier, the economic changes will stimulate accelerating Digitalization as a means of cost reductions into the future. Maybe that several jobs and roles are only necessary for shorter interventions. And maybe we will distribute our productive time among different kind of jobs or short contracts.
Most of us who are employed may need to start thinking into the future as independent contractors. Would it be possible that one of those contracting offers we may bring to the market is aligned with some of those work ideas we had been postponing? What has been on our mind for long, but we have privileged the benefits of our usual life as it was, and postponed attention to our life ideals?
Disruption times are ideal for embracing design of the life we would like. Are we clear about what we are really good at, really talented at in such a way that we can turn that into an interesting offer when the work market starts shifting in new directions? If so, what do you need to add to your set of skills? How do you need to take charge of preparing yourself as a professional solution in the field of your desired endeavors? Let us make sure that we contribute to system life and all it contains, out of strengths and given talents.
There is no New Normal.
If anything becomes Normal again, make sure that the new habits, the new normality is the one of your choice and not one imposed by forces we do not even understand. We are all agents of the change we want to produce. It is not easy but it is more than rewarding. Take advantage and embrace the opportunity to become who you are and build the world you want, for yourself, and whatever organization, business, or community you want to contribute to by having decided to be part of it.