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Six pandemic lessons that will improve business

The pandemic turned how we work upside down almost overnight.   One day there were inhouse client meetings, the next entire cities, populations and organisations were in lock down.   Acknowledging that we are still in the midst of some serious relapses globally, we are now almost 18 months on from that first jarring sudden flip.   Facing this crisis has thrown up many challenges.  Along the way we’ve also learned many lessons that will be advantageous for the future of business. 

In this article we want to take a look specifically at six lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic that will improve the future in business.

1. Agile organisations were ready

Being forced into lockdown has revealed many core ideas that Agile and related concepts advocate to be true. First and foremost, the ability to rapidly sense and respond trumps having a plan and processes.   

Dave Stewart is a project lead in Toronto for ADAPTOVATE.  He explains, “Those organisations who could rapidly pivot their workforce to working remotely and then address the market needs of a public who found they needed completely new services reaped some significant rewards.”

The now famous Australian company Stagekings was a shining star, that when events were cancelled overnight, were able to pivot rapidly to a new business model.  (Watch their video here.)  Within days, Stagekings were able to refocus their skills, tools, factories and workers to creating isolation furniture.   The result is an extraordinary business – IsoKing – which is now a permanent new division of their business.

2. The great digital embrace

TECHNOLOGY IN THE HOME OFFICE

Pre-pandemic,  all global organisations were of course well entrenched with video conferencing to aid region to region executive responsibilities.  However, the intra office use of video call tech, within the same teams & cities was somewhat stunted and resented.  

How many times did a team member try and call in from home, and there you were, already running 10 minutes late in the meeting while the IT guy struggled to actually get the connections working.    We observed team leaders so resentful that “Team member A works from home on Fridays”, that the meeting and documents were not set up appropriately for someone calling in remotely. 

So, the single most ubiquitous piece of tech that we will never ‘unknow’ is the ability for all employees to video call, on the fly, without a thought, with anyone, whoever, wherever you are.   Be it Zoom, Teams or Google Meet, we can troubleshoot instantly, jump to a different platform if needed.      

TECHNOLOGY IN THE HEALTH SECTOR

Of course the remote work space also has thrown up a growing list of tools which more team members are becoming comfortable with and embracing, such as Miro, Azure DevOps and Microsoft Teams enhancing collaboration and creativity amongst teams.

As important, if not more, than personal use of digital tools, was how the tech industry mobilised in rapid response to the digital health crisis.   A review by Nature Medicine done in August 2020, looked at the digital technologies used during the crisis. This diagram shows the interconnectedness of digital technologies used during the crisis.

figure1
Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-1011-4

AUTOMATION TECHNOLOGY IN IT SECTOR

As well, Intelligent CIO has reported in April 2021, that a study by Snaplogic reveals that “78% of IT leaders plan to increase spending on automation initiatives post-pandemic”.   The report goes on to quote, “In conversation with customers, as well as peers in the industry, it’s clear that automation has helped many businesses adapt and respond to the disruption caused by COVID-19,” said Craig Stewart, CTO at SnapLogic.”

3. Psychological safety moved up the priority list for Leadership teams

While the pandemic has impacted organisations, it’s a human crisis first and foremost, not a business crisis.   The authors of the research paper “COVID-19-Related Mental Health Effects in the Workplace: A Narrative Review identified it as a so called ‘psychological pandemic’.  This is due to the strain on workers including, ‘job insecurity, adverse employment environment, long periods of quarantine and isolation, work rights exploitations, and uncertainty of the future’.  

The focus therefore from employers on their workforce mental health, was brought to the fore.  The lessons learned during this time will be a step change in future planning on creating psychologically safe work places for us all.

Karen Chan, Senior consultant in Toronto has identified, “The focus on mental health and work-life balance during these conditions has resulted in more patience and compassion leading to a culture of safety and inclusion.”

4. Trust and empowerment increased employee morale and productivity

The Agile principle of trusting and empowering teams also was key to success during the pandemic.

“Companies that trusted their employees by having work from home policies and capabilities quickly pivoted to virtual work. Companies that felt employees needed to show their faces in the office found themselves operating inefficiently, if at all,” says Dave Stewart.

Professor Nicole Gillespie from the University of Queensland Business School says, “Recognising each employee’s unique needs and giving them meaningful choices in decisions that affect their work arrangements and benefits help preserve trust.”   

Organisations offering the flexible elements of their employment contract, allowed for avoidance of formal redundancies.    “Showing how difficult decisions such as pay cuts are collectively and fairly distributed across the organisation, further builds solidarity in the face of adversity by signalling ‘we are all in this together,” Professor Gillespie says.

This transparency and trust is rewarded in employee morale, productivity and retention long term.

5. Our brains are being rewired – and it’s not all bad.

During this new era, we are using creativity to find innovative and unexpected solutions to problems we didn’t know we had.    We are not only solving those problems, but we have adapted to finding solutions in rapid style.  

Of course this includes everything from pivoting to a new business (see IsoKing mentioned earlier), but also internal culture challenges like a ‘Friday night drinks’ social experience. Or another example: Company offsites that were planned for the week following lockdown, have allowed for flexing rapid solving skills untapped until then.

It’s not the specific skill that’s made the difference of course, (quickly learning how to present cocktail recipes in less than five minute presentations is fun, but not the point). 

The underlying ability for our brain to quickly divert to new problem/new solution mode is now less stressful and one we, as humans in a pandemic workforce, have all had to adapt to in one way or other.

An article in inews.co.uk written by neuroscientist Hannah Crichlow says “The long-term benefit of the past year is the exercise it has given to our anterior cingulate cortexes – increasing our tolerance of, and resilience to, future threats.”

“Restrictions on social interaction have offered the opportunity to exercise our introspective ability, also known as intuition, by tuning into our bodies and brains and the vast data that is processed there, usually subconsciously. This is linked to better decision making in leaders and  increased profits by successful financial traders,” Crichlow says.

6. Outcomes over output

We all understand that in Agile we value outcomes (the impact we have) over outputs (what we produce). We also understand in Agile methodology that outcome-focused teams (scrum practice) and the effective use of OKRS increases value to business and the customer.

However, what we have observed during the pandemic and lockdown conditions is this has become even more prominent during this time.

Ben Lyon is one of our senior consultants in London.   He explains, “Now teams work remotely, it’s removed the bias that we often see around ‘teams that look busy’ being the ones that produce the results. Agile implementation places huge importance on delivering tangible value to the customer quickly and removing ‘waste’ from a teams daily activity.”

 No doubt lockdown conditions have prompted teams everywhere to become more outcome-orientated rather than activity-orientated.


Thanks to the following contributors:
Karen Chan – Senior Consultant, Canada
Patrick Fitzgerald – Senior Consultant, USA
Yi Jin – Associate, Australia
Ben Lyon – Senior Consultant, UK
Dave Stewart – Project Lead Canada
Rachna Verma – Senior Consultant, Australia


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