This is the thirteenth edition of my New Regular series (nope – not superstitious), which is dedicated to helping small business owners stick their finger in the eye of the coronavirus. Normal has assumed the stage name “Abnormal” and is now touring in a traveling freakshow across the Australian Outback.
When you think about it, there’s not much new about change in the past 5,000 years, just variations on old themes. Electrification is lightning in a bottle and your PC or Apple Watch are battery powered Antikythera Mechanisms (circa 2100 BCE). But there is one thing new about change: its velocity. Change is happening faster.
As analog has been supplanted by digital, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented compression of time between model generations, from hardware to software to associated behaviors and practices. And out here on Main Street, that velocity – not the change – is what’s taking our breath away. Now, let’s apply that truth to both the coronavirus pandemic and our response to it.
There are many adjectives to describe the novel coronavirus on our lives: hateful, unprecedented, deadly, etc. But in the marketplace, the adjective is disruptive.
The pandemic has certainly caused a disruptive disturbance in the force. But if you expect to be in business next year, meeting those disruptions effectively is your prime directive for survival. And the best way to survive and thrive in the New Regular is to distinguish between the cause and the effect. In this case, the inconvenient from the inevitable
Let’s say that another way: The coronavirus pandemic – the cause of the disruption – appears to have been avoidable. Anger is justified here, so let’s go ahead and get that off our chest right now. “#@?*&% you, COVID-19!” Feel better?
But now, we must deal dispassionately and separately with the disruption effect. We must accept that many of the operating adjustments we’re having to make today due to the pandemic-associated disruptions were, in fact, inevitable. Like forcing a tulip to bloom out of season, the pandemic merely accelerated by a year or five many innovations, behaviors, practices, and expectations that were already coming at us.
If you’re looking for a silver lining in all that’s happened this year, ironically, you’ll find it in that accelerated velocity of change that’s been taking our breath away. As disruptive as the coronavirus response has been, thanks to digital leverage, millions of Earthlings have worked productively from home for several months. Indeed, the cliché pic for the cover of the catalog of pandemic-accelerated practices and behaviors would be of a teleworker.
Teleworking – aka telecommuting, remote working, fencing the north 40 out of the line shack – is a concept that’s been around a long time. In fact, decades ago, for several years I managed a large territory for a Fortune 50 corporation out of my home office. My analog technology was an Underwood Five, carbon paper, an answering service, and pay phones.
Since then, and for most of the 21st century, as broadband availability increased and became augmented by mobile networks, it’s common for employees to work from home a few days each month. And don’t forget how the burgeoning gig economy works.
Even though the pandemic didn’t create the teleworking shift, essentially overnight, it rudely accelerated it into an unprecedented workplace diaspora. But post-pandemic, we’ll settle into an infinite number of teleworking combinations, with each organization and individual seeking a comfort level for management and performance.
Our experience this year has exposed three factors that prove ubiquitous remote working was a paradigm shift waiting to happen:
- New and improved digital video technology makes remote work fall-off-a-log easy.
- CEOs report that their now-remote organizations have been surprisingly effective and productive.
- Out of the mouths of CEOs everywhere: “Tell me again why we’re paying all this for empty offices.”
Look for Factor 3 to cause the marketplace to quickly embrace other pandemic-accelerated disruptions. As is the case for many changes in life and business, the answer is “Money.” What’s the question?
But before we get too excited about the tilt toward teleworking, some aspects of this shift must be addressed.
- All office space reduction savings won’t drop to the bottom line. The company will have to contribute to employee remote work environments and practices, including – especially – cyber-security.
- Remote working won’t work for all employees. Some Boomers won’t thrive as a teleworker, and younger employees may have difficulty working alone, away from the feedback of the hive.
- Here’s the telework sleeper issue: How do you create, instill, and maintain that powerfully essential intangible – corporate culture – with a remote workforce? Especially with new remote-working employees who were never imprinted with the high-touch of the mothership.
Forgive me for playing Pollyanna’s glad game, but if the pandemic had to happen, it turns out that 2020 was a good year, instead of, say, 2000. A year from now we’ll marvel at how well the pandemic-battered marketplace, and rudely disrupted workplace, held together thanks to the change-accelerating leverage of digital technology.
And we accomplished that both because of, and in spite of the pandemic.
Write this on a rock … You’ll survive – and feel better – if you stick your finger in the eye of the coronavirus by differentiating the pandemic inconvenient cause from its effect on the inevitable.