Business, people, and emerging from COVID-19. How can we adapt to this challenge?

Posted on 22/06/2020 by vmwareemeasmt

by Melinda Lee Ferguson, Vice President of UK & Ireland at VMware.

Many of us have been asking ourselves: when will this end? Even as we start to see signs of emergence from the pandemic, COVID-19 will continue to restrict, impact, and change the rules of how we work and live our lives, every day – and for the foreseeable future. This is a challenge very few of us ever contemplated. But one we are now faced with and must take on. As a business leader, I have always tried to focus on the power of people in the organization to support, empower, and protect each other. This is now more visible and more important than ever before. There have been so many good-news stories about the extraordinary deeds of health-workers, doctors, carers, other essential services, and the wider community. There will have been many more in every community and every organization. What people are achieving every day during these situations, with gritty perseverance; is extraordinary and what matters most.

The business of growing stronger together

Talking about business right now might seem less relevant, but these challenging times require some reassessment. The world of business is not immune. How are our people continuing to do what matters? How should we adapt and flex to support our teams? Perhaps we should shift our focus to progress in all its forms, rather than just profit.

We will make the most progress only when we work together. And this means being able to adapt to the challenges we face and have enough flexibility to change direction if we need to. It’s as true for business as it is for society in general. For all our experiences of lockdown, shutdown, and slowdown, this is actually a relatively quick pivot we need to make if we’re going to move forward. I believe it is how we help our teams make that pivot that’s important here. And this means talking about shock.

Shock & response: naming the grief of uncertainty

I read a fascinating interview with David Kessler, one of the world’s foremost expert on grief, in HBR recently, which tackled the mental health issues many remote workers have experienced during the pandemic and are still experiencing as we emerge from it.

Kessler suggested the root of these issues may be due to grief, ranging from the loss of normalcy to the loss of economic fluidity. In particular, he talks about ‘anticipatory grief’, the fear of what the future holds and the loss of a reliable safety net. What I find really important here is the importance of giving these feelings a name. This is about making it real and to some extent recognizable.

When it comes to managing, and hopefully easing, the mental toll being taken by the workforce in the current climate, I don’t think it is so much about shock-proofing an organization as making it ‘shock-ready’. Deloitte NL suggests three points of action for businesses to take that will help support their people to thrive in times of sustained uncertainty – and be ready for the next challenge.

  • Determine your relative exposure to the latest challenge, pinpointing where your business sits on the spectrum of impact (including areas such as supply chain, of course). From there, you can identify emerging opportunities to take.
  • Assess how robust your business is as a whole: financially, structurally, culturally. If the business is not ready, it cannot expect its people to be.
  • Ensure you can react dynamically to the shocks that will come, so your business and its people can transition as seamlessly as possible and adapt your business model accordingly.

Ultimately, being a shock-ready business is about being flexible and adaptive to the emotional and cultural side of work. This is as important as any technology.

Joining the culture club

Of course, that’s not to say technology cannot play its part to bring people together more effectively and ease any pains and frustrations. In another time, I would happily talk about how the right kind of technology, hybrid cloud, and containerized apps can go a long way to empowering a remote workforce.

But, as I see what we’re currently doing at VMware to counter the effects of the pandemic, it’s important to see our people as our community and better support them with a culture of understanding and extreme flexibility. We certainly need grit to get through these difficult times, so let’s share that way of thinking and acting around the business world as a whole. It’s important, in rethinking our businesses as communities, to take care of employees in this way. I think this is why so many businesses, VMware included, are now offering its people many supportive services, including pandemic leave, to deal with the issues that have emerged from this situation.

It has been frequently said that the world that emerges from this pandemic will be much different than the one before – some things will never be the same but also some will hopefully change for good. One thing it has definitely highlighted is the importance of bringing people together with a common purpose. We are all suffering grief to various levels, but there is no reason why businesses cannot adapt to meet the needs of its people, as a more supportive, collective entity. This is what I would hope for, as an employee as well as a leader.


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