The Corona Paradox: Social Distancing Bringing Us Closer Together

Mar 22, 2020
The digital world, as we like to call it, has never been put to bigger test and has never faced the bigger challenge. Now, it must live up to all it has been promising to us: distant learning, virtual offices, video conferencing, online ordering, contactless shopping, e-banking, m-banking. We are quickly learning the terminology of the new reality: social distancing, lockdown, self-isolation… We are heavily relaying on possibilities of online communication platforms to keep us connected and able to ask our friends and colleagues one simple question in real time: How are you?

May you live in interesting times!” The old adage was probably never truer than today. There were global crisis, wars, natural disasters (anyone remember the 2011 Icelandic volcano eruptions that grounded most of the European flights?), epidemics — some of which almost wiped out the human race. However, the world as we know it has never seen anything like corona virus: because in our interconnected universe not only information travel instantly. So does everything else. Including viruses.

At this point nobody can come forward and say: I have experienced something similar and I have a solution! (and with that I don’t mean the medical community who is frantically working against the clock to find a cure). We don’t know. We have never experienced something that hits in the same way China, Italy, New Zealand and Iran.

It’s in the worst of times that great leaders are made.

If we look back in history, some of the most famous or admired ones — whether Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, or Martin Luther King, Jr. — chances are, they all shared one thing in common: They worked their magic in the hardest of times.

Subsequently, it is in the time of crisis that companies show their true worth and resilience. It is for many decades that we are using innumerable models, workshops, trainings and simulations to teach executives around the world how to be more effective. One of the major things they were trained for, no matter what kind of approach was used, is what to do in the time of crisis (which is mostly defined by “something unexpected happening”). Now is the time to put that knowledge into practice.

It is too early to talk about lessons learned (and there will be a lot of those!) — however, some things have emerged as important for the continuity of business in this trying times.

Keeping people connected is essential.

The number of people working remotely has rocketed worldwide and companies are keeping just the skeleton staff physically present in the offices. It is the leader’s job to help them feel connected. Managers are learning to turn their focus more to goals and outcomes than hours spent in the office All of the sudden, agility and engagement became a reality. Communication has become more personal than ever before: managers are working with each person on goals aligned with their personal motivators to help them stretch.

A lack of openness and honesty is leading to more fear and uncertainty.

Enormous amount of information is circulating in the virtual space and people are bound to get confused and scared. Companies are now creating a practice of sending regular updates to the employees (daily briefs), even if there’s not much new to share. Being open with the team, sharing information about daily activities as well as about immediate plans for the organization is crucial for building long term relationships. Employee distrust can grow during a crisis and can be the result of misunderstanding the intentions of others — especially leaders. When employees aren’t sure what’s happening around them, it’s easy to become suspicious. In an environment where information is withheld or not communicated properly, rumors take the place of facts.

This is the time where all big plans sound fake (and they are). What can be done is looking for small wins: letting employees know they are making a difference in their work every day. Rewarding small wins in tough times like this one, shows that a leader knows what’s going on and is appreciative of every step forward. Again, it encourages people to openly discuss issues and ask for help if necessary. People are feeling ‘’I’m needed. I’m supported.’”

In times of challenge, keeping people motivated and optimistic is more vital than ever.

And that is the moment where all the traditional values we almost forgot about kick in: trust, responsibility, resilience, support. Efficiency give way to effectiveness. Companies are looking for synergies rather than competition. Various industries, including competitors from the same industries are coming together in order to help each other survive in these unprecedented circumstances.

The digital world, as we like to call it, has never been put to bigger test and has never faced the bigger challenge.

Now, it must live up to all it has been promising to us: distant learning, virtual offices, video conferencing, online ordering, contactless shopping, e-banking, m-banking. We are quickly learning the terminology of the new reality: social distancing, lockdown, self-isolation… Simultaneously, we are heavily relaying on possibilities of online communication platforms to keep us connected and able to ask our friends and colleagues one simple question in real time: How are you?

In some strange way, this global crisis is a chance for humanity. People are operating the systems. Big servers that are enabling us to communicate instantaneously are supervised by humans. Amazon, the biggest online retailer is recruiting 100.000 new employees due to the exponential increase in online shopping, but they need real people to perform concrete tasks.

With all the automatization, AI at all it is again about people. As it has always been. And, hopefully, it will always be.

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