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Leading the way back to work

Never in the modern history have people been asked to stay at home, stop travel and maintain social distance on a global level. Neither have we seen such an impact on the job market and the economy in a short period of time. But as we adapt and learn to live with the current status quo, leaders now face the next challenging step on their leadership journey – getting their teams back to work.

During the pandemic, entire countries have been shut, turning remote working into a new standard as workers who were able to work from home have been encouraged to stay at home to prevent the spreading of the virus. The closing of the physical doors and shutting of offices has led to many new virtual doors swinging wide open and businesses have found new innovative ways to collaborate and communicate. There will be many businesses who might choose never to return to the usual business setting, but there are also many who are set to go back to work and restart the new business as (un)usual.

Protecting physical and mental health

The most critical focus of every business is the health and safety of their employees. To protect employees from a repeated outbreak, companies can deploy comprehensive policies and guidelines, including enhanced hygiene measures, additional personal protective equipment, and social distancing. Protecting employees’ mental health is equally important, with some businesses now providing counselling services to employees returning to work after prolonged quarantines. These new measures can be integrated into the standard procedures for the long term as the business make the transition to the new normal.

Absenteeism rate is another important area of focus as employees concerned about the exposure to the virus could be reluctant to return to work, while others may be unable to do so due to sickness or quarantine requirements. Leaders can identify potential shortages of critical skills on day-to-day basis through scenario modelling and use the insight to guide decisions about staff training and recruitment needs.

In addition, regular sharing of clear and simple information about the company’s evolving knowledge about the crisis and the impact of this knowledge on the business is vital. Frequency is equally important as people need to hear a message repeatedly before fully absorbing it. For internal communication to be effective, leaders need to encourage two-way communication, answering questions and having an open dialogue with employees at all levels.

Learning to learn-as-we-go

There is a lot that we do not know about Covid-19, but we learn more each day. When times are uncertain, decision makers often fall into the trap of inaction, awaiting more information to emerge, or making decisions based on their instincts. Neither of these are helpful.

Even with imperfect information and data, leaders need an objective assessment of current facts to understand the uncertainties, so that they can manage their response. Building the capacity to learn and adapt quickly is essential, as it allows leaders to monitor progress against their objectives, assimilate new information and evolve decisions accordingly. This is a capability, rather than a task as the current situation is highly fluid. The next few weeks and months will by marked by learning about re-opening strategies and better tools, practices and solutions will emerge during the process.

Learning from these experiments, good and bad, is essential. Leaders need to learn to cut through the noise of daily statistics and headlines, understand these lessons and decide how to apply the learning to their own setting. At Acumen we pride ourselves in offering learning solutions that help leaders and their teams to drive success. We design and run programmes that give managers practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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