Written by Steve Lang, President & CEO | dancker

Now that we have been sheltering-in-place and social-distancing for eight weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are numerous questions swirling around all of us: How much longer will this go on? Will I be able to go back to work? When? Will my kids be able to go back to school? When? What will work and school look like when we do go back? Will we be safe?

But no one yet has the answers. And that’s okay! Things are still moving and changing weekly, even daily.

Many are going even further and pondering what the post-pandemic workplace should look like. Will open offices remain valid? Will shared workstations and group collaboration zones still be relevant? Will employees just want to stay at home? These are good questions too, but we don’t yet know the answers to them either. We could speculate about the course that COVID-19 might take over the next few weeks and start to make suggestions, but this is a big deal, and if we want solutions that will be effective beyond the short term, it’s going to take a little more time to work through.

The good news is that none of us is alone in figuring out what to do next. We’re all facing the same uncertainties together, and we can guide each other toward the answers. We all have an opportunity to collaborate and share ideas. We need to invite others into the process of finding answers. But to get there we need to ask better questions – to dig into the emotions, and the reasons why people are worried about going back to work or school – and we need to shift beyond our recent ways of thinking.

Think back to what you might recall from an early psychology or marketing course and consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In recent years we business leaders have focused (appropriately, I believe) on the top of the pyramid and on the experiences that help people feel most engaged, enriched, and fulfilled. But today’s COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us back down to the base of the pyramid – to people’s needs for health, safety and security. These fundamentals are now at the core of today’s big questions and feelings of uncertainty.

…we need to ask better questions – to dig into the emotions, and the reasons why people are worried about going back to work or school – and we need to shift beyond our recent ways of thinking.

This pandemic has no doubt also reinforced our needs for connection and social belonging, which is why we do eventually want to return to the office or classroom, shopping mall or baseball stadium. We humans are social creatures and want to feel like we’re part of the team. But the fact that we’re all isolating right now is proof that we seek safety first. As leaders, we must now ensure that we’re addressing these needs first and foremost by asking new questions such as: How can I help my team members feel safe and secure? What (specific) policies or actions must I implement to satisfy these needs? Health and wellness in the workplace and employee engagement – helping employees feel valued – have been hot topics of leadership conversations for years, but these topics must now expand. Employees will be looking for companies that value them enough to prioritize their health, safety and security above all else. Only after that baseline foundation is established can we help them rise to the top of the pyramid.

As leaders, we need to stay tuned in to what’s happening and stay connected to our colleagues, our teams and our clients in order to show that we care. Because we do care. Many leaders have been communicating openly about the impact that COVID-19 has already had on their companies and people. Listen to someone like Marriott’s Arne Sorenson and the honest emotion is apparent. Disasters and other times of crisis expose our fears and vulnerabilities. We have to work together and reassure each other that we’ll help each other through this.

Employees will be looking for companies that value them enough to prioritize their health, safety and security above all else.

We are currently hosting virtual roundtable discussions with our clients to start brainstorming and sharing ideas. We’ll ask about the challenges we’re all facing, and simply how we’re all feeling. Maybe we can start to come up with some solutions together, and hopefully we’ll alleviate some of our shared fears. At the very least we’ll remind each other that we’re all in this together, and we’re here to help.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, when we’ll summarize our discussions and the questions being raised, the recurring themes and biggest topics of concern, and the early ideas being considered.