Once Corona is over, everything will go back to the way it was – is probably what most people secretly hoped for. And some even on an official level, such as companies that ordered their employees back to the office even before the case numbers were back in the triple, let alone double, digits. Or are doing so now that the remote work requirement has been dropped. For a few weeks now, we know that nothing will ever be the same. In many areas, the world is changing irreversibly. We’ve known this for much longer, many people just didn’t want to accept it.
The fact that we are dealing with a war in Europe in March of 2022 was, for the vast majority of people, unimaginable. The shock sits deep and everyone has their way of dealing with it. Far be it from us to make recommendations. At the same time, we are asking ourselves how companies are positioned to cope with such drastic changes on a humanitarian and organizational level. Even under the new circumstances, work and life somehow have to go on. And yet “business as usual” is neither possible nor desirable. On the contrary.
The power of the people, here it is!
“Business as UNusual” – in the past days and weeks, countless people have demonstrated what this looks like. They have opened their homes to refugees, collected donations, programmed platforms and apps to coordinate support, organized demonstrations, and much more. They have networked and acted quickly, each according to their strengths and capabilities. Companies have reflected on their values and adapted their products and services to the new situation from one day to the next. Be it the Deutsche Bahn, which is offering free fares for refugees, or Airbnb, which is waiving service fees so that people can book accommodations in Ukraine via the platform (without traveling) thus directly supporting people. They all had one clear goal in mind: to help people from Ukraine as quickly and practically as possible. That was and is an important contribution to crisis management.
Time for vulnerability
Unfortunately, the war will accompany us for the foreseeable future. And even if we are lucky enough to live in safety in this country, the war and its consequences do not leave people unscathed. Many are afraid, sad, and desperate. Business as UNusual therefore also means being there for those who are not directly affected, having an open ear for colleagues, strengthening collaboration, and taking the feelings of the people in the organization seriously. “Vulnerable leadership, a leadership style that allows for vulnerability, is more important than ever before.
A colleague received a message from her supervisor (male, over 55) on the day the war started, which is a great example of what human leadership is all about:
today, we woke to a world where there is war in Europe – bombs are falling not far to the east of us, tanks are rolling across the borders. This is a frightening and worrying development for each of us. (…) I myself am in mourning – this development is the complete opposite of what I hoped for when I started studying Slavic studies in the early nineties. (…) Whoever needs time today to inform themself and to deal with the situation emotionally should take it. (…) Let us nevertheless continue to look forward and at the same time not forget the people who suffer from the conflicts, who have other worries than the future of work. I wish you a good day nonetheless, and as I said, take your time.
The Great Resignation will continue
Extreme situations like the current one show how people’s needs and coping methods differ, that each individual knows best what is good for them at the moment, and what needs to be done. People tackle or withdraw, they develop unimagined strengths or reach their limits. Companies must learn to perceive this spectrum to deal with it appreciatively. As much as we hope that the war will be over quickly, it also shows how enormous the challenges are that we face – the world as a whole, companies as important players in this world, and the people who spend a large part of their lives in these companies. They finally need the freedom to shape what they do every day, based on their skills and interests. And that’s an impressive amount, as the past two years of crisis have shown. Knowing why you are doing something is a deciding factor. That is becoming evident in these difficult days. If the “Great Resignation,” a huge wave of job terminations, set in during the pandemic, it will probably intensify as a result of the war. This is due to people’s priorities shifting toward what really matters – hobbies, friends and family, helping others, etc. – even if that means working more than just your day job. That’s exactly what’s happening right now, albeit unofficially, for example by employees packing donation boxes during working hours or taking care of refugees. It is high time that companies create structures in which it is “officially” and unbureaucratically possible to get involved in charitable projects while working, or simply to spend time with people and activities that are close to one’s heart.
Companies have a responsibility to contribute to a better world with their products, services, and by creating an environment that embraces diversity, gives people security, and shows appreciation. Many Ukrainians will probably stay and work in Germany in the mid to long term. Companies should see this as an opportunity to open up and initiate the long-overdue changes within the organization, breaking down rigid structures and moving towards more openness, humanity, curiosity, and a willingness to learn.
So what characterizes “Business as Unusual”?
Ask and listen: Ask your employees and colleagues how they are doing and what they need. Repeat regularly.
Taking responsibility: What contribution can the company make to solving the current crises? What can be donated? But above all: What impact does the company’s product have – from production to supply chain to use? Who does the company collaborate with? What values underlie these collaborations? Are all of these collaborations still justifiable?
Searching for skills: What (hidden) skills do employees have? How can they help in the current situation – whether within the company or externally in crisis management? How many of your employees speak Ukrainian, have friends and relatives there? Who does volunteer work in their spare time? This knowledge is incredibly valuable both for the relationship between employees as well as for collaborations within the company.
Allowing emotions: “Things are not good all the time, and in my opinion, the ability to deal with unpleasant feelings is part of a healthy organization (…)” writes journalist Lena Marbacher. Organizations are not machines. They are made up of people with emotions. It’s about time we recognize that and create space for the entire spectrum of emotions. Employees who have to pretend all the time can’t be very productive. For this reason alone, being able to handle emotions well in the work context is important.
Promoting mental health: Not everyone knows how to take good care of themself. Companies should provide support and offers to promote the mental health and resilience of their employees.
Strengthening values: Why do we do what we do? What do we stand for as a company? – These answers to these questions should set the bar for everything that happens in the company. Answering them should be a joint effort of both managers and employees.
Promoting togetherness and diversity – not just on paper, but through concrete actions. Self-imposed quotas and their consistent compliance are a good start.
Trying out new working models: Whether it’s job-sharing, a 4-day week, fully remote, or hybrid work: digitalization opens up boundless opportunities for flexible working hours and locations. And with it, the freedom to take on volunteer work or other fulfilling activities outside of traditional employment. Anything that sparks joy and passion among employees outside of their jobs indirectly benefits the company’s productivity. Happy employees are more creative and perform better.
Start networking: Don’t wait until tomorrow, do it now. The power people unfold when working together in networks is often demonstrated in extreme situations. The technology is there, whether in the form of digital talent marketplaces or cloud-based tools for daily collaboration.