Coming Out of the Pandemic: Learnings We Need to Apply to the Future of Work

Coming out of the pandemic has been a complicated experience for everyone. For me, I had a lot of silver linings that included sacred time with my newborn baby, lots of quality family time, time and nature, and the gifts of flexible, remote working. I was privileged not to be on the front lines. I learned about compassion, community, and the enduring human spirit. I also learned about trauma, grief, and despair.

My continued frame of gratitude couldn't shield me from the silent, deeper knowing that as we gradually came out of the pandemic, there would be longer term effects on our world and our organisations. After all, when we look back at two years of our social isolation, who could deny the magnitude of what we've collectively gone through?

As we re-entered the world of work, I noticed a strange polarity emerge.

For most corporate warriors, there was a return to corporate life, a longing for "normal", and a frenzied pace as if people were rushing to make up for lost time. This hurried urgency quickly overshadowed many of the learnings we gleaned from the pandemic about slowing down, taking care of our planet, and what is really meaningful in our lives - namely our relationship with loved ones. Rather, a return to a (longer) list of never ending tasks to tick off also birthed the new corporate buzzwords - "burnout" with its antidote being "wellbeing" - a shift from the dialogue of trust and collaboration that's had its time in the last decade. And yet another band-aid approach to a symptom of a larger problem.

And at the other side of the polarity was me and a small cohort of people who got "stuck" in an epic pause. This manifested for me as writers block, lack of inspiration, and a deep cellular processing of WTF just happened. For others, it occurred as trauma (not being able to say goodbye to loved ones), burnout (serving at the frontlines in our communities or homeschooling little ones), and despair (finally standing still long enough to take in the state of our world or the state of our own life).

So instead of binge watching netflix or distracting myself with the latest tech, I gave myself permission to keep standing still as we came out of the pandemic. As painful and necessary as that was, these are my learnings and how they can help us navigate the future of work:

1. Your health is number one. Now that we're exiting a pandemic, we've re-entered an epidemic - the dis-ease of busyness, which is leading to burnout and widespread physical and mental health issues. While there is no vaccine available, a healthy does of good boundaries and self-care is needed now more than ever.

2. There is value in stillness. Insight emerges through stillness. Counter-act the busyness by building stillness into your day. Ask yourself: What tricky problems in your work require some stillness?

3. Connect with your mortality. As many people's lives were threatened, we realised our own mortality and started to ask ourselves the bigger questions. We began to take stock and seek more purpose. Now is the time to harness that energy and define our organisational strategies by asking some meaty questions:

  • What does our organisation stand for?
  • How do purpose, profits, and planet fit together? (hint: they do)
  • Is "more" really our end goal?
  • What stakeholders have we been ignoring? (hint: the planet could be one of them)
  • What is the legacy we want to leave behind for our children?
  • What would we do if we could move beyond fear? (For me, the answer was share my truth more)

4. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, there is organisational trauma. Many people are still processing or actively avoiding processing what has happened as a result of the pandemic. Those people make up your organisation. Be gentle, kind, and most of all, trauma-informed. Organisations need to upskill themselves on how to design for and work in trauma-informed ways to support a workforce that will increasing experience everything from subtle to not so subtle PTSD. Here are 6 trauma-informed principles to consider in interactions and spaces. Perhaps these principles can guide how we work in a hybrid, flexible way together.

And the biggest and most uncomfortable lesson of all:

5. Allow yourself to feel and care. It might bring you to tears, and it should. Our political, social, economic, and natural structures are failing, and the pandemic really highlighted those cracks. War, polarisation, marginalisation, climate change, mass extinction, inflation, artificial intelligence, social media, capitalism are all taking a toll on our natural and human resources. The list goes on and on. Can we really continue to bury our heads in our busy work and ignore this fact? The second we allow ourselves to feel it is when we summon the strength to change it. Or said another way, when we meet our emotions, we can transform them into action.

Key to all of this is community and connection. We cannot and are not wired to do this work alone. At Humans Who Lead, our purpose is evolving along with our learnings. We are attuning to the real need of organisations of the future "to revitalise the deeper wisdom and purpose in organisations so that we all take up our roles to make the world a better place." Is your organisation fit for the future or will you continue to chase the elusive " back to normal?" I, for one, hope we never return to normal again.

Related: Leader as Healer: The Future of Leadership is Already Here