By Donal Laverty, Consulting Partner 

The Covid pandemic has generated unique challenges, forcing organisations to respond to unprecedented events at speed. Many are currently focused on short-term survival, responding to ever shifting events and trying to pivot home based operations, re-configure workplaces and keep operating effectively.

We’ve reached the point where leaders now need to look ‘over the hill’ beyond the current challenges of near-term survival and start to plan for the new ‘normal’.

While we can’t predict exactly what the immediate future holds, the situation will never fully return to business as we knew it before the pandemic; perhaps a good thing.

Many organisations will feel the need to rush back to how things were before, but businesses should take time to reflect and take a ‘purposeful pause’ before going too far.

The pandemic has opened a wide spectrum of insight and many of these will be forgotten unless we stop and reflect on a few key questions. What happened to our business (in terms of processes, dynamics, thoughts and feelings)? What can we learn from what happened?

The scale of disruption presents an opportunity to gain massive benefits from pausing and reflecting – and a lost opportunity if we don’t.

For many organisations the office environment simply isn’t safe, and therefore isn’t viable. But for many more, elements of culture, morale and productivity are lost as a result of remote working.

So long as core organisational principles and processes remain intact, the physical aspect is arguably a secondary issue. The collaborative element is the vital element of work, wherever it takes place. The ability to share ideas, communicate and give feedback is paramount.

We need to move to a mindset where we are focusing on what people produce rather than where they are located or how many hours they work. Surely we don’t pay people to sit in front of a screen for ‘x’ number of hours? It’s to produce something, manage risk, solve problems, generate ideas, lead others, and so on.

So looking over the ‘hill’ to a new normal, we will begin to see the emergence of hybrid organisations made up of an increasingly flexible workforce, increasing digitisation to support remote practices and more investment in agile processes to build and develop resilience in order to withstand future disruptions.

The underpinning consensus as we look to the future is that changes in work and organisations are not just being driven by Covid, but by exponential digitisation, globalisation, societal changes and consumer behaviours.

Ultimately, new organisational models are beginning to emerge. Everybody talks about collaboration, which is more than a practice; it’s actually a journey to a new model.

A collaborative approach to organisation is at the other end of management style to hierarchy; we believe that traditional, strict, hierarchical organisations are not fit for purpose in the future and digital economy. They are too slow, too cumbersome, and they don’t create the desired results in a disruptive future.

Years from now, when we look back on the pandemic, one area that will most certainly stand out will be the great work that companies have done to create connections and communities in the modern workplace.

These new organisational models will be driven by collaborative communities of people. New ideas have been born out of an urgent desire and need for connection and community. With so much uncertainty and fear in the world, these things can help in meaningful and powerful ways.

This article was first published in the Irish News on 29th September.