The World Changed. So Did We.
The world changed, right? Did we? That's a question I've been asking myself, my friends, and my colleagues since the pandemic sent us home to work in March of 2020. The way we work, the way we interact, the way we learn, and the way we try new things all changed. And that has brought about opportunity.
One thing I've come to realize is that while we experienced the pandemic together, we responded to it in our own ways. We're all in different boats. Some of us ended up in dinghies where we felt every bounce and jolt of waves that seemed to come from every angle. Some of us needed a lifeboat where we found safety in numbers. And some of us were in big yachts and felt hardly any waves at all. By and large, we all – organizations and individuals – came through it and learned a lot along the journey.
What we've learned is that more than ever, change is the only constant. I'd categorized change in three ways:
- Situational change occurs because circumstances you find yourself in change. A new baby, for example, changes the way you sleep and eat.
- Cyclical change is when something happens over and over again. Perhaps a standing meeting is changed from weekly to bi-weekly.
- The pandemic caused a third variety: structural change. It changed the way we do things. The education structure changed, the way we communicate changed and, as we dealt with wave after wave of COVID, we changed the way we used science versus opinion.
At an organizational level, one of the biggest learnings is how we, as employers, have changed our expectations. There was no playbook for a pandemic that lasted three years. If employers made decisions based on a single experience, it might not be the right one. So, with nothing to guide them, the overriding principle became give something a try, and if it doesn't work, try something else and you may be rewarded for it.
At Medica, for example, leadership asked: If we don't try it, who will? We realized the opportunity for Medica is that by being willing to make informed decisions about trying new things, we can be the health plan that adapts to change with its members, partners, and employees' best interests in mind.
I have a short example that illustrates this point. Pre-pandemic, Medica employees were basically in the office five days a week. We didn't have the infrastructure, or appetite quite frankly, for remote or hybrid arrangements. The pandemic was in charge in March of 2020 and we didn't have a choice. Our folks were working from home. And when the pandemic eased, and life began to resume to more normal times, we decided to try something. We asked employees – what arrangement works best for you? Is it remote? Is it in the office? Is it a little bit of both? We enabled employees to pick their boat.
Now I'm not saying that the work arrangements of today are what they'll look like in 12 or 18 months from now, but we're trying it out.
With that decision came a change in how we lead. We had to refocus on managing outcomes rather than day-to-day metrics such as attendance and time in front of a computer. We also learned that we had to become more intentional about creating those parts of a community and culture that previously were accidental. Like running into each other and catching up in the hallway, for example. Initially, we did this through Zoom coffee hours and happy hours. Now, in some cases, we've moved to scheduled in-person meetings at the office where we can bring teams together to connect.
At the individual level, the changes wrought by the pandemic offered an opportunity for folks to reflect. Some have learned how much they value time and, therefore, place a high importance on working from home. For some the desire to meet in person remains. Not surprising since science suggests that we as human beings are wired to connect. There is no “one boat fits all,” and the pandemic spotlighted that for all to realize.
The sea change brought about by the pandemic introduced new ways of thinking about work and the role it plays in our lives. Employers and employees need to work together to chart a course that works for the varied interests of the company and its team. Flexibility in where and how work gets done is key.
At the end of the day, life is pretty short. Where we spend our time and energy matters.