April 13, 2021

Silver linings: What you can bring from the COVID-19 era into the “next normal”

It’s been over a year since our lives at work changed overnight. A year of treating every flat surface in your home as a desk, of kids making cameos in video meetings, of collaborating with teammates whose voices you rarely hear anymore. Finally, the slow transition back to traditional workplaces is starting. Sure, things won’t be exactly the same (most companies will move to one form or another of a hybrid model) but it’s undeniably a major transition toward what we used to consider “normal.”

In spring 2020, Bravely talked a lot about “coming out of this moment stronger than ever.” We couldn’t have anticipated how long “this moment” would really be, but we still believe that — whether you realize it or not — you’ve grown in a number of ways that you can bring back to the office with you when the time comes. The way you work has changed; now it’s up to you to keep up the best elements of that transformation.

Working out loud

Remote communication forced us to “work out loud,” or publicly communicate about our projects and tasks. Information overload is real (yes, there’s such a thing as over-communicating), but at its best, working out loud drove new opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, greater mutual understanding between managers and their direct reports, and a socially accepted way to keep your accomplishments visible. As the return-to-workplace process unfolds, here are our guidelines for working out loud in the “next normal:”

  1. Make it count. We’re all processing a tidal wave of new information every day — your colleagues may have limited mental space to allot to anything additional you share. In whatever format you’re communicating (Slack, email, live stand-up), be sure you’re making the most of that limited space. Choose the #1 thing you’d hope people take away from your update, and start with that. 
  2. Make it useful. Emphasize action items or information that directly impacts the readers’ work (which also means choosing your audience carefully). This isn’t communication for communication’s sake; it’s communication that benefits others’ ability to do their jobs effectively.
  3. Make it memorable. Let’s face it; you want to make known the value you’re providing to the organization. Note that this is different from “how much you’re doing” — if you share a laundry list of tasks, it just becomes noise. Save your “showier” work-out-loud moments for big, results-oriented updates.

Staying flexible

Have you noticed that your tolerance for uncertainty has risen? A year ago, not knowing when things would feel “normal” again was immensely troubling, or even painful. Today, it’s part of how we face the world each day. Now, that’s not to say that it’s a healthy way to live in the long-term — “when all this is over” (whatever that means), we’ll surely be relieved to have some stability back and be able to repair some of the trauma of this experience. Still, when it comes to your life at work, there are reasons that your newfound ability to “go with the flow” is worth maintaining.

  • Redefine “urgent.” Chances are that you’ve seen your sense of what’s truly urgent has changed. If you’ve applied a tighter standard, it’s because to not do so would be unsustainable. We challenge you to maintain that new standard, both for your own well-being and for the quality of your work. Work is more satisfying, manageable, and engaging when not everything is a fire drill.
  • You don’t need all the answers. When things are uncertain, we have no choice but to work with information that’s incomplete or subject to change at any moment. You’ve proven that you can handle this: you compensate for what you don’t know with your best judgment, or the ability to lead a group to consensus, or by planning ahead for the need to change. Pretty impressive, right? That skill will get you through unexpected challenges far into the future.

Making connections

Finally, working from home has been intensely isolating, and forced you to put in some extra effort to stay connected with your team or get to know new colleagues. When it comes to meeting new people, that could have been awkward — and maybe it sometimes was — but you’ve probably adapted to become more comfortable with these video calls. Despite the common joke that we’ve all forgotten how socially interact, that new comfort will likely translate in your in-person interactions.

On the flip side, many introverts and neurodivergent people have expressed relief at being able to choose to isolate themselves from distractions. If you count yourself among this group, the return-to-workplace transition might force you back out of your range of comfort, but it’s also an opportunity to leverage any increased productivity and creativity you experienced over the past year to advocate for a working arrangement that allows you to thrive.

One last thing

Any strengths you’ve developed or discovered while working during the pandemic are your accomplishments. Circumstances beyond your control may have brought them to light faster than they otherwise could have, but they’re ultimately the results of your hard work. Great job; here’s to the next normal!

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