COVID-19: Three business practices I'll maintain from lockdown life

While the coronavirus has upended everything, there are some aspects of working in lockdown mode that I'll try to incorporate as we return to some normalcy.

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Much of the talk around managing the COVID-19 pandemic has gradually shifted from the immediate-term response, to how we begin the gradual process of reopening workplaces, businesses, and the travel industry. Like many, I'm eager to re-engage with colleagues and clients from across a table rather than staring at giant heads on a screen, and would welcome some respite from Zoom fatigue.

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No one knows exactly what "normal" will look like post-COVID, and whether COVID-19 and N95 will be largely forgotten terms in a couple of months, or we'll be living and working differently for years to come, but there are some aspects of lockdown life that I hope to maintain for myself and my teams.

Wellness and work-life balance finally become real

For years we've been blasted with suggestions on wellness and work-life balance, and these were usually accompanied by mental (or perhaps involuntary physical) eye rolling. These were topics for HR-types to worry about, and too often we as leaders ignored their importance for our teams and ourselves. I've virtually met more of my colleagues' children and partners during these past several weeks, and had more frank and meaningful conversations about individuals' trials and tribulations, mental health, physical activity, and other aspects of their non-working lives than in years past.

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This has also been true as I considered my own overall state of being, with work, life, and wellness so dramatically and violently smashed together. I've become far more attuned to how my emotional state and stress level affect my work and family interactions and gained deeper insight into how my outlook can dramatically impact my interactions and emotional state.

These inter-human connections and deeper awareness of my own emotional state, and the corresponding ability I have to manage it, are lessons that I believe are lifelong and deeply impactful. I also hope to reduce my work's dependence on travel, as I'll definitely miss daily meals with my family and the ability to walk down the hall and check in on my kids, versus a nightly phone call or FaceTime.

Meetings regain value

Pre-lockdown it was easy to complain about meetings, and rightfully so. Most were poorly run gatherings to work through items that were better solved with a few emails or a 20-minute remote collaboration session. In lockdown mode, I've found that formal meetings of more than one or two people are more productive. Dozen-minute socializing sessions and rambling preambles have been replaced with a quick set of "hellos" and a focus on the tasks at hand. The corresponding negative of this intensity is that a half-dozen meetings run at a leisurely pace were an acceptable day's work, whereas that same volume now leaves people exhausted.

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I will strive to maintain my newfound respect for in-person meetings, and the unique value of having multiple people physically in the same space. This is a great environment for some tasks, while remote collaboration is superior for others. Part of the pre-COVID era was that the in-person meeting was the one tool we had to deploy against all manner of problems. Lockdown life has made all of us competent in remote collaborations, doubling our toolset for getting work done and allowing us to select the best tool for the job at hand rather than the only tool at our disposal.

Digital collaboration goes exponential

The big challenge of any platform, physical or digital, is that the benefits of the platform are directly tied to the number of participants on that platform. Irrespective of the wonderful underlying technology, a platform like Uber is useless if there are millions of riders but no drivers.

This has long been the challenge with digital collaboration tools. Slack, Zoom, Teams, and the dozens of other tools are great technologies, but if even one critical member of your team is not engaged with the platform, its value is significantly diminished.

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Most of my teams have largely been forced to engage with our collaboration platforms, and unsurprisingly have found them relatively easy to use and highly effective. It's unfortunate that it took a global pandemic for many of us to leverage the great tools we already had, but the simple ability to jointly edit a document has been a game changer and productivity boost that I will continue to use and evangelize, even if we make a complete return to pre-COVID normalcy.

Learn from lockdown

Whether you've grown to love lockdown life, or can't wait to return to the office, think through the lessons and techniques you'll carry forward. The lockdown was a wildly costly experiment, and hopefully one that makes us better workers, leaders, and human beings in the long term.

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Young mother talking on the phone while using laptop at home.

Image: Drazen Zigic, Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...