Normal is Not Normal

By Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Talent Management and Workforce Management

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are becoming accustomed to change — or are we? In reality, it seems people are becoming frustrated with change. It’s not just that everyone wants to return to normal; it’s generally accepted that whatever we return to will not be business as usual. The best people can hope for right now is a period of relative stability.

If you’re looking for proof, take a look at some of these numbers from Brandon Hall Group’s most recent (July 2020) research, below. 

These graphs show that before the pandemic, 6% of organizations said they had more than 75% of their workers working from home. Now, more than half of organizations (51%) say they currently have more than 75% of their workers staying at home.

Even if the lockdown eases, 13% of all organizations project they will have more than 75% of workers working from home. This means the number of organizations expecting to have a massive at-home workforce is more than double what we saw before the pandemic. 

But the impact is expected to extend beyond employee commutes. Productivity has noticeably changed in the face of the pandemic. 42% of organizations said that productivity has decreased, as opposed to only 22% that say that it has actually increased during the pandemic (36% said it stayed the same). 

Location seems to play a big role in productivity. Respondents noted a variety of reasons for a loss of efficiency among remote workers: 60% responded that it was because of distractions at home, 52% said it was stress and anxiety, and 49% identified managers’ inexperience in managing remote workers as the root cause.

So what’s happening here? Well, we’re becoming accustomed to working from home; there’s no doubt about it. But how high that percentage of people reporting stress and anxiety is, even this far into the pandemic, means what’s happening is something a little more perverse. As Melissa Churchouse, the CLO of Colgate Palmolive put it, “We’re not just working remote.  We’re working remote during a pandemic”

We might need a longer period of adjustment to remote work, but there is a bigger issue that should be addressed. This period has brought about a real need for every member of the workforce to embrace change and thrive in the face of disruption, often on a daily basis. 

Brent Colescott, Sr. Director of Business Strategy and Transformation at SumTotal summed it up nicely in a recent post: 

“People and organizations must learn to adapt in this constantly changing environment. We are clearly in a time where plans will be disrupted. It is becoming more important to focus on strategic outcomes and goals that can adjust, versus plans that can be disrupted. With a strategy in mind, you are less susceptible to decisions that come from out of thin air which can suddenly change the course of one’s day, week or month(s).”

As a society, the time has come for us to make a decision. For our own mental health, we need to shift our mindset to look away from “returning to normal” and instead think about how we can manage our own stress and anxiety. This applies to employees as well as managers, who should be thinking, “How do I do my best in ways that help myself and this organization find success while minimizing stress?”

I think Brent hit the nail in the head when he mentioned strategy. It was something often talked about before, as a buzzword and maybe in one of those awful team-building exercises (although I would actually pay to get to partake in a team-building exerciser today). But strategy has now become a core business — and life — skill. What does that mean for us and our organizations? 

It means planning for multiple scenarios but being ready to adapt if they don’t play out. This can be as innocuous as having a backup plan for video conferencing or as major as being tasked with an entirely different kind of project without having all of the resources normally available in a traditional workplace. It may come down to having to learn how to learn all over again. 

This is not to say employees and organizations don’t need each other or owe each other. If anything, it’s the opposite, To manage that stress and anxiety, we all need more support than ever before among ourselves and from our companies and leaders. Which (let’s be honest) is way more disruptive than any barking dog or unexpected visit from a child will ever be.

Cliff Stevenson, (Twitter: @CliffordDarrell  Principal Analyst, Talent Management and Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group

For more information on Brandon Hall Group’s research, please visit

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