Up until now, most of the advice floating around on how to deal with the “new normal” of our work lives has been concrete and practical, like tips on working from home or how to stay connected across different locations. And that’s appropriate — as surviving a crisis calls for focusing on the tangible things like simply making it through the week.

But as many of our organizations settle into work days that have been dramatically changed by the pandemic, I don’t want us to lose sight of the long-term impact these changes will have on our people and our organizations.

As a leader, I urge you to spend some time thinking about how you can proactively protect your company culture and prepare it for what lies ahead by seeking out opportunities to strengthen it. If you look back in six months, a year, or five years, what kind of culture will you wish you’d built?

Here are a few of my suggestions on where to start:

Simplify Your Tech

In his 2019 white paper, Josh Bersin stated that our professional lives have become more complicated than they used to be, yet productivity has not increased proportionately. He notes that employees now use an average of 11 unique tools at work for communication, data management and HR systems on top of the average of seven tools used to share information across teams.

Chances are over the last few months, your company has instituted more technology solutions to ensure your team can function 100% remotely. But have we swung the pendulum too far in the wrong direction?

What would happen if we committed to getting rid of just one app, operating system or video call that we really don’t need anymore? This might be the perfect time to do more with less. Talk with your team and find out what tools they are actively using and what meetings are meaningful and scale down from there. And if you do need to purchase more technology, look for options that allow you to bundle the tools you’re already using so you don’t end up paying for something that people won’t use.

Related Article: Great Design Drives the Employee Experience

Encourage Creativity

According to a 2020 LinkedIn study, creativity is the No. 1 soft skill companies need in order to be competitive right now. No matter the industry or level of experience, employees are now required to solve complex problems in their day-to-day work rather than check off mundane tasks. But much like anything else, creativity doesn’t happen when simply left to chance. If we’re not proactive about prioritizing the behaviors that lead to creativity and innovation, our organizations will suffer.

Learning Opportunities

Going into a work day with no free time or flexibility is the enemy of creative thinking. This goes for you and your employees. As leaders, many of us have built habits that encourage this type of work, like spending the first hour of our day reading, writing or going on a walk to allow our brains to be stimulated in a different way. But I encourage you to nurture these same habits in your employees, as well. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Talk about it. Take the opportunity to remind your team (and yourself) just how critical creativity is to your work. Explain that you want to make the most of this time when we’re all working more remotely to build new habits that will hopefully boost innovation.
  • Give freedom. Encourage your team to block off one hour every day for creative work. Allow them the flexibility to make it their own and check in to see how it’s working for them.
  • Lead by example. Stick to your creative work and keep your team updated on your progress by sharing new insights and solutions along the way.

Related Article: Innovation Can Be Taught. And Measured

Reexamine Your Work-Life Balance Practices

Some call it work-life balance, some call it work-life integration. Whatever you want to call it, it’s all pointing to the same thing, which is the feeling of contentment with how much time you spend working vs. how much you spend ... not working. And it matters because it’s a driver of employee engagement, productivity and profitability.

There’s so much to say on the topic, but I want to focus on the fact that as leaders, many of us say we prioritize work-life balance, but our actions completely contradict it. With the majority of the workforce working from home these days, the line between work and home has become even more blurred. We’re all BBC Dad now.

With this in mind, it’s a great opportunity to take a closer look at the covert messages we send employees regarding work-life balance. Here are some questions to consider as you examine it in your own organization:

  • How are you leading by example? What does work-life balance look like in your own life, and what gets communicated to your team? Are you sending emails or slacks at 10pm that could wait until the morning?
  • During meetings, is there anything discussed other than the task at hand? Families, hobbies, current events?
  • What’s your real expectation for your team when it comes to email responses, workload and deadlines? Is there a conflict with your “official” policy and how it plays out in real life?

Personally speaking, the pandemic has been another exercise in acknowledging what I can control, and letting go of the rest. The way I see it, we have a huge opportunity right now to build a culture that will not just get us through the next few months, but will usher us into a new era of work. I hope you’ll join me in taking advantage of it.

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