From Virus-Suppression to Workplace Return – by Deborah Levine and Cathy Light

How Leaders & Employees
Go from Fear to Optimism:
          One TEAM again

The new norm of work is a challenge for businesses and the workforce. No one is exempt from the challenges we face during this period of isolation.  Even those who are used to working virtually will have new demands placed on them. Teams will be forced to communicate differently and accommodate home-based needs. Team leaders must find ways to collaborate and move forward despite unprecedented uncertainty. Business owners can find themselves in a fight for survival while not only maintaining the ability to restart operations, but implementing creative ways to make that transition. How are we going to manage all this?

When we get the green light to return to work, how strange will this feel to both our employees and leaders navigating through the new reintegration norms?  The norms will be what the “collective actions” of leaders and employees create and hopefully, it will be coming together again as ONE TEAM and co-creating how we onboard together again. We look at five critical areas that need PPP (Prior Proper Planning) in order to be ready for all of us to reintegrate and begin to gel as ONE TEAM again.

1. Employees:
The welfare of employees should be a top priority given how the COVID-19 has changed our lives and work.  Reliability and accountability build the trust that is essential in these challenging times.
Trust develops from consistent actions that show that you are reliable, cooperative and committed to team success. The resulting confidence in the workplace better allows employees to work together for a common goal. The perception of your integrity makes your employees and colleagues more trusting of your actions.

 2. Emotional intelligence:
EI forms the juncture at which cognition and emotion meet. It facilitates our capacity for resilience, motivation, empathy, reasoning, stress management, communication, and our ability to read and navigate a plethora of social situations and conflicts. EI matters and if cultivated, affords one the opportunity to realize a more fulfilled and happy life.

3. Workplace ReBoot:  There is no doubt our workplaces will be different. Designer company masks are being made for when employees go back to the office. Will we carry our own whiteboard markers? Will we go back to cubicles and open spaces with social distancing chairs, couches, etc.? Will more facility personnel be hired to continually sanitize the workplace?

4. Goal Setting: It will take the right leadership to navigate Employee, Leadership and Workplace changes. It is imperative that these discussions take place now, so when we do go back to work, there will be communications around business priorities. The first priority should be the well-being of people as they return to the workplace and adjust to a new operational rhythm.

5. Team Productivity: Leaders will be under immense pressures to get the business moving forward again, and fast. How do you get your teams moving forward again, without a “Return to Work Onboarding Process?” It starts with 1:1 talks with each employee to understand the needs of each one individually in order to effectively know who needs more time and attention going from fear to optimism … to being productive again. This will require Leadership Balance®, a blending of mind, will, and heart competencies. (

Returning to work will require a new understanding of a.) Diversity and b.) Cultural Competence.

A. Redefining Diversity:
Our understanding of diversity had already become complex before the coronavirus with its focus on the intersectionality of categories such as race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. As teams exhibit new concerns, change their goals and acquire a different set of members, those categories will expand and include: geography and time zones, family and societal cultures, technology and access. In addition, communication expertise will require understanding of the verbal and non-verbal impact of online connections with diverse teams, vendors and customers. There will be little cushion for error since miscommunications, unconscious biases, and lack of attention to cultural differences will be remembered, recorded and shared.

All of this comes at a time when leaders must communicate both broadly across cultures and on a more personal level, expressing concern for everyone’s well being and listening to even small details of their family’s health. Stories will inevitably be shared and leaders need to respond not only with empathy, but with cultural competence.

B. Updating Cultural Competence:
The Big Data involved in Cultural Competence has always been a challenge, but is more so as the fear and anxiety of this pandemic generates disorientation and more questions than answers. We can l look to neuroscience which has researched how our brains work and how we can  find answers by re-wiring our brains. Rewiring may sound daunting, but creating a reconfigured neural net can ultimately bring new competence and confidence to leadership and their teams.

Instead of being fear driven in this disorientating moment, instead of feeling overwhelmed and depressed, take advantage of this time to reconfigure brain connections and build new ones. There is a 4-step process to do so with the Matrix Model Management System. Using the principles of pioneering minds in sociology, cultural anthropology and urban planning, the System is a sequential redesign of the four elements of neuro-communication:

  1. Storytelling with impact 
  2. Emotional intelligence with metrics
  3. Problem solving with wise decision-making
  4. Organizational planning with short- and long-range results

The System weaves together the intersectionality of diversity categories, cross-cultural communication, belief systems, and leadership. This is how to acquire the ability and flexibility to navigate an unpredictable future from major changes, to micro-events, to unforeseen roadblocks and biases. The result is not only a mindset that is inclusive of a diverse workforce, but resurfacing of creativity that boosts innovative instincts and energizes new collaborations. 


Deborah Levine and Cathy Light
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