During a meeting with one of my peer groups recently, a business owner posed the question: “What are the women in the group planning on doing business-wise if schools don’t resume full time again next Fall 2021?” You could almost see the look of despair come over everyone as the thought settled in.
While we do not know what schools, or businesses for that matter, will look like in Fall 2021, there is one thing we can expect.
Most businesses do not expect a return to “normal” in 2021. Not at all. In fact, many expect to remain mostly virtual through the year.
So while we cannot necessarily wrap our heads around kids and schools for the Fall, we can begin to think about businesses – our businesses, our employees, our customers, and the impact to all of them, in a world in which we continue to operate predominantly virtually.
When I try to think ahead and imagine what that might look and feel like, I often find it helpful to look for industries from which we can learn. Using the education industry as an example, even though some schools are doing an okay job with online education (many are not, we know) most students are not necessarily thriving. Why? Because they have lost their sense of community. Their school community, their friend communities, their activity and sport communities, and their club communities.
In many ways, we should expect the same to happen to businesses. While businesses have also done a great job of pivoting to an online experience – sales, delivery, presentations and experiences can now be offered virtually, this may not be sustainable through the end of 2021. Why? Because there is very limited connection or community in that model, and humans need both.
As Kimby wrote about recently, women are leaving the workforce in droves and companies must seize the opportunity to take care of their employees not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also to retain them. But self care will not be enough. Companies, and schools, should invest in community managers – just as office share spaces did for many years. An individual or group of individuals whose entire job it is to engage the community (students, employees, clients, prospects) in creative ways, albeit mostly virtual ways. And no, I don’t mean more zoom happy hours, although if those work, keep them!
I am talking about laying out plans for the year the way someone might lay out an editorial calendar: month by month, suggesting small group volunteer opportunities in safe ways, gathering people together for coffees or walks, aligning to “month of” themes.
As companies and organizations we must use new tools, or find ways outside of the usual ones, to engage as people.
All of these must be used this year to do more than just transact business. We are humans, we are social, and whether we are children or adults, we all need to feel a sense of community and belonging to something.
Let’s think outside the proverbial box and get creative this year.