By Teresa Tanner
What can COVID-19 teach us about innovation?
The COVID-19 virus is spreading quickly — and it’s affecting all of our lives deeply, whether you’re a healthcare worker on the front lines and/or a working mother now tasked with teaching the kids long division — in addition to getting your own work done. First and foremost a healthcare crisis, the implications of the new coronavirus have been quick to show through the financial and policy sectors as well.
As governors across the nation issue stay-at-home orders, businesses small and large are suddenly finding themselves grappling with how to deal with lost profits and a workforce of parents that, with many schools and daycares closed, no longer has access to reliable childcare. I am certainly sensitive and sympathetic to the many people who have been affected during these hard, hard times.
That said, I also wonder what we can take away from our current state of emergency. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. What can we invent right now that will serve us all the time?
A while back, when I was in charge of my company’s workplace environment, we decided to change the layout of our physical space. Some employees, used to our traditional office setup, were not so keen on transitioning to something new. But guess what happened next? Because employees no longer had assigned desks, it was necessary to issue everyone a laptop — instead of the clunky desktops they’d worked from previously. People found that they could move around. Collaborate. Work from home. They were no longer tied to the desks they were worried they’d so desperately miss. The latent effect of what many saw as an undesirable change was a net positive.
Coronavirus or not, companies miss out on talent every day because they lack either the tech, resources, or creativity to tap into the talent pool of workers who may not be able to work a traditional schedule for any variety of reasons. In particular, they miss out on the contributions of smart, experienced women — and men — who have recently had a child but either don’t want to or aren’t able to return fully to their previous positions — but who still have a lot to contribute. People who want to stay connected without having to give up everything in order to lean all the way in.
Right now I’m working on a solution that will allow companies to tap that pool of talent that they might otherwise miss out on, and will help give women who feel like they’re deciding between career and family a third option: to stay connected to their careers and professional communities without committing to a full workload.
Now is the time for creativity. For flex-time options. For thinking about what infrastructure we need to lay the foundation for to make our organizations more appealing to and accessible to more employees. Because when there are employees who can’t access our jobs — for whatever reason — that means we’re shrinking the talent pool that we’re pulling from, and we’re not getting the best business results.
It’s not easy to do. Adapting to the COVID-19 virus and staying as productive as before means more than just issuing a temporary work-from-home allowance. It means thinking hard about what our employees need. It means being more creative than we’ve ever been.
How have YOU adapted to the changes caused by the new coronavirus?