In the last few weeks I have spoken to quite a few business leaders and business owners. Each one of them was approaching the COVID crisis in a different way: the spectrum went from keeping a low profile and reducing expenses to avoid running out of cash, to using this as an opportunity to increase their profile and investing now to gain market share.

However, I also heard some common themes amongst them.

The first one was that pressure in the system makes it clear where your company has to improve. If things go well many of these things will not surface – since either there was no need to look at it or the organisation had created a workaround the issue to solve it. To me, the learning here is that every now and then you probably need to pressure test some of your processes and routines to see if they still work, still make sense and add value, or can and have to be improved.

The next theme was of course how you deal as a company with remote working. It seems that leaders who already liked the concept have had their views reinforced by the recent developments – but were still missing the face to face interactions. Leaders who did not like the concept before didn’t seem to have changed their mind even when forced to, and were spending most of their time focused on getting people back into the office.

However as usual the biggest group is in between – the majority noticed the benefits of combined remote and flexible working and realized how flexible their organisation/employees can be in times of crisis.

Personally, I am a great advocate of flexible working, but you should not overdo it. If you are not meeting face to face on a regular basis you are truly missing out on building or maintaining the team dynamic, and on unplanned conversations. You simply cannot pre-plan everything and often the best ideas come to life during spontaneous interactions.

The last theme was the concept of being forced to take a step back. For most leaders that was absolutely not possible in the beginning of the crisis, but after a while they were almost forced to do this and see what the new reality looked like. Many of them told me that this was uncomfortable in the beginning but that eventually it helped them to see where the real issues lay, and where their focus and priorities should be. I am a true believer of planning for unplanned time as I call it, but it will not happen if you don’t create a routine and space for it.

So, the key learning for me: get yourself and your teams together regularly to plan for unplanned time. Look at your business from a distance.  Create space and get a different perspective. No agenda, feet on the desk and identify together what works, what could be improved and where you want to be in the future. Listen and challenge each other to get to the essence and don’t let this time be hijacked by yet another ‘burning’ business issue. Things look different when you are in it versus when you can view it from the side line.

Would be very interested to hear your thoughts around these themes.