I was working my way through Ohio in mid-March, visiting several community banks and vowing that I wasn’t going to fall prey to the hysteria surrounding COVID-19. Despite my best efforts, I quickly realized that I had little say in the matter. The world shut down sometime between my Monday, March 9, arrival in Ohio and that Friday afternoon’s departure. Immediately, how we were going about doing whatever it was we were doing changed, and some of what we were doing morphed in new directions. Overnight.

Here we sit months later in the midst of a raging debate about returning to the bank or working from home. Every major consultancy, from McKinsey to Harvard Business Review, floods the airwaves with advice about “the new normal” and “the future of work.” New advice and information rolls in by the hour.

But here’s what we believe:
1) another global crisis will force us back into the relative safety of our homes at some point (virtual, on some level, is here to stay); and
2) there are smaller opportunities we’ve uncovered for working in that environment that we should act on immediately.
Finally, there is a formal expression you might try instead of the “new normal”: the Over-ton window. It’s moved again and all of these circumstances result in asking small, big and even bigger questions.

SMALL QUESTIONS—JUST A COUPLE, BUT THERE ARE MORE. If, during any working-from-home episodes, you debated wearing a sport coat over your pajama pants for a Zoom call, you were thinking about what virtual professionalism looks like. What does it look like? It probably won’t take your team more than a couple of hours to modify policies to include what “right” looks like virtually.

Virtual isn’t going away and neither are meetings via collaborative platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or GoToMeeting. Since everyone has a virtual conference room at their disposal, I’ve never seen a weekly schedule fill up so quickly. What are the rules for using those tools vs. a face-to-face meeting (or a phone call, email, text, etc.)?

A BIG QUESTION: THE FUTURE OF WORK. I recently heard a senior community banker suggest that your organizations will soon be operating again very much like they were before mid-March. Well…don’t bet on it.

Have you decided to let some of your team work from home? Are you considering how much physical space your bank actually needs? How do you maintain relationships with your team, customers and communities? Banks will operate differently moving for-ward, and we’ve just begun thinking about what that looks like.

BIGGEST QUESTIONS. The past several months saw us practice our faith, interact with family and friends, seek medical care, recreate/entertain ourselves, educate ourselves and, yes, work differently. The biggest question isn’t “What does the future of work look like?” It’s “What the does the future of life look like?”

Other profound questions include whether we can sustain cultures virtually. If not, what activities must we supplement virtual with in order to do so? Is there a new archetype for leadership and leaders? What does gravitas or “commanding the room” look like in a more virtual working environment?

Immediately address the small stuff. Work the big stuff. Contemplate the biggest stuff. Easier said than done, we know—and if you want some help, we hope you’ll give us a call.

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