Culture of Change Hero

Pandemics from the Black Plague to the Spanish Flu have been shaping lives for generations. In each case they've made us radically rethink the way we interact, work and go about our daily tasks. As we move forward into a culture transformed by COVID-19, we can gain inspiration from these examples to shape our own culture of change—in our businesses, workplaces and lives at large.

Examples from History

1665 to 1666 the Bubonic Plague ravaged Great Britain causing schools to close. Among the students sent home from Cambridge University was a young man named Isaac Newton. During his 18 months in isolation, he pursued his own learnings and became passionate about the forces of nature. One day while seeking some time out of the house, he sat under an apple tree and was literally hit over the head with the discovery of the Law of Gravity.

Centuries later in the US, a 16-year-old Walt Disney lied about his age so he could qualify for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps during WWI. But, before he shipped out, he contracted the Spanish Flu and never made it out to war. His illness lasted the duration of the war, forcing him to pursue a different path as a commercial illustrator. It was from there that he was able to create Walt Disney Studios—and, inevitably, the optimistic rodent we know today as Mickey Mouse.

Extreme Change Causes Extreme Innovation

It's indisputable that pandemics have drastically changed the trajectory of many lives and, for some, catapulted them into a new area of focus—and unforeseeable developments like our examples above. It is from these that we can draw strength and inspiration when seeking to maintain relevance in business or connection in the workplace. Innovation can still happen, and in a big way. Today social distancing is changing our culture—and forcing us to think outside the box.

Applying It to Your Workplace

With COVID-19, the usual in-office social activities like work lunches, stopping by colleagues' desks on the way to the kitchen, fundraising efforts and group team-building activities have had to come to a halt. So how do we adjust the office culture to cultivate those connections while staying safe? What we can learn from the past is that nothing is out of bounds. Change can come from anywhere, as long as you keep some of the following tips in mind:

1. Remember the Human Side

To maintain morale for hospital patients in Wuhan during COVID-19's early days, nurses suited up in hazmat gear and starting singing karaoke. In Iran, medical staff created videos of dancing and singing in their full protection gear. And who can forget the Italians singing from their balconies while in quarantine? In each of these cases, humor, compassion and connections were the focus. When uncertainty is at an all-time high, spending extra time to reassure individuals in our network and extend extra kindness can make all the difference—and maybe even start a new office trend.

2. Reinvent the Familiar

Sometimes revision is necessary to stay relevant. This is what Isaac Newton and Walt Disney did when they took their existing knowledge and experience in another direction. When social distancing brought the hospitality business to a standstill, AirBnB reinvented themselves. Taking all the elements that make travel exciting, they used virtual reality to bring things like international cooking classes, Japanese meditation and Greek street art tours straight to your living room.

Live Nation used a similar approach. With concerts across the continent unceremoniously canceled, the live entertainment mogul brought them to fans' living rooms instead. Artists from Billie Ellish to Depeche Mode performed live, with fans tuning is as their virtual audience.

Your digital office can take inspiration from these industries by using video to connect socially. By now, video is a familiar meeting place for many colleagues. How about opening an ad-hoc video room where colleagues can brainstorm, connect and simply work "alongside" each other as the mood strikes?

3. Go Retro

In some cases, going backwards can be better. The live entertainment industry made further adjustments to their offering by moving to a drive-in concert experience. With artists on a stage and the audience contained in their cars, the excitement of the live concert experience can still be enjoyed.

Movie theatres also took their flicks back outside, reviving the old-school drive-in experience. It's a wise move, as drive-ins not only offer social distancing, but also the chance for people to get out and enjoy the fresh air, popcorn and the latest entertainment.

Your workplace can do the same by starting trends like sending a handwritten thank you note by mail instead of by email. Or how about switching to audio calls at the end of the day? During the last meeting of the workday, participants can call in on their cell phones and walk outside while discussing the latest project.

4. Bring back-end elements into the spotlight

Taking a look at the more unassuming back-end areas of the business or work culture and seeing if they make more sense in a remote environment can be a great way to make lasting changes to a distanced culture. This is how food services has seen new life. Enjoying restaurant food or ordering groceries from the comfort of home just makes more sense in today's Covid world. This has caused delivery apps such as Postmates, GrubHub and UberEats to surge in popularity. Instacart has increased sales by a whopping 218%, Walmart Grocery delivery by 160%, and Shipt by 124%, simply by promoting their infrequently used online ordering.

What's working here is that a less-often used area of business has suddenly become a necessity. Your digital workplace can do the same by rethinking your employee portal. This is what Mitel did. Today the InsideMitel portal, which was primarily for corporate announcements, is being used to connect employees across the globe through sharing photos, recipes, advice and memories. It's quickly becoming a place for us all to check in and get closer.

Share Your Story

One thing we've learned from COVID-19, and the pandemics of the past, is that adaptation is key. Don't get hung up on completely recreating the in-office experience for your employees. Instead, make some smaller but more strategic changes. Take a look at life in the remote world and remember the human side, reinvent some old things, revive some others, or boost some lower-priority areas that are now making more sense.

No matter what that may look like for you and your company, be sure to create an atmosphere and culture that keeps employees engaged and excited. Your idea on how to adjust to a virtual world may just end up becoming a new tradition—or the world's next big innovation.

Got a big one already? Snap a pic, share it on social media and don't forget to tag us @Mitel #workingfromhome.

get great content like this weekly
Ready to talk to sales? Contact us.