Embracing Adaptation During Challenging Times

Flexibility is key in a changing work environment

May 21, 2020 | Amanda Finn

From mom and pop shops to major corporations, businesses are dealing with the effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis. More than half of Americans are now working from home whereas less than 25 percent worked from home, even occasionally, just two years ago. The face of work is changing in the midst of the pandemic, but it’s a good reminder to embrace adaptation.

Millions of Americans had to shift gears quickly to adapt to telework when the pandemic first appeared. While it was a hard-fought change for some, telecommuting may very well become a more common workforce environment in the future.

As with anything else, adapting to something like telecommuting is crucial to keeping both your career as well as your business on track. Not being able to gather employees in an office doesn’t mean things can’t run (almost) like business as usual. In fact, according to Just Capital, 64 percent of the country’s largest employers have shifted, at least partially, to telecommuting. Those largest employers include companies like Home Depot, Amazon and Comcast.

Although not everyone had a home office to relocate to, workers have been adapting. Even a laptop at the kitchen table is a better alternative to not working at all. People are doing the best with what they have. A friend of mine even transformed a coat closet into a home office hideaway as part of her transition into working from home. Adapting doesn’t have one particular shape; it’s made up of whatever the person doing the adapting needs it to look like.

When it comes to making changes, temporary or permanent, in work, so long as you have the tools to get your tasks done the rest is fairly flexible. Notes can be shared via Google Docs instead of a storyboard, meetings can be held through Zoom instead of the conference room, and even birthday cards can make their way around the office by email instead of a secret handoff. There are plenty of ways to transition a typical workday in times of crisis so long as everyone is willing to make small changes.

Indeed correlates adaptable employees with positive traits. They’re often happier, equipped for leadership, more valuable and more relevant. Almost any industry today requires some level of adaptation, and employers are much more likely to hire (and retain) employees who are able to make those changes. Now is as good a time as any to embrace the art of adaptation.

Adaptation might not mean forever

Changes to your work habits aren’t necessarily permanent. Especially now, in a time largely in flux, trying to roll with the punches is the task at hand. But if telecommuting isn’t your thing, remember you might transition back out of it sometime in the future. Do you hate virtual meetings? Make sure to schedule some in-person meetings as soon as it’s safe to do so. Adapting to necessary changes is important to keep work flowing smoothly, but you don’t have to love the ad-hoc solutions.

When it comes to meeting virtually, even science is on the side of reaching out for real human connections whenever possible. Thalia Wheatley, a professor of psychological and brain science at Dartmouth who studies the difference between face-to-face and online interaction, told Time Magazine that scientists are still trying to figure out why face-to-face interactions are superior for human beings.

“The more eye contact people have during a conversation, for instance, the more in sync they are with one another,” Alana Semuels wrote in Time. “The current state of video calls, in which you stare at a tiny dot that is the camera in your computer or phone to make it appear that you’re looking someone in the eye, cannot replicate that experience. People trust one another more when they share a communal meal off of the same plate instead of eating from individual plates, [Wheatley] says, and the brain becomes unstable with solitary confinement.”

Even if not ideal, virtual meetings are important for maintaining relationships among colleagues and clients. There is so much lost in the context of an email or a phone call; seeing a familiar face to discuss a developing project or concept is a much better way of parsing out details. As everyone is adapting their work in some way it’s important to remember that everyone is in the process of making things work.

Finding the positives in adaptation

Be sure to extend understanding to others (as well as yourself) in this uncertain time.

Rich Fernandez, CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, told the Harvard Business Review that it’s important to remember the art of self-compassion. He points to self-compassion as a vital leadership skill which is important now more than ever to keep people afloat personally and professionally. It means taking a positive, mentorship approach with yourself and the decisions you make rather than beating yourself up for small missteps.

Practicing self-compassion isn’t an adaptation that should be left behind when the pandemic eventually lifts. This is a business practice every employee on every level should utilize. Promoting positivity in your own self-talk is a great way to stay motivated. It’s also a great tool when adapting to change as it can help you make the most positive choices for yourself. If you err on the side of positive versus punitive your outlook in all areas will improve, and that can benefit you in the long run, throughout your career.

  • About The Author
  • Amanda Finn is an InfoWorks contributing writer and a freelance journalist based out of Chicago. She writes about the gig economy, entrepreneurship, and the future of work.