The window to Reimagine Work is closing – but it’s still not too late

I recognize there have been various acts of stupidity during the pandemic, but as an optimist I prefer to focus on the many positives we have seen including the resilience we have shown as a human race.


Following a period of lockdown that we thought would never end, we are slowly adapting to social distancing, mask wearing and life within our bubbles.


There continues to be many unknowns ahead, so as we enter what will be the most challenging phase of the pandemic, even as an optimist I am worried that our resilience and energy is, perhaps understandably, starting to wane.


The Reimagine Phase


Back in March, I identified the four phases of Managing COVID-19. The final phase is Reimagine. Of course, all of the phases are important, but for me this was the most exciting phase.


It provided the hope, opportunity and silver-lining that we were all looking for when we claimed that the world was spinning too fast and that we needed a reset.


The Reimagine Work phase provides an opportunity for us to flex our creative muscle and is all about the future. It’s about moving to an emerging paradigm – a purpose-driven organization focused on delivering value to all of its stakeholders.


Why the window to Reimagine Work is closing


Through my work, I have the good fortune of speaking to many leaders every week, providing me with a broad and, for me at least, unique perspective. From these conversations, it’s clear that the majority of folks are exhausted and overwhelmed and many are anxious and uncreation about the future. By listening carefully during these conversations, I’ve identified three reasons that explain why the window to Reimagine Work is closing.


1. Leaders are exhausted


The demands on leaders during the pandemic have been significant. There have been many long, gruelling days managing the crisis with numerous standing meetings being balanced alongside home schooling. For others, they unconsciously got lost in their work to provide a sense of purpose and normality.


The risk of burnout is real so it’s not surprising that The Conference Board reported that the mental health had worsened for 84% of people during the pandemic.


Leaders are exhausted and desperately need a break. It’s understandable that they don’t have the capacity to Reimagine Work alongside all their other busy deliverables. They are focused on the long list of must dos while adapting themselves to a new way of working. I get it – it’s hard work.


2. Leaders don’t know how


‘You just need to Reimagine Work’ said the oh so helpful consultant. They may as well have said ‘You just need to perform brain surgery’. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but there is a perception that Reimagining Work is really complicated and while that’s not necessarily the case, it does require a different approach to the one we’ve been using to manage the crisis. It requires reflection, curiosity and the confidence to experiment. It also requires a very conscious approach to leadership that we don’t see enough of in organizations.


And we shouldn’t forget there is a lot to take on-board making it tricky to know where to start including these 9 trends recently identified by Gartner that are either new or accelerated. Seriously?! As if we didn’t have enough to do already!


3. Leaders want things to go back to normal


This the most concerning reason the window to Reimagine Work is closing and frankly the hardest to fix. This is credited to the leaders who want everyone to come back to the office because apparently, they weren’t being ‘productive’ at home. The leaders who want to use ‘COVID-cover’ to cut to the bone to save a few dollars to protect their short-term incentive. The leaders who got fed up communicating regularly via Zoom to their employees and have gone back to the normal routine of limited transparency and little to no communication.


The leaders who don’t see the opportunity to Reimagine Work or have the vision to execute will ultimately hold their organizations back. Of course there is inherent risk in doing anything new, but their fear will drive myopic actions that might work in the short term but won’t create sustainable organizations that thrive in the long term.


But it’s still not too late


I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture. A lack of capacity, capability and will can be hard to overcome, but did I mention I’m an optimist?


Reimagine work – here is how


From listening to many podcasts, I’m becoming a big fan of Frances Frei’s thinking in recent weeks so lets use her simple three stage blueprint to communicate change to illustrate the steps you can take to Reimagine Work.


Honour the past


Taking the time to get insights from your people and your leaders about what has changed during the pandemic and use this to help get their buy-in to a new world. As someone said to me recently – ‘more commitment leads to more engagement’. Getting people to reflect on how they used to do things, what they miss, how they can adapt and what new exciting opportunities they see are all great ways to get people on-board that help build the case to Reimagine Work.


A clear and compelling change mandate


This is the stage that will answer the ‘why now’ question and help you to prioritise this work. Things might be going well in your business, or you may have just scraped through, but how are you really doing? Let’s resist the urge for that superficial ‘I’m fine’ answer… no how are you really doing? What’s your engagement like? How are your leaders turning up? What are your customers saying? How’s the balance sheet? Proper scenario planning and gap analysis will diagnose the overall health of your organization and from there you’ll be able to answer the ‘why’ and the ‘why now’.


Have an optimistic way forward


That optimistic word again. As Professor Frei outlines, the way forward has to give hope, but it also has to be extremely thorough and detailed. Plans seems to be going out of fashion, but you will need a robust plan to Reimagine Work and to get to a better future.


Let’s Reimagine Work


You’ve just climbed a mountain and yes, I’m proposing you brush yourself off and do it all again. It will feel daunting, but the opportunity to make the biggest positive impact in your career is here. Let’s not let the window to Reimagine Work close.




This article is a part of a series 4 Phases of CHRO Work During COVID19 Crisis.


Mark Edgar

Mark Edgar – a recovering CHRO and Founder of Goat Rodeo Project, a consulting firm designed to help you predict and avoid train wrecks. For the avoidance of doubt, we’re in a goat rodeo. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for more HR-related ramblings. It would be great to catch-up.