5 Steps to Take Toward the 'Next Normal'

What will be the "next normal?" That's the question on nearly everyone's mind as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes and the workplace returns to its routines. Still, what was once viewed as normal business has drastically changed. As a lab manager, you've spent an unprecedented amount of time juggling team needs and safety protocols while working to keep projects running as smoothly as possible. Now, returning to "normal" presents a new set of challenges.

Getting Back to Business

As more businesses officially reopen, you can use the following set of guidelines to ensure a smooth transition to in-person working. These steps do not require a radical shift in reimagining the workplace. In reality, this is the perfect time to review priorities and reset previous goals.

1. Officially Hit the Reset Button

Regardless of how the pandemic impacted you individually, you and your team have collectively been through a lot in the last year-and-a-half, as you've helped each other navigate constant uncertainty.

Although it's risky to declare something as far-reaching and unpredictable as a global pandemic officially "over," it does seem safe to assume — particularly as the percentage of vaccinated citizens increases — that your lab's activities will return to a more familiar pattern.

So, recognize the return to normalcy. Hold team meetings that are dedicated to refocusing employees on both their own jobs and the lab's plans for the future. Depending on the degree to which your team has been separated or working independently, part of that refocusing will involve trading pandemic stories and generally reconnecting, but that can shift readily into a brainstorming session that enables your team to renew ownership of responsibilities moving forward.

That, in turn, should help you gauge their level of motivation and plan how to help them regain business momentum.

2. Talk Safety Up Front

This pandemic will eventually come to an end, but some of the changes you've made to your lab's physical plant and work processes may not. After all, the COVID-19 virus has been mutating, and although public health officials and researchers are remaining diligent both in tracking the spread of the mutations and gauging the effectiveness of the current vaccines, many of the safety protocols that you have established are likely to remain as protection against future outbreaks.

So what are these protocols, and how will they affect your reopening? Part of motivating your team to renew their enthusiasm will involve assuring them you have a system and the tools in place to ensure their ongoing safety. Have these guidelines set prior to your team's return, and discuss these procedures to ensure their understanding and to get feedback early.

3. Refresh and Shuffle Responsibilities

Long before the disruption of the pandemic, you recognized the importance of ongoing team training. Now is the time to reap the benefits of that training by finding ways of periodically shuffling job responsibilities in order to reacclimate your team to the needs and processes of the lab in their entirety.

Develop a list of tasks that multiple team members can handle, and shuffle responsibilities to the extent that it doesn't interfere with overall productivity. The goal is to "refresh and remind" your team of the lab's core tasks and how they support your larger goals.

4. Communicate Openly and Often

Prior to the pandemic, you worked hard to stay connected with your team to help them understand your focus on both the lab's effective operation and their individual challenges and goals. That practice of open, ongoing communication will be critical in the months ahead as you work to mold your team members back into an effective, efficient workforce.

Part of your communication practice can emphasize a renewed company culture. For many, the pandemic has been a severely isolating experience, so highlighting the team aspect of your lab's workflow will encourage your employees to reconnect with your organizational goals and facilitate greater collaboration.

Perhaps most importantly, maintain a sincere interest in their personal lives, checking in regularly on how they're making the transition back to the lab after the uncertainty of 2020.

5. Remember the Importance of Mental Health

Employees need to feel motivated in order to embrace a challenge, and a big part of that involves feeling mentally prepared, regardless of what lies ahead. The pandemic has been an extended period of incertitude for all of us, so your employees may need some extra time and attention to fully focus on getting your lab's business up and running at full capacity.

While providing regular encouragement to your employees is one simple approach to strengthening their motivation, pandemic-related stresses may remain a major source of anxiety for some team members. You may need to be more proactive in helping them return to healthy and productive habits.

Motivation: The Key to Success

Motivation is indispensable to any successful business, but for many, it's been difficult to remain motivated given the ups and downs of the pandemic. Now is the time to focus on the future, and while it's still unclear what the "next normal" is going to look like, you can be certain your lab will thrive if you support and prepare your employees to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.