Will New Behaviors Emerge Post-Pandemic?
by Betsy Burton
I have been thinking a lot about how the coronavirus pandemic may change our work cultures going forward into the future. The circumstances have me thinking about the times I have been in a culturally new environment where I had to adjust my behaviors to reflect the local norms.
I thought I would share some of these experiences in this blog for you to muse about as well while we navigate this new normal.
New Ways of Greeting
In 2011, I took a very interesting briefing tour throughout the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, and the UAE. As you can imagine, as a woman traveling in these regions, I had to adjust to local customs and proper greeting etiquette. As a businessperson, I was very used to reaching my hand out and shaking somebody’s hand. But in this environment, I had to learn to nod politely instead of shaking hands.
As we begin to open our businesses, I wonder what examples of greetings people will turn to for their meetings in the future. Will we go back to shaking people’s hands? Or will we find it more appropriate to take on some other form of greeting?
In my travels, I learned that I had to be very sensitive to the culture of the place I was visiting, first and foremost. I couldn’t impose my idea of business greetings if I wanted to have a positive business discussion. I had to think about their perspective first.
Social Contracts Emerge
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel throughout Asia for business. In Japan, I was particularly struck at the level of social consciousness and the strength of the social contract that people had with their community to keep things clean and hygienic. People in Japan regularly wear face masks if they are sick and regularly take their trash with them and clean up in public areas. I saw a young Japanese woman drop a makeup case in a subway restroom. She proceeded to wipe off the entire counter, sink, and floor where she had spilled her makeup.
What was particularly interesting is that everyone I was traveling with adopted the same social contract even though they were from all over the world. They quickly developed the same sense of responsibility and social duty.
This made me ask myself what social contracts we will develop post-pandemic. Will people emerge from this experience with more of a social contract to prevent coronavirus transmission by keeping things cleaner and more hygienic for their community?
It Really Does Take a Village
In 1995 I spent two months in Ghana in a small village with no running water and no electricity. I was doing a build with Habitat for Humanity. The village was lovely, and the community was friendly and open. They did, however, tragically have a 40% HIV-positive rate.
Given this high rate of infection, I was struck by how much the members of the community watched out for each other. The children in the community may have had their own parents, but they also had a whole community of parents who were watching out for them. Everyone would get together to gather well water, which was actually quite hard to pump by hand. Many of the community members joined us to help build the adobe houses for these families in need.
I have always heard the saying that “it takes a village,” but this was the clearest example of it.
I am seeing some of these business and community efforts emerge today during this pandemic. Businesses are sharing resources and backing each other up. People are shopping for elders and sitting for the children of essential workers while they are at work.
It makes me wonder how much of this we will bring forward post-pandemic. Will we be focusing on our own businesses and families? Or will our sense of our business ecosystem and community be changed given what we experienced during this pandemic?
This pandemic is ongoing and is tragic for many businesses, communities, and families. As we begin to explore opening businesses, economies, and communities, it is a good time to pay attention to how much we take on different priorities and maybe even different behaviors.
As we begin to open our businesses and gather our work teams together again, we should take a moment to recognize people may be coming from different places depending upon their experience during this pandemic. Think about their perspective first, rather than forced or traditional business norms. Explore what new business and social contracts emerge. Evolve business models and processes to reflect new behaviors, social contracts, and relationships.