2021-01-05 HR Examiner article Heather Bussing Reimagining What is Necessary Work During the Coronavirus Pandemic stock photo img cc0 via pexels kaique rocha 3568792 544x725px.jpg

The pandemic demands that we reimagine, rethink, and reengineer our work. It starts with getting clear on what is truly necessary work. Trying to go back to what it was like is a mistake. We have to let go of nostalgia and our strong desire for something familiar.


Reimagining What is Necessary Work During the Coronavirus Pandemic



As things begin to reopen and employers start to bring employees back to work, everyone is trying to figure out what safety measures they can and should take for returning workers.


There’s tremendous pressure to do something, anything. The urge to do something fast usually has troubling consequences. It is better to understand the problem before you solve it.


There is also denial about the risks to people. A thing is not safe just because the authorities say you can do it. COVID-19 has not changed or gone away.


This is a deadly virus that is highly contagious and can be spread by people who show no symptoms. We are still in the early stages of fully understanding what it is, how it is transmitted, and how long it lasts. While there’s a cure now in the form of new vaccines, it will be a while before the world is vaccinated. There are always new wrinkles. For example, it’s too early to predict if the new vaccines will work on the coronavirus variant that appeared in London in December, 2020.


We can’t stay home forever. People need to work, make money, and pay bills. But none of that matters if people are too sick to work. Or dead.


We will not be back to normal. The world is different now. We are just beginning to make sense of what that means. Trying to go back to what it was like is a mistake. We have to let go of nostalgia and our strong desire for something familiar. We have to grieve the losses of the people we love and the way we used to live.


Acceptance that things are different now and grief for what used to be are the essential first steps. Then we can begin to see this is an opportunity to start fresh, to rethink what matters, and what our priorities are. We need to evaluate what work is necessary and what is a result of our systems, processes, and hierarchies. For many of us, there is no longer any difference between our work and the rest of our lives; it’s all life.


Rethinking Work


Before we bring people back to work, reimagine what is necessary versus what is tradition, familiar, or how we’ve always done things. We can’t go back. So, it’s time to figure out where we’re going. It will take time and it will require more change. Here are the questions to get you started in how to rethink work.


  1. How do we address the combination can reimagine? Are schedules of grief and opportunity? Ask your people. This is the single most important thing we’ve learned. Gather the group and explore the things we’ve lost and the things we’ve gained.

  3. How can I help my customers be successful in this new reality? It doesn’t matter if you can continue to do the work you’ve done if nobody needs it or wants it. The most important thing organizations can do is think about their customers and how help them survive and thrive. Start by imagining the outcome you need and want first, then figure out how to get there.

  5. What do my employees need to do their best work? This is going to be different depending on the work and the employee’s circumstances and requires care, compassion, and creativity. Do they need childcare? Do they live with someone who is especially vulnerable to COVID-19? What will keep them safe, help them feel appreciated, and make the best use of their skills and talents?

  7. What assumptions do we have about how things work that we can reimagine? Are schedules necessary? Does paying people by the hour make sense? Where do our processes create needless work or stress? Ask the experts — the people who actually do the work — for ideas and guidance. And don’t get defensive when you find out how bad it’s been.

  9. What are we afraid of that’s getting in our way? It’s easy to be afraid and there’s a lot to fear when so many things are changing fast. Make a list and see how many are real. Most aren’t. And the ones that are can often be solved when you can see them clearly.


We humans have been adapting to change and using our creativity since the beginning. It’s a matter of survival. But it can also be fun. It’s time to rethink work.

Read previous post:
Sometimes Leading Means Letting Go During the Pandemic (Lessons Learned in Zoom Rooms)

“In considering what our employees need from leadership right now, here are some of the questions we keep in mind.”...