Return to Work, Not to Normal | David Ackert

In our first Post-pandemic Business Tips post, I shared how a recent encounter with a friend and client taught me to gauge a person’s physical contact comfort level before automatically offering a handshake or hug. We must also be mindful of the types of environments and situations people feel comfortable in, whether it be as we begin returning to work or planning one-one and group meetings.    

In March 2021, business development executive Diane Lee conducted a survey of 50 C-suite executives regarding their return-to-work comfortability. In response to the survey question, “Once herd immunity exceeds 80%, what is your prediction of the ‘new normal’ working environment?” 96% responded that the work environment had changed forever. About half of those respondents predicted a 50% office/50% home hybrid work model, and the other half expected the mix to be 70%/30%. Only 4% predicted we would return to business as usual. diane lee survey slide

There has been a dramatic shift in people’s mindset regarding the post-pandemic work environment, and it will likely add a few extra steps to your business development activities.

For example, there will be fewer days when downtown “power lunches” will be convenient, given that many people will be working from their homes in the suburbs.   

If you still feel strongly about networking over breakfast or lunch, will you be willing to travel to your clients, prospects, or referral sources? If so, will they be willing to change out of their sweatpants and leave home to meet you at the corner bakery or local lunch spot? In many cases, a Zoom meeting will still be the best alternative that suits both parties.  

In years past, many service industry professionals have picked up new work by visiting client worksites, “walking the factory floor,” or giving a presentation at company headquarters. Those types of visits allowed them to get in front of several decision-makers at once and often provided the opportunity to host a lunch for key influencers within the client organization.     

But now, you’ll need to plan carefully to optimize your client site visit. For example, you’ll need to call ahead to find out how many of the people you wanted to see will be working in the office the day you plan to stop by. Otherwise, your appearance could be much less fruitful than expected.   

In the event of a virtual presentation or client meeting, retain some of the best practices gleaned during the pandemic by sending ahead an Uber Eats or Doordash gift card, so your attendees are incentivized to attend. But note that most people are not comfortable eating on camera, so your “lunch” dynamics will be decidedly different from an in-person meal. 

As offices begin reopening and we begin “returning to work,” we can’t forget that we’re not returning to normal. We must anticipate that we’ll need to navigate myriad new situations that we’ve never had to consider before. One thing is for certain: the assumptions we used to make about how we interact with one another will be more complicated. Those who take the time to plan ahead and inquire about client preferences will be in a better position to navigate the emerging lay of the land.