To say that 2020 was an unusual year is to describe the Sahara Desert as “a little sandy.” Whether it was radically different work habits, new accommodations for teams and families, or just a sense of uncertainty, 2020 was full of surprises. Here’s a strategy for reviewing the year and capturing the positive points.

What had the most impact?

We all struggled to make sense of the past year. There was just so much change! While business changes happen all the time, the shift from office working to distance working presented unique challenges for many workers. Leaders and team members were required to identify, develop, and then cultivate new patterns for working, communicating, and collaborating (Jarvis, 2017).

One of the common threads of change is that a strong leader or team member can help navigate the new situations in a changing environment. Here at the end of 2020, it may be a good time to evaluate some of the recent changes in your work. A few minutes to consider recent changes might help you build a strong success for 2021.

One of the most difficult aspects in a constantly changing environment is understanding the changes that will create an impact for you and your work. It’s a confusing world of work out there! Leaders have made decisions to close offices, create bold new marketing and communication plans, and change reporting structures to support the “new normal.”

As a distance worker, planning for the new work environment begins by understanding the year’s impact has had on your business, your work styles, your personal boundaries, and your team relationships.

Dynamic change characteristics.

In a constantly changing environment, it’s difficult to identify what shifts will be the most impactful. For many workers, virtual collaboration has been a huge step toward developing work-life balance. For others, the lines have blurred between work time and home time… or those lines have vanished altogether. While your commute to the office may have drastically changed, you may be spending many more hours online or in videoconferences.

You may have also noticed that your perception of change has changed in the last year. Where before, you may have been more accepting of change, you may now be fearful of it instead. This is completely normal, because too many changes in a short period of time can lead to “change burn” where the fundamental attitudes toward change shift. And if you’re feeling change burn, then your colleagues, peers, and team members are probably feeling it, too.

You might need structure to think about change in a way that will help you understand and plan. The questions below can be applied to changes as they occur. Every change has common characteristics, and can be applied to the smallest changes to the largest (Jarvis, 2017). You can also use the questions to assess the changes you have experienced in the last year:

  • Awareness of the change. Are you aware of the change before, during, or after it occurred? Do you have a full “view” of the change, or is this only the part that impacts you?
  • Size or degree of change. Is the change a new, major shift? Is the change a small modification of an existing system? Will this require more or less work to accomplish?
  • Impact of the change. Since many work teams support more than one function, some people may be more impacted by the change than others. Can you define how this change will impact you or your teams?
  • Duration of the change. How long do you have to accept the change or react to the change? How long will this last?

Let’s take this model for a quick spin with something relatable in many organizations: What happens when your organization hires a new district manager.

  • Awareness: How were you informed of the change, and was it a surprise or expected?
  • Size of change: Does this role interact with your team? Will this require reworking or redeveloping work process?
  • Impact of change: Who or what will need to adjust to support the new manager? Will the new manager be bringing new business rules that need to be followed?
  • Duration: Is this change for the foreseeable future or for a specific business initiative?

This model can be applied in most areas of your life that are experiencing change. What I have found in my own experience is that reflecting on these questions helps me treat the change as a discreet concept. This is important because the change no longer is a “cloud” of questions or worry, but a solid event that I can consider more rationally.

Building change resiliency

Now that you have a framework for thinking about changes more effectively, I would suggest taking a few days to make a list of the major changes you experienced in your work (and maybe person) life. Taking a few days to make this list helps you consider the high points from the year and uncover some changes that may have occurred earlier in 2020. To help organize your thoughts, create a table for each change with the questions. You’ll need three columns: Questions, Responses, and Impacts.

In the questions column, write down the guiding questions from the list above. Thinking about your own experiences, write down your own response to each of the questions in as much detail as you can. Try to focus on the objective answers. In the impacts column, identify your reactions to the change, how it changed your perspective, or how it changed your work dynamics.

The point of this reflection is to practice building “change resiliency.” Going through this process, even after the change event, can build new skills or habits of thinking. When a new change arrives, you will have new ways to frame the change and understand how it will impact you a little more clearly.

Finally, once your table is finished (and I’ve had years where it was never really finished because there were too many changes for me to summarize!), take some time to identify the most impactful changes for you and your team. Use those as guides for next year’s planning. Are there processes that no longer work in the current environment? Can small adjustments make big differences to team dynamics and performance? Are there ways to make your team feel more cohesive in spite of business changes?

Final thoughts

The past year has certainly been a different experience from previous years. The workplace, and many personal lives, have undergone significant changes. Over time, the stress of so many new changes can make morale and performance drop. By clearly evaluating the changes in your work environment, you can build change resiliency and be better able to face new shifts as both a leader and a virtual team member.

References

Jarvis, D. (2017). 7 Essentials for Managing Virtual Teams. San Diego, CA: Cognella Press.