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(Photo: Marina Demidiuk / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

(Photo: Marina Demidiuk / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

As the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more widely distributed, employers are increasingly taking steps to get back to normal. Across the U.S., companies are announcing plans to bring workers back to offices, back to in-person meetings, increasing the limits of participants at conferences, etc. All of these steps are efforts to get back to normal.

However, if getting back to normal means reverting to outdated management practices from the industrial revolution, count me out. I’d prefer to not get back to normal, thank you very much.

I fully understand that some of you may have never left work. As essential workers, most of our industry only experienced a brief work stoppage. However, many people remain working from home, even in our industry.

The reality is that the pandemic altered the way we think about work. It caused rapid changes in workplace habits, typically only associated with disruptive technological advances. Some of these changes are positive and should not be abandoned.

The first positive change that should not be abandoned is to focus on results versus activity— output versus input. So much unproductive management effort is expended trying to control how people do their work, when they do it, and where they do it. More effort needs to be placed on rewarding the results of that work.

With some exceptions noted, who cares how, when, or where work is done as long as deadlines are met and quality standards are achieved? If the goal is X, why complicated matters by requiring A, B, and C in addition to X? Why not just leave it alone at X?

Ask your people to state what their goals are. If you get blank stares, you know you have some work to do here. When the goal is simply about showing up on time and staying out of trouble each day, there’s much room for growth.

The second positive change that should not be abandoned is directly related to the first, but more explicit. The pandemic showed us that we are able to be productive employees while at the same time caring for our families, friends, and neighbors like never before. This required flexibility that was rarely allowed in workplace cultures.

I implore leaders to consider leaving intact much of the flexibility that has actually become the norm today, at least for those who have proven worthy during the pandemic. When people are able to balance their own schedules without the heavy hand of their employer interfering, they are much more productive, engaged, and likely to remain one of your best employees.

Many have left our industry because of the enormous sacrifice placed on them and their families. Some of this is unchangeable, I understand. At the same time, I believe that forward-thinking innovators in our industry will find ways to incorporate more flexibility into their companies.

The third positive change that should not be abandoned is the recognition that our industry is essential. We should take advantage of that reality and promote it in our marketing and recruiting. We should also strive to advance our industry’s image in everything we do.

I won’t use the phrase “new normal” since it’s right up there with “in these uncertain times” as phrases we never want to hear again, ever. So, I won’t. What I will say is that I hope not to go back to the way things were. We can do better than that.

Now go forth.

This article is tagged with , , and posted in Blog, Business
Phil Harwood

About the Author:

Harwood is a Managing Partner with GrowTheBench and Pro-Motion Consulting. Reach him at He is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager, NALP Trailblazer, NALP Consultant, and Certified Snow Professional. Harwood holds a BA in Marketing and Executive MBA with Honors from Michigan State University.

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