Coronavirus and the resulting pandemic have ushered in a new era of uncertainty for business leaders. In addition to a patchwork of permitted activities across the country and across states, the various rules and regulations leave too much to interpretation.

As the country begins to re-open, there will be missteps and confusion about what’s next, even for seasoned leaders and organizations. We’ve already experienced it in Colorado with the latest “Safer at Home Order.” When the brain fog of indecision fueled by uncertainty sets in, that’s when you know it’s time to retrain your focus on people.

There’s a favorite quote attributed to Mr. Rogers to “find the helpers” in a crisis. We challenge our colleagues during this crisis to be the helpers.

As leaders, our employees are looking to us to guide them professionally, and personally as we transition to re-opening our states and businesses. We didn’t just make that up – polling shows that an employer is a top source of COVID-19 information. While employees are looking to employers, are employers actively soliciting feedback from employees?

Each employee’s needs are different. Some employees are looking forward to coming back to work and are hoping to open offices, but for others with health conditions, returning to work can be a scary proposition.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “can we open?” and forget the real question, “should we open?”.

One of the top organizations to which Novitas CEO Michelle belongs, Public Relations Society of America Counselor’s Academy, asked members if they were beginning to consider plans for reopening. In addition to spreading illness, the concerns they shared ranged from lack of childcare or school for employees’ children to interoffice resentment of those who failed to follow proper distancing and COVID-19 safety protocols.

When it’s unclear to employers of how or when to open, and making the decision alone seems irresponsible, leaders should listen to employees. Allow employees to express their fears, concerns and challenges. Employees have likely had their walls down while navigating how to work in this pandemic, allow them to continue to guide you, as a leader, on what they want and what they need as you start to plan for this transition. Listen to employees and offer to help them, use their expertise in your new protocols and plans.

Customers and clients
As we begin to re-open the country and our businesses, it’s important to recognize that not everyone is in the same boat. Some companies have fared well, but some will take time to recover. The same is true with people.

As leaders, it’s our job to anticipate what they need right now and three months from now to recover and communicate about it. This requires ingenuity, scrappiness, and listening skills. Like our employees, the best way to chart a path forward is to listen to what our customers need and delight them. Have you asked your stakeholders what they need to feel comfortable getting back into business?

Without people, be it your employees as mentioned above, or your customers, members or stakeholders, your brand or organization is nothing but bones.  By putting people first, you’re showing that that people are human before they are a number. This creates greater loyalty for your brand and organization. Even if you’re inherently selling something, putting people first in the process is never the wrong answer.

Undoubtedly, this pandemic has changed who we are as a society. We are now communicating differently, even if it’s just 80-something year-old Great Aunt Barb learning how to use Zoom. These new skills and rituals will stay with us long after we are once again free to move again and will play a role in how we begin to re-open.

Before this pandemic, we all knew that there was kindness in the world. And, this pandemic has showcased to all of us there is good in humanity. Before this pandemic, the news media cycles wouldn’t have showcased an apartment complex singing in unison to support our doctors and nurses. We wouldn’t have seen the countless drive-by birthday parties.

COVID-19 also brought much sorrow. People lost loved ones, others saw their livelihoods disappear almost overnight, and our communities are hurting. We recognize that not everyone can be a helper, but for those who can, you must.

From a work community perspective, if you’re in an industry that has experienced layoffs, how are you helping? Let’s get people socially distant together and find ways to support our communities as businesses and as leaders. It’s not enough just to stay home when colleagues are suffering, it’s important to focus on helping those in need.

People are what guides us. People are how work gets done. People are how we buy groceries. People are how we get Amazon deliveries. People are how we obtain medical care. People. Let people be your helpers and north star guiding you in this pandemic.