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Co-authored by Jesse Caruso, VP of Marketing at Entromy.

The disruption caused by COVID-19 across the global economy has been formidable. In what has felt simultaneously like the blink of an eye and an endless string of numberless days, exponential change has rewired our lives. New challenges emerge daily for businesses of all sizes and the people who contribute to them. Kotter, in partnership with Entromy, conducted an open survey to gain insight into how organizations have responded to this crisis and to better understand what challenges still exist.

Of the 800+ respondents that completed the survey, 35% identified their role as Director to Executive Vice President, 32% are in a supervisor role, and the remaining 33% are individual contributors or unspecified. Participant industries span across every sector, but a majority of respondents are in Consulting, Government, Technology, and Healthcare.

Organizational responses to COVID-19 include a shift to virtual work and strong communication.

The most visible change in organizations has, perhaps predictably, been a near ubiquitous shift to remote operations and new virtual work environments. Except for a select few essential functions, companies that traditionally relied upon in-person meetings to provide services or deliver value have been forced to close their offices and suspend travel. Pivoting to virtual meetings has become the new standard for routine meetings, sales efforts, and value delivery according to our respondents.

Overall, leadership teams have done an effective job at communicating with and providing reassurance to their employees. 78% of respondents agree or strongly agree with communication efforts by their leaders and 68% feel that their organizations have been transparent about the potential impacts on their business as a result of COVID-19.

The majority of our respondents have agreed that their leaders have reached out on a regular basis with information about COVID-19. Many leadership teams have also engaged groups or business functions to discuss short- and long-term impacts, as well as individually with employees to check on their personal situations.

However, real and present challenges include a low belief in a quick recovery.

Organizations are understandably most worried about financial issues, while individuals are struggling with social isolation.

Despite the promising data that conversations are being had and thoughtful communication is top-of-mind for many leadership teams, the majority of our respondents are not confident that there will be a quick recovery from the impact of the pandemic. Only 19indicated that they agree or strongly agree that economic activity will return to normal once quarantine restrictions are lifted.

For businesses facing challenges, financial concerns are twice as likely to be at the forefront, followed by a distant tie for second: access to customers and employee-related concerns. Organizations are facing a multitude of financial issues ranging from interruptions in cash flow and drops in stock prices to, drastic (and demoralizing) layoffs and bankruptcy filings.

On an individual level, social isolation is far and away people’s most pressing concern and challenge. Access to clients, business development activities, and prospects are also critical challenges individuals are struggling with as they navigate their new work realities.

Yet opportunities do exist.

For instance, respondents overwhelmingly want inclusive business strategy conversations and decisions, and for organizations to align to new ways of working that will help them excel today and in the “new normal” tomorrow.

Though the prevailing thought at the start of quarantine was that time was abundant, many people are quickly feeling overextended, burnt out, or overwhelmed by the impossible juggle between child and/or elder care, distance learning amid school closures, round-the-clock shared space within households, on and on. Time and mental margin have become increasingly precious (and elusive) resources in entirely new ways. Questions like: “what does my employer expect of me in this context?” and “how can I be sure I’m spending time on what is most relevant and important?” are on a lot of minds. What has become clearer as the weeks tick by is how these stressors and constraints are more semi-permanent than we first believed, begging the question – what can we do?

According to respondents, the top priority for leadership teams is to initiate discussions and develop strategic plans for business continuity post-COVID-19. Employees and executives alike want their leaders to provide both short- and long-term strategic guidance. The sea of ambiguity most are swimming in is so vast and deep that any beacons – even though they’re likely to evolve over time – are helpful right now in navigating today.

The most commonly spotted opportunity through this crisis is discovering new ways of working, both from an internal operating perspective and also how companies think about serving clients and customers.

Use these insights to create your own conversations and action.

These insights help us understand, directionally, how organizations and employees are responding to a continually evolving crisis. As insights are best when applied—and respondents overwhelmingly want action, consider reviewing these with your team or organization. Do these reflect our reality? How would our employees respond? Are we leveraging the opportunities others are finding? Are we overcoming the challenges many are encountering, or are we also struggling without a plan?

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