The UK went into its first lockdown in March 2020. Now, as countries are rolling out vaccinations and lockdown restrictions are easing, there’s hope for a new, post-pandemic age.

The general phrase we tend to hear across LinkedIn, emails and even in casual conversations, is that soon we’ll all return “back to normal”. And while we’re all excited to overcome this pandemic and see our colleagues again, it’s important to remember the lessons we’ve learned over a year or more of lockdowns, and apply them to our new routine (or “new normal”, as the overused-yet-accurate phrase goes).

So what can small businesses take from this experience to help them work more effectively and be more human post-COVID? Here are a few traits that are necessary for businesses transitioning back into a post-pandemic world.

1. Empathy

Perhaps the most important trait that businesses should adopt is empathy. Over the past year we’ve grown accustomed to balancing family life with work life. It hasn’t always been easy – we’ve all experienced or witnessed the struggle of attending a video call, with children sitting in the background or pets blocking the camera. We’ve all had to excuse ourselves from a call at least once to answer a delivery at the door.

When businesses return to the office, it’s important to remember that colleagues have a life outside of work, and keeping the two bubbles apart isn’t as easy as it might seem.

Leadership teams that can showcase a level of empathy and understanding with their employees will be much more successful in retaining them and improving employee wellbeing – our perception of work life has changed, and lockdowns have offered up the opportunity to make our professional lives more human.

This isn’t a trait that should be dismissed as soon as people are allowed to return to the office. Express that empathy in all key communications – whether that’s your sales emails, team meetings or offer letters for new candidates. Taking the time to be more human is never a wasted effort.

2. Flexibility

The future of remote work has become a talking point over the last year. In a pre-pandemic world, some employers were reluctant to allow flexible working, under the impression that people worked less at home than they would if they were in the office.

The pandemic has changed that belief; most businesses both small and large have actually reported working more hours during lockdown. Given that location doesn’t seem to impact productivity, there’s a strong possibility that businesses will adopt a flexible model in the future – in fact, tech giants like Google, Slack and Salesforce have already committed to a fully-flexible, hybrid approach.

Demonstrating this flexibility will:

  • Make businesses more appealing to future candidates
  • Improve the quality of work
  • Help employees maintain a healthy work/life balance
  • Allow hiring teams to cast the net further when trying to secure the best talent
  • Allow the business to judge employees based on the work they complete, rather than the hours they spend working

We wanted to understand the legal industry’s view on remote working, as in-house lawyers are our primary customers. We interviewed 50 in-house lawyers and legal ops managers, and found out that 70% of them would like to work remotely at least half the time in the future. With this shift towards remote work likely to become the norm, the best way for companies to thrive in this environment is to make sure flexibility is front-of-mind.

3. Agility

Many businesses had to pivot during the pandemic in order to stay afloat. Restaurants have turned to delivery and takeaways, with some offering cooking kits so customers could create their own version of their favourite meal, at home. Ride-hailing apps have turned to food delivery, collaborating closely with restaurants to feed their customers.

Smaller businesses seem to excel at this; with fewer people and scalable processes in place, most SMEs don’t have a problem making quick decisions. For example, at Juro we launched free versions of our plans to help businesses automate contracts remotely during the crisis – we went from the idea to launching the product in a week.

Being agile is a great skill to have; while the coronavirus could be considered a once-in-a-lifetime event, the ability to move fast in the face of new challenges is something that most businesses should continue to perfect, post-pandemic. This can include:

  • Creating an updating a crisis playbook
  • Making sure employees are well-equipped for flexible working
  • Ensuring all employees are aware of their roles and responsibilities
  • Using tech to automate manual, unscalable processes
  • Setting up systems for real-time knowledge sharing
  • Building a risk management team

4. Creativity

During the pandemic, businesses have explored new ways of doing things – whether it’s implementing knowledge management tools to align on everyday projects, using a ticketing system to keep track of tasks and requests, or automations to help teams handle routine contracts like non-disclosure agreements.

Making sure that the business doesn’t shy away from tech solutions and revert back to an old way of working is essential – through technology, companies can simplify manual, outdated processes and work more efficiently. Implementing a single system where work lives can make a huge difference as the business continues to scale; not only will a single source of truth make it easier for teams to locate and access information, but it will also encourage collaboration and communication across the business – which is imperative if teams are working remotely.

Businesses – and their leaders – mustn’t forget the important skills they adopted during the past year, but instead use those skills to help them grow in a new environment. Key traits like empathy, creativity and agility can make all the difference between a business that will struggle to keep moving, and one that is set up for success.

Richard Mabey is CEO and co-founder of Juro, the all-in-one contract automation platform.