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The COVID-19 crisis and the new era of the workplace

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There is no doubt that we all live and operate in a profoundly changed reality, in which the state of continuous change has become the "new normal." In general, technology, globalization, regulation, the new generations, talent mobility and a new socioeconomic order are all changing the face of the workplace and creating enormous challenges and opportunities for all professions and industries.

Nearly nine years ago, while working with KPMG Israel, I created an inclusive conceptual framework of skills for the new era of the workplace, supporting leaders and employees in their personal and professional journey to upskill themselves and be ready for a fourth Industrial Revolution: the Five Lands Model. Since then, I have supported thousands of accountants and advisors in various positions, helping them acquire the skills they need to deal successfully with the ever-changing reality, characterized by complexity and uncertainty. (The main conclusions of this work were summarized in my book, “Riding the White Water Rapids: the Story of My Success at KPMG;” you can download a free PDF of the book at www.eq-el.com).

Now, a new game changer has swept the whole world into crisis: the COVID-19 virus. Talking with my clients during the last 30 troubling days, I keep on hearing the same insight regarding the ability to deal effectively with the new reality, which is characterized by uncertainty, fear, complexity and constant change. If there is one common thing that all of them share, it is their deep understanding, more than ever before, of the importance of their critical skills, those we call “soft skills.”

Today, to function effectively, we all need to learn and develop new skills faster than before. We must be creative, find new ways to do the things we always have done, and adapt quickly to new situations. We need to find a sense of meaning in our daily routine and, of course, stay optimistic and full of hope that the future is going to be positive. These skills appear in most models used by organizations worldwide to prepare their leaders and employees for success in the new era of the workplace.

The COVID-19 crisis and the Five Lands Journey: Mindset Land

To succeed in the fourth Industrial Revolution, accountants and advisors will need to possess a Growth Mindset attitude, to believe that our most basic abilities are not fixed and can be developed through dedication and hard work.

To deal successfully with the COVID-19 crisis, we all need to understand that if the reality we operate in has changed, we need to develop new skills, which will enable us to survive physically, mentally and emotionally. A Growth Mindset is essential to develop our emotional intelligence (such as flexibility or stress and uncertainty management) or leadership skills (find ways to lead and motivate our team remotely) or to adapt to new technologies (learn how to use tools for remote working). A Growth Mindset will also be critical when adapting to the new reality that will emerge after the crisis (rather than trying to reconstruct the past and being fixed in past habits).

To develop a Growth Mindset, ask yourself:
1. What can I learn about myself today? About other people in my life (family, friends, colleagues, employees and managers)? About my organization? About my profession?
2. Which ability or skill do I need to strengthen today so that I can go through this period optimally?
3. What will it take for me to get out of my comfort zone today?
4. What can keep me from doing so successfully? What will help me do this successfully, despite the difficulty?
5. What are the topics in which I choose to put effort and time today to develop new knowledge or skills?

Artgineer Land

This land is mostly based on the right brain/left brain concept. The left, rational hemisphere is related to analytical, methodological problem-solving, and logical abilities (as of an engineer). The right, metaphorical hemisphere is linked to feelings, imagination, abstractions and associations, vision, creativity and holistic thinking (as of an artist). In the new era of the workplace, we all need to use the whole brain and be "Artgineers" — both engineers and artists.

Even more so, we all need to be Artgineers to successfully cope with the COVID-19 crisis. We need to be creative and find new ways or solutions to new problems that arise from the crisis. We need to find new ways to have people-centric communications during social distancing. We also need to use our intuition and imagine what the future will look like when it is over and start preparing. On the other hand, we are required to be very practical and realistic. Even as we obey the new regulations, we also need to use our critical thinking when we hear leaders and experts talk in the media.

To start working with your whole brain, ask yourself:
1. In which situations today will I need to demonstrate creativity?
2. What excites me? How can I do at least one thing today in this area?
3. How would I like to see myself and my family's future, the day after it all ends? What should I do today to make it happen?
4. How can I develop a new routine so I can feel "normal" again?
5. From what I heard today from the experts, what makes sense to me, and what doesn't?

EQ Land

Overall, emotional intelligence is a set of social and emotional skills that enables optimal action, which leads to desirable results: individual and group effectiveness, synergy, the recognition of challenges, and the ways to address them. In his insightful book, "Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution," Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, says that emotional intelligence is especially needed nowadays. According to Professor Schwab, leaders and employees will need to become comfortable with the unknown, remaining both hopeful and alert about what comes next.

Only accountants with high emotional intelligence will be able to do well in this new environment, as they are aware of their emotions and their thoughts in various situations. They have a better understanding of their emotions and can manage them successfully (emotional self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence). They are also proactive and can demonstrate self-regulation, acting by choice rather than by emotional hijacking.

To successfully overcome the COVID-19 crisis, we all need to use our emotional intelligence — handle stress and uncertainty, be flexible, understand the way we feel, manage our emotions successfully (avoid hurting ourselves or others), use empathy and interpersonal skills (to ask for help or accept it), be humble and accept the fact that we are all limited in our ability to be "in our best" today.

To develop your emotional intelligence, ask yourself:
1. In what ways can I demonstrate more flexibility today?
2. In what ways might my empathy and interpersonal skills help me today?
3. Stop at various stages of the day and ask yourself, how do I feel now? What caused this feeling? If you can, share your feelings with people you are close to.
4. What are my strengths, and how are they going to help me go through the day effectively?
5. After an event or an interaction, take a few minutes in a quiet place and try to see how you feel about yourself, the situation and others who were involved in it.

Sustainability Land

The fast-changing and disruptive reality in the new era of the workplace is often described as stormy weather or turbulent rapids. The Sustainability Land relates to accountants' ability to "stay on the boat" when there is a significant risk of falling into the gushing waters. It comprises five dimensions: a sense of higher purpose, optimism and positive framing, proactive career management, social capital and well being.

These dimensions, which are crucial for the success of accountants in the new era of the workplace, are also essential to successfully overcome the COVID-19 crisis. Finding a sense of higher purpose in our work and life will take us forward through the crisis, as well as it did before, in a complex and demanding reality. In the meanwhile, it can be found in those "small things" such as family, friends, faith and occupation. Optimism, of course, is key to going through any challenging times. We all need to look at the half-full glass (which most of us still have) as well as support others, be that family, work colleagues or employees.

Proactive career management, our ability to take full ownership of our careers by building and maintaining a personal winning value proposition, is still much needed. This might be the best time to learn online and get more professional. Social capital, namely a network of relationships and support, is an invaluable asset during both good and challenging times and even during social distancing — asking for help if we need it, or offering assistance. And, finally, we need to do at least two things every day to keep our wellbeing, even when we are confined to our homes: talk to family and friends, eat appropriately, exercise and engage in activities that contribute to our happiness.

To help "stay on the boat," ask yourself:
1. What is the deep meaning of this "pause," and how can I use it for my advantage (or others')?
2. What are the things that I still have in my life that I can be grateful for?
3. To whom can I give something today? Whom can I help today?
4. What type of help or support would I be happy to receive today? From whom?
5. What can I learn or develop in the coming weeks in order to significantly improve my personal value proposition?

I-21 Land

Finally, the I-21 Land (meaning "Myself in the 21st century") symbolizes the accountants' ability to create new lands — to invent and reinvent themselves — using the skills and competencies they have acquired in their own personal journey. Accountants who will be able to invent and reinvent themselves will be able to help reinvent the future firm's services and products while making sure that their firm is going to stay, or become, the market leader.

To deal successfully with the COVID-19 crisis, we all need to understand — in terms of the set of critical skills and abilities that comprise the Five Lands Model — what are those that we possess and already help us today? Which one or two skills would we want to develop in the coming month? Having chosen such skills, we need to find interesting articles and TED talks on the topic, observe other people who possess these skills, and learn from them. Then, we need to practice the new skills “'just do it”). Eventually, we can even feel comfortable enough to try to “pay it forward” to others.

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