Let’s Reclaim the SARS-CoV-2 Structure for Future-Focused Business

Let’s Reclaim the SARS-CoV-2 Structure for Future-Focused Business

Perhaps controversially, here’s a model for what a robust, people-focused organisation might look like in the post-Covid-19 era.

I’m writing as a leadership coach and a change-maker in the world of work-life integration, with just a bit of science in my background. Please take this with a pinch of salt – and apologies if it offends - but I hope it is both eye-catching and thought-provoking.

I say a bit more at the end of this article about my choice to reclaim this provocative image in this way.

Structure for Future-Focused Business

Future Focussed Business Structure Preview 

Click to enlarge

How to flourish in the post-covid New Normal

Here’s what we’ll need:

1. Working Arrangements: Safe and effective ways of working: adapted workspaces & conditions, social distancing, new arrangements including remote working; staggered shifts to work with public transport needs; smart and scaled use of technology

2. Individuals: who feel safe, healthy, secure engaged; positive employee experience; including extra attention to the Furloughed Forlorn (who might feel disengaged and anxious) and the Tired Troops (those who have carried on working and are likely to feel exhausted)

3. Culture: Values; Flexible, agile working culture with savvy attention to delivering objectives instead of physical presence; Employee Networks; Diversity & Inclusion; Social aspects of work; including new ways of enabling culture in a changed world – virtual social meetings, quizzes, picture competitions

4. Suppliers & Partners: Supply chains may need to be re-established and supported, partners may need to be kept engaged and re-inspired for the future world. Internal and external creators of employer brand will need to pay attention to sensitive and appropriate marketing and communications

5. Leadership & Management capability: Agilty: will need the ability to bring different leadership styles for different phases, from crisis management through to nurture and support through to empowering individuals to innovate; Balanced: ability to work with uncertainty and be willing to innovate, while also managing tight budgets; Ability to performance manage a dispersed / remote workforce; focused on wellbeing as well as communicating purpose; Attention to succession and career progression within a new structure

6. Work-Life, Wellbeing & Care provisions: A reinforced emphasis on services and programmes that enable employees to blend work and life in a win-win way; Enabling people to deliver work objectives alongside care responsibilities and achieving life satisfaction; attention to Moments that Matter, whether ongoing such as New Parents or specific such as return from furlough; Care provision and access to practical advice; Wellbeing & development, including mental health, fitness, support for financial awareness, personal development & coaching

7. Relevance: Visible purpose within a New Normal; business or organisation has products or services that make a valid contribution and also demonstrate sustainability; Positive community engagement and impact; triple bottom line (Profit, People, Planet) including attention to executive pay rations at a time of economic hardship


More on preparing for the new normal

I’ve written other articles with more insights on what we need to think about as employers (without crazy virus pictures in them).

Employers: Imagining the New Normal

A wide-ranging article about how business conditions will look very different in the future with advice on preparing: from practical work spaces to engaging people to the opportunity for a rethink on sustainability

Eating the Elephant: Two insights for leaders in the time ofCoronavirus

A more personal piece reflecting reflecting on how employers will need to view people and the positioning of businesses differently as a result of all this.

Two Key Insights about Remote Working

An article directed more toward the individual than the leader, though relevant to all, about working from home in these pandemic times being different from usual working from home and what we can learn from now to take into the future.


Why reclaim the virus: isn’t a bit scary and off-putting looking at this?

‘If this is supposed to be encouraging why use an image that is so frightening just now?’ you may ask. Fair point. However, throughout history, groups that have been oppressed with derogatory labels and attacks have reclaimed or reappropriated those, removing the negative power of the labels used against them and – often through humour as well as courage – reinforcing a sense of pride and positive identity. The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has done a lot of damage to our health, safety, wellbeing, economies, organisations, communities. I was doodling to come up with a model of a healthy post-covid business. I wondered whether we might regain our power against it by reappropriating the virus’s structure to depict the structure of a robust future-focused organisation.

I realise this has only worked with words before, not diagrams, and that viruses are arguably hardly even living organisms, let alone intentional oppressors. But, well, worth a go. I imagined it could even go viral…

Still, please wash your hands.


A little more on reappropriation, for interest: We can all readily bring to mind names that have been reclaimed by different groups, having previously been used disparagingly to refer to race, ethnicity and nationality, sex and sexuality, religion, politics and much more. The argument for reappropriation was even tested in the US courts as recently as 2017. In Matal v Tam, the US Patent and Trademark Office had refused a trademark registration for an Asian American band called ‘The Slants’ because the authorities deemed the term disparaging. Pursuing this to the Supreme Court, Simon Tam eventually won, asserting his right to free speech and emphasising his intention to "reclaim" and "take ownership" of Asian stereotypes. That same year, political scientists and a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis carried out research prompted by this US Supreme Court case and published a paper: Taming Uncivil Discourse. Here, James Gibson, Lee Epstein and Gregory Magarian used data from The American Panel Survey and other survey experiments to find that reappropriation can be an effective tool. “When a group is seen as taking control of a historically disparaging term, it can indeed neutralize the insulting content of the term,” co-author Gregory Gibson said. “And it does so among the group that is the target of the insult, as well as among members of the majority group.” 


By Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Coaching, Consultancy & Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons UK