Businesses Can Improve Workplace Culture Upon Re-Entry by Rethinking COVID-19 Language

Shelley SmithBlog

The New Vocabulary

We’ve been learning a new vocabulary—often strange and frightening—over the past couple of months related to the COVID-19 pandemic. But is there a way to rethink these words and phrases to help us move forward into an era of improved company culture?

As we look at the language of COVID-19, we can shift some of them into words and phrases that work in a positive way to help businesses move forward more successfully. Here are some suggestions for re-calibrating meanings or substituting terms to develop a more creative and opportunistic mindset as we prepare to reopen our businesses at the appropriate time:

Shifting Our Language

  1. Re-entry vs. COVID-19: Move back into business in a new way with intentionality, working in a new, more effective way.
  2. Lessons learned vs. recognizing cases: Look at the crisis as a mirror that reveals the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of doing business the “normal” way. You may discover that the old, “normal” way of running your business was not as effective as it could be and that you were not prepared for a crisis. Recognize weak methodologies and replace them with new processes.
  3. Index communication, training, shared leadership or innovation vs. index case: Indexing is the moment that you realized that the things you are now doing differently are the things you should have been doing all along. These measures are the “new normal” for the future.
  4. Index employee vs. index patient or patient zero: While the index patient refers to the first known person to become infected in a population or region, an index employee is the team member that rose to the challenge during the crisis to challenge norms, ideate and innovate. Their positive “contagion” aided your business with stabilization and/or unexpected progress.
  5. Tracing success vs. contact tracing: Just as epidemiologists control the spread of disease by identifying and monitoring individuals who had contact with an infectious person, you can search for actions by employees who have taken risks leading to positive, “viral ideas” that spread throughout your team.
  6. Community success vs. community spread: The pandemic term refers to spreading disease among people who had no known contact with other sick individuals, but you can reframe this idea into a term that works for your business. Community spread relates to spreading best practices among teammates up and down the organizational chart so that the business becomes more agile. This process happens through trust, shared purpose, communication, training, feedback and empathy. The best “community spread” happens when nobody cares who gets the credit, thus the “no known contact” is the source.
  7. Multiplier vs. super-spreader: A super-spreader contagious with the virus can infect many people. In business, a multiplier is a leader who spreads good ideas, never places blame, shares leadership, involves everyone and leans in with purpose and intention.
  8. Transparency vs. social distancing: The purpose of social distancing it to prevent the spread of disease. Transparency in business prevents the spread of negativity, rumors, low employee morale and lost productivity. Communicating openly, truthfully and often with your team reduces anxiety about changes necessary to re-open your business and “get back to normal.” Apply lessons learned during the pandemic to make your business more efficient. Decide whether old methods of operating fit with the new reality and enhance agility.
  9. Shared leadership vs. self-quarantine: During the pandemic, we have learned that voluntarily keeping ourselves apart it the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease. That’s the opposite of what we need for effective workplace cultures. In business, those who include everyone in the decision-making and encourage innovation and collaboration empower all to become servant leaders.
  10. Forecasting the curve vs. flattening the curve: The airways are filled with news about the rising number of people infected with the disease and the hope that the numbers will “flatten” and begin to decrease.


There are always curves in business – many unpredictable – that represent challenges to overcome. The secret to successfully navigating curves that can become crises is to anticipate and plan for them. Are you carefully monitoring data points that indicate either positive or negative trends, such as productivity, profitability, employee engagement, turnover, etc.? Watching your metrics closely will help you anticipate both opportunities and challenges ahead.

All words are symbols pointing to meaning that we interpret individually based on genetic and psychological differences, background, education and experience. We have the power to reframe concepts and ideas into new, powerful ones that can propel our success rather than allowing them to discourage and block progress.

I challenge you to look at the scary pandemic terms and apply new meanings that can open up creative solutions to your business re-entry challenges.

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Crafting Your Re-entry Phases