As the pandemic begins to subside from view and the country begins to contemplate “what’s next” the business community is caught in an uncomfortable tug-of-war between their employees new-found freedom in a decentralized work environment, and the gravitational forces created from the need to run a company with constant contact and collaboration between team members.
Many knowledge workers have happily shed rush-hour commutes, decreased forced interactions with frustrating colleagues, and have discovered new-found freedom, flexibility, and work-life balance (whatever their ratio of work to family may be). But managing an entire workforce like this has proven to be an exercise not all leaders are good at, or enjoy.
Informed by anecdotal evidence that working from home is too distracting and does not best support group collaboration and creativity, many executives or managers cannot wait to be in position to mandate everyone report back to the office for duty. These leaders may be tempted to withdraw into small groups to make the important decisions surrounding returning to work as quickly as possible.
In lieu of the more common approaches to the workforce returning, Celerity would like to put forth that the current workplace transition provides a unique opportunity to highlight and demonstrate the culture that the organization hangs in framed signs on the wall. After all, an organization’s culture is not defined by good times, it is measured by how the company reacts to challenging times. At a time when employees will be looking for leadership and a path to fitting into whatever the new normal becomes, purposeful leaders will broadly share thought processes and plans, lean into the collective intelligence and trust their staff by laying out the challenges they themselves must work through for the organization, and engage their teams to help craft what that solution ultimately looks like.
Here are some of the ways in which leadership teams can thread the needle by being accommodating while bringing their teams back together and demonstrating purpose.
Re-establish what their purpose is, as a part of the company
At the beginning of a battle you usually hear the leader rallying the troops. The reason they get their people excited, and remind them of who they are and what they are fighting for, is because anyone working as part of a collective needs to feel like they are working towards a greater purpose. Furthermore, those soldiers – similar to the members of a team who have to possibly leave their families and what “normal life” now looks like – need to be reminded of the overall purpose of what they are doing, as well as the role they play in the achievement of that purpose. One of the best ways to get people to embrace change is to communicate why it is necessary, and why their role is so critical. Remind your people of this, and highlight why you need them to accomplish this broader goal.
Additionally, at the organizational level, if you have not already clearly defined the company’s purpose, now is an excellent time to do so. Not only will it help your workforce in transition, it will help your bottom line. Purposeful companies have been shown to outperform competitors on equity returns and have more engaged employees, while connecting those employees to purpose is a critical factor in helping them cope with crises and trauma. The sooner they feel better, the sooner they perform better.
Focus on them, and what they need, not you or the company
It is incredibly difficult to solve what without solving why, and yet so few leaders factor in that three-lettered word when attempting to convince their teams to get on board with a controversial idea. Before giving an ultimatum or making a decision that forces employees into a binary choice, try starting by explaining the factors that have to be taken into account on behalf of the company, then explain some of your considerations for the team, and ask them “what else should we be thinking about.” Getting their feedback not only makes them feel involved in the process, it makes them feel listened to and understood. Regardless of the outcome, people feel better when they have at least been heard. Then if they have concerns try asking what made them think of that concern, and from a place of genuine caring, find out why they hold their position. Often you will find out about personal problems that are solvable or able to be worked around, and in doing so, achieve both goals while making everyone happy.
- Make the focus of communication how to best equip them to tackle the challenges they face personally and professionally
- When dealing with change, employees generally like speaking in specifics, not in an abstract context. Set a specific timeframe of events through which the organization will transition from past to future
- Spend time thinking about resources they can access to help your employees with the transition. Whether traditional employee assistance programs (EAPs) or more unique and tailored resources, this package should be thoughtful, useful and easily accessible (without any perceived stigma)
Highlight the “magic”
Some people are truly happier working from the office, and if it’s safe for them to be on premises, the presence of these “volunteers” can be reassuring. For everyone else, leaders will need to remind them of the magical moments that happen when everyone is together. Start by finding out through informal conversations what your teams miss most about the office. Then begin sharing memories and highlighting how that will once again be a part of work. If that was birthday parties or just camaraderie being close to friends they are not married to. Suggest solutions for making the negatives better ( for example podcasts based on their interests for the drive, and more user-centric dynamic and efficient meetings).
The key to successful reintegration in the workplace will be creating the systems and processes that solve employees problems and create ways of working that make it more desirable to work together. Celerity helps organizations from the Fortune 500 to family-run businesses solve their thorniest problems. If you have an issue you would like an outside perspective on, feel free to reach out to us at https://celeritycoaching.com/.