Now that there is some control over Covid-19, we are faced with the new realities. It is evident that the old workplace we knew pre-Covid is dead, not to be resuscitated. Are you puzzled about what we should stop doing, what we should start doing and what we should continue doing.
The long months of Covid-19 made us painfully aware of outdated processes and mindsets…things we should stop doing and thinking.
The minds of creative people around the world conceived ideas that will make life better and that we should start making part of our daily routine. In any circumstance, there are opportunities for those who look beyond the obvious and think differently.
As we look back on the Covid months, we see how services flourished such as Grubhub and Uber Eats food delivery and takeout services from restaurants. Do you think that the convenience of curbside service at your favorite grocery store will diminish? Perhaps, but having a personal shopper gather everything on your grocery list for you saves you a lot of time and it may be a “should continue” item in your time management schedule.
Work from Home
One of the Covid characteristics that will definitely continue is work from home. I laughed at the title of an article in the New York Times entitled, “Will Work for Air-Conditioning.” It discussed how some people want to head back to the office to stop feeling like a hot mess and be surround by cool air.
People who choose to return to the office building may want free air conditioning, or they need increased social interaction, or they need the team collaboration to solve problem-solve.
Those who prefer working from home have various reasons such as avoiding long commutes and reducing face-to-face interruptions from coworkers. However, as I talk to friends and research, one of the main reasons individuals prefer to work from home is increased family time with children and pets. Many employees are in the sandwich generation and are caring not only for children, but for aging parents. These conditions should be recognized and affirmed by companies.
Work from home is a complex issue, but if the focus is on the work produced and deadlines met, details can be worked out.
In the future, regardless of the reason to return to the office or to work from home, top executives will wrestle with the precise details of policy.
Managing Betwixt and Between Employees
Managing employees who are “betwixt and between” meaning they are working certain days from home and other days at the office can cause Excedrin size headaches for managers. There are physical considerations such as laptops, internet connectivity, Zoom meetings, etc.
Perhaps the real test is sorting out what tasks are well-suited to being completed at home and which tasks are better completed at the office. Work from home is best for tasks that can be completed independently while work at the office is better for interdependent projects.
When facetime is scheduled at the office, the manager is responsible to make the time together as meaningful as possible. One way to do this is to follow the protocols for running efficient meetings and ensure time limits are adhered to. Before and after the meeting, there needs to be time for casual conversations and the development of team culture.
Beyond these factors, managers are responsible for keeping employees focused on the objectives and looming deadlines. Managers ae responsible for what I call rational alignment.
Rational alignment is understanding the objectives and goals of their department or team and putting them in crystal clear statements for direct reports. Their direct reports can then align their mindset and their daily work schedule to reflect and accomplish these objectives.
For rational alignment to happen daily, managers must be one step ahead of employees.
If we are brave enough to say there is a good result from Covid-19, it would the emphasis on employee well-being. Leaders are recognizing the mental health issues that are a result from confinement, loneliness and loss of interaction not just with coworkers but with extended family. We certainly don’t want a loneliness pandemic which leads to disengagement, burnout, and ultimately to turnover.
I smiled at the Pepper and Salt cartoon in the Wall Street Journal on July 23. The man is leading an elephant, not a dog or petting a cat. The caption reads, “I need a lot of emotional support.” Every human needs emotional support.
People who don’t have an emotional connection to another human being are lonely. Be dedicated enough to your employees to yes, talk about goals and rational alignment, but also to connect as one human to another human with empathy and interest in the person’s life. Provide an emotional connection to you as their manager by ensuring your touchpoints through the day or week include personal moments that create a human bond.
Consider having an honest, surface the truth, conversation with each of your direct reports about what matters to them and how you can help them meet their needs. Let them know you have their back and you care about them.
To forge new paths forward, leaders need to stop thinking the work environment will return to the world we knew before Covid. Leaders need to continue the discussion about virtual versus on-site work and put into practice policies that benefit the company and meet the needs of the individual. They need to start conversations about the well-being of employees and be concerned about the total individual.
These three leadership conversations will build loyalty and release discretionary effort in employees at all levels of the organization.