During the first phase of COVID-19 restrictions, most employers did a sterling job of protecting their people. The vast majority of knowledge workers had the opportunity to work from their kitchen tables.
And employees with hands-on jobs received massive support from their bosses to keep them safe. To those who thought that people in business care about nothing but profit, it was a wake-up call.
The ongoing situation, though, is introducing business leaders to new challenges. Bosses are coming to the realisation that the way they play their craft is going to have to change. When people aren’t in the office, the rules of engagement look different.
Early evidence suggests that the majority of workers are enjoying the new approach to working life. People have more flexibility than they did before. And the intensity of office politics is waning. Workers are finally able to get on with their work in relative peace.
But the old way of communicating with people is over. Anyone who has been on a Zoom call in the last few months can testify to this reality. You can’t have a good old chin-wag over a pint of beer during the lunch hour anymore. That old method of thrashing out issues in the workplace is gone.
Leaders are a little unsure of themselves at the moment. They know that showing that they cared about their employees was a good move - something that built trust. But now the challenge is to adapt to a style of working with which very few people have experienced.
We’ve always performed our roles in buildings in close proximity to each other. This new setup is creating a sense of being all at sea. Executives don’t quite know how to play it.
Listening To The Workforce
Nobody was particularly interested in listening to workforce views about working from home before COVID-19. But suddenly, the idea that bosses should spend time canvassing the opinions of their staff is gaining traction. Everyone seems to be doing it.
This listening, though, is more than just tokenistic. Leaders genuinely don’t know how people in their organisations are going to react to the new setup. They’d like to think positively, but they can’t be sure.
If working from home was so great, why wasn’t the organisation already doing it? That question gnaws away at them at the back of their minds.
There are three big challenges that leaders face:
Coaching their team while they work remotely
Keeping productivity high
Addressing social and relationship issues.
The rise of Leader as Coach services is a testament to the first point. Executives and managers want new tools that will help them create the next generation of specialists while they work outside of the office.
Dealing with the second issue is more challenging and comes down to the personality of the individual workers. Some employees hate the office and thrive while working from home. There are fewer distractions, and people aren’t continually barging in to ask questions.
Others, however, need the office environment to motivate them and remain productive. Without it, their work suffers.
Leaders, therefore, are having to find new ways to make organisations accountable. Taking people outside of regular working environments and plopping them down in an entirely different situation and expecting things to carry on as normal is profoundly unrealistic.
That’s not how it works. It’s about new leadership styles that adapt to that change.
The final issue is a relational and personal one. Some people just don’t do well when they are on their own. They feed off the energy of others. Spending time working in isolation is their idea of a nightmare. They just can’t do it.
Leaders are having to make special arrangements for these people. Hybrid working, Zoom calls, Slack messaging and regular phone meetings are all possible channels to pacify these individuals.
Inclusion And Value
The other thing that leaders are doing is promoting inclusion and value. In some businesses, there’s a real risk of bifurcation between remote workers and those at the head office. You have one set of people who form the “in-group” and another who is the “out-group.”
That kind of division is dreadful for companies because it creates a “them and us” mentality within the firm. Managers, therefore, must do whatever they can to stop this kind of situation from developing.
Ideas include hosting regular in-person meetings with the remote team, and inviting everyone to regular parties and events when it becomes safe to do so.
COVID, therefore, is an opportunity for leaders, and one that they should grab with both hands for success.