Since the social restrictions introduced in 2020 forced much of the Australian workforce to work from home, employers have been preparing for what the workplace will look like moving forward
With COVID-19 has come challenge and opportunity for workplaces. As you look to the future as a business leader, what do you want to leave behind and carry forward in terms of how you work?
Answering this question is important on two fronts. Firstly, it’s too soon to go back to pre-pandemic ways of working, and secondly, COVID has accelerated workplace change, with much of it here to stay.
Deciding how to go forward starts with identifying what’s working for you, your team and your organisation. Think about what you have enjoyed, the benefits you have gained, and why you want them to continue. Write these down and reflect on why they matter.
Next, look at what hasn’t worked and why. Identifying the root cause is important to determine if that new way of working should be disbanded or just needs to be tweaked. It can be helpful to invite your team members to participate in this review so you get their perspective on the work-place. Doing this also helps build their buy-in and commitment to future change.
Recognise different needs
As part of this process, recognise that the level of adjustment and adaptation required across workplaces has and will continue to be mixed.
For some employees, the rapid move to working from home has been successful, meaning less commuting, a better work-life balance and access to effective technology to support productivity. For others, it has been stressful as they juggle homeschooling or have no defined workspace or the technology they need to work effectively. Added to that, people who draw energy from connecting with their colleagues are missing the office banter and casual conversations.
These impacts translate into variations in productivity and engagement. Consequently, it’s essential to recognise each team member’s needs and understand what they require to be at their best at work.
Many organisations are now using the term ‘work from anywhere’, signifying that the traditional model of sourcing employees who are willing to be locally based or to travel frequently has shifted. This opens organisations to a broader talent pool.
For employees, it also means they are no longer geographically hamstrung when it comes to applying for overseas roles.
Also, some people are keen to get back to the office and others less so. Examine your workforce and roles to determine the options and flexibility that can continue.
Know when virtual doesn’t work
Working from home is here to stay, but connection and time spent with team members and colleagues will always be necessary.
Humans are tribal creatures who are hard-wired for connection. Part of the joy and happiness that people experience at work comes from the banter and chats they have with their colleagues. Nothing can replace the casual corridor conversation or chat in the tea room.
Recognise that not everything can be done remotely (or done as effectively remotely). Leaders will want to consider where face-to-face sessions are more productive and effective, and where remote will work just as well.
Step up and lead
Leadership matters, whatever the working environment – be it the office or home. The best leaders appreciate this and are shifting and elevating their leadership style to suit these new circumstances. They understand that in times of challenge and uncertainty they need to provide more, not less leadership.
People want to feel they matter and know they are valued. Leaders should continue to set regular times to check in with their teams. These check-ins aren’t just about how tasks are progressing; they’re about finding out how the team member is doing in terms of emotional and mental health too.
Support healthy practices
Central to creating a healthy environment is the relationship a leader has with their team members. Successful relationships are under-pinned by psychological safety. This is an environment in which people are comfortable to share what is or isn’t working for them and how they are feeling, and to be their authentic selves.
It helps if leaders role-model self-care behaviours. Encourage your team to take care of their physical and mental health. Suggest they take regular breaks; notice and manage workplace stress; and have a safe space where they can talk about their mental health and wellbeing.
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert. She is the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work; Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career; and the new book Bad Boss: What to Do if You Work for One, Manage One or Are One.