Employees Called Upon to Co-Captain Working Styles in a Post-Pandemic World
By Cheryl Halverson, Chief People Officer, Gongos, Inc.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, ‘a smooth sea never produced a skilled sailor,’ and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. As regulations lift and many employees have immersed in the waters of remote working and the merging of personal and work lives, many business leaders are swimming in uncharted waters trying to sort through what form the hybrid workplace will take in the near and far-term future.
With an increased appetite for workplace flexibility and a new kind of employer/employee reciprocity on the rise, there may never be a time when 100% of an employee base is back in the office. To strike the right balance, organizations will require tailored approaches and deeper discussions to ensure employees are both equipped and empowered to deliver great customer experiences while honoring the trust bestowed on them.
Work Style Over Space: The New Black
For some, the word hybrid might be an imprecise term as it presumes a fairly balanced mix of employees working partially in office and partially at home. However, shifting perspective from navigating what the future physical “workplace” will look like toward cultivating a work environment—and importantly culture—that meets specific lifestyles will do employers well.
Since March of last year, we’ve invited employees into our homes, and they have invited us into theirs. We’ve met their spouses, children, and dogs and cats alike. We’ve become accustomed to their more relaxed dress code, their mementos, their home décor. The working environment has gotten tremendously casual and intimate (ironic, given that it’s been enabled by technology), but that’s likely here to stay. And rightfully so, because we believe if you’re smart in a tie, you will be smart in a tee.
Moving into this next phase, this reorientation will require an even higher level of mutual trust between employer and employee. From an employer’s perspective, this will involve setting high expectations, giving autonomy to employees, and holding them accountable for great performance instead of trying to manage how, when and where they work. In exchange, employees can experience a greater acceptance of work/life integration, as some re-enter the office space with an eye toward personal and familial obligations; and others remain in home offices continuing to mesh their lives with the work they love.
How to Ensure Employees are Still Cultivating a Culture
For any organization, it won’t be possible to simply duplicate company culture as it once was. To adapt and advance, culture must evolve, while keeping the organization’s core values intact.
Here are a few things leaders can do to navigate the workplace of the future in a way that orients employees as the north star.
- Ensure Employees Co-Create the New Norm: It’s incredibly important to understand employees’ needs and hopes for this new world. This can be achieved through active listening, via focus groups, ongoing employee pulse surveys, employee advisory groups, and honest discussions between managers and direct reports. Maintain the non-negotiables of culture that must be preserved and let go of any leave-behind elements of culture that can disappear. Once employee insight is gathered, leaders can co-create an envisioned future—one wherein the employee is involved in the development, understanding and communication of that future so they can adopt, advocate for, and believe in it.
- Hold Tight to Core Values: Regardless of work location, a company’s core values must hold steadfast. From hiring employees to making important business decisions, leaders should remain true to their core values and use them as guideposts.
- Focus on the Mission: Mission-driven organizations are more important than ever – to keep people connected and engaged when not seeing each other every day. It’s important to instill companywide messages that employees are more than a “workforce.” And rather a community of like-minded individuals who equally share in the company’s mission.
- Operate from a Place of Compassion: Empathy is key for this. Work is not only asking employees to show up every day from their home, but also them to be okay with managers and colleagues being in their homes virtually, which works well for some employees and not so well for others. It’s important to take employees’ physical and mental wellness into consideration, as many have become more vulnerable, whether they’ve wanted to or not—and not just because of COVID, but because they’re operating from their “safe place”.
- Create Ways to Communicate and Connect: To combat employees experiencing office FOMO (fear of missing out), position the office as a social gathering place for collaboration, mentoring, development, community-building and other activities outside project-based work. In lieu of the historical face-to-face time, design other ways for employees to communicate and connect to the organization and each other. Some examples of this could weekly social meetings, all hands-on-deck brainstorms, fitness and cooking challenges, and virtual meditation breaks.
The work world will never be the same, but with high levels of trust, communication, and vulnerability – companies can find and cultivate their own style that could be highly valuable for their customer experience, while also honoring the employee as their number one asset. After all, in this new world, there’s room for more than one captain—steering the ship will be the responsibility of many.
As published in Talent Culture.