Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching
During a recent webinar for PRSA’s National Capital Chapter, I was asked “What are the best ways to mange the return to work?”
Due to time constraints, I gave a brief response. But it got me thinking about a few points that, in addition to basic safety protocols, leaders should think about as employees return to work. Click this link to watch a short video interview with CommunicationsMatch™'s Founder & CEO Simon Erskine Locke for additional context.
If we’ve learned anything from the last 14 months, it is that many people can do a tremendous amount of work independently from their homes. So encourage your teams to maximize in-office time for collaboration, creativity, and especially re-connection. Let people continue to do independent work virtually, and encourage them to bring back the coffee machine conversations and the “fly by” five-minute chats when they’re back. Encourage your teams to take this into account when they plan on working in person from the office.
While it’s tempting to mandate a return, especially because in group Zoom or Microsoft Office chats “everyone” says they want to return to the office, I encourage you to hold one-on-ones about this, and have your energy antenna on high: Some that aren’t ready to return may not say so in a group setting where they perceive everyone else to be raising their hands, but might tell you in a one-on-one. When you have them, don’t just focus on their words, but look at their body language, tone, eyes, etc. That will tell you if they’re really ready. And if they’re not, there’s no point in requiring them to do so. They may be there in person, but if they’re concerned about their health in an office setting, trust me, they’re not present, thinking about communications, the media, your internal or external clients, and those clients’ customers.
Many employees have gotten used to the time they’ve won back by not commuting. Be open to a hybrid approach even after it’s safe to return to full-time in-office working. By eliminating the stress and the time involved in a commute, even a few days a week, you’re giving your team members more time to spend on organizational or client deliverables, professional development, and/or self-care. Their doing so benefits them, your clients, your organization, and you.
Many micro-managing leaders were forced to “let go,” because of the virtual workspace. Many of them reported to me their surprise that a number of their employees worked more effectively, more independently, and with less guidance than before. (I fought the urge to tell them that this is how they should have been leading their team members back when they were in the office!) Now that a number of your team members have enjoyed acting like the mature, professional, self-guided employees that they are, don’t backtrack by micro-managing simply because you’re physically together. And those employees that you couldn’t count on when you were virtual? You probably couldn’t really count on them when you were together in the office before March, 2020. And that’s another discussion.
Many leaders are afraid to share the state of the business with full candor because they’re afraid that it will scare their team members. (See all the fear in that sentence? Fear is never a sound business or leadership strategy.) The reality is that when leaders are transparent, share the good, the bad, and the ugly, it actually creates a sense of psychological safety. In addition, organizations that focus on transparency are proven to have more engaged employees, and deliver better customer service. Need more convincing? They have better bottom lines. If being transparent has been a key part of your leadership strategy keep at it, now more than ever. If you’ve been reluctant to be transparent, I hope these facts encourage you to do so.
There’s a reason we’re told to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before our traveling companions. The same is true for self-care. And leaders must exercise it, because we can’t fill others’ cups until ours are full. In the past year, many of us learned the importance of self-care and its role in making us more effective leaders. Now that we’ll be gathering at the office, let’s remember that important lesson. Also, remember that as a leader you’re a role model. When you participate in self-care, and talk about its benefits, you’re encouraging your teams to do so as well. That too, is good for them, your clients, and your organization.
While the world has changed enormously and will not be the same (and the optimist in me believes the “new” normal will be better, because the “old” normal wasn’t always so great!), the key tenets of leadership remain the same: Sharing a vision, communicating the organization’s values, trust, consistently communicating respect, bringing empathy, asking more than telling…Now may be a good time to review your leadership tenets, and double down on the ones that will be most effective.
So whether you’re going back in person, trying a hybrid version, or continuing Work At Home, remember to always lead first and manage second. Know that how you lead has an enormous impact on your team members’ desire to follow you, and that in turn has the potential to have an enormous positive impact on your organization’s success.
Watch this video interview with Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatch, for further context: