The end of the pandemic appears to be in sight, and many companies are preparing employees for an eventual return to the workplace. If you’re a leader, you might be wondering what new challenges are in store because, if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the future can be unpredictable! Last year, Thrive People Strategies sponsored a survey about what makes leadership effective in a remote work setting. We decided to revisit those results to see how they might apply to in-person leadership. While it’s not surprising that much of what worked in a remote setting also applies back at the office, here are four leadership actions that stood out.
1. Remember that “everything is personal”
The survey results confirmed something we already knew intuitively but didn’t think about explicitly -- our perceptions of any situation depend in large part on our experiences. How survey participants felt about remote work depended on their personal circumstances. Not surprisingly, having young children at home or being an introvert impacted how positively someone felt about working remotely. Online meetings gave leaders a window into employees’ lives outside of work, as they watched team members juggling hungry preschoolers during team meeting agendas. With a return to in-person leadership, remembering that employees lead complicated lives outside of work sends a message of empathy and understanding from you, their leader. The pandemic redefined our ideas about work-life balance and finding ways to show support can influence how employees feel and perform at work. Which brings us to the second action.
2. Whenever possible, provide opportunities for flexibility.
The highest rated positive on the survey was having more flexibility. Participants appreciated having more time for personal activities like working out and running errands since work duties could be accomplished outside the normal workday. If, as leaders, you have the ability to help create work environments that support a more balanced life, it is your job to do so. If you cannot make the change on your own, work to influence those who can. The pandemic showed that employees can be productive and ultimately more satisfied when allowed to be self-directed and not over-managed.
3. Don’t underestimate the importance of connection
One-on-one connection between leaders and employees was critical to those working at home. But being remote meant leaders had to work harder than usual to keep that connection established and employees responded positively. Our survey participants reported appreciating knowing that their leader was thinking about them, valuing what they were doing, and caring about how they were faring in general. This took effort on the part of the leader and included actions like paying attention to what employees were saying or not saying in meetings, commenting publicly on their contributions and being attentive listeners -- not easy tasks on Zoom! It also meant following up offline with each employee. Don’t stop these efforts when you get face-to-face again with your team.
4. Be intentional about creating effective workplace practices
Finally, during the past year, leaders made extra efforts to create process and structure that encouraged communication and collaboration in their remote environments. Running meetings, whether online or in person, so that people feel included and heard, and looking for other ways to communicate and build a sense of team, such as walk and talk meetings or coffee dates, help to solidify this intention. Establishing policies about what is expected when employees return to the workplace will help avoid confusion and frustration. Be curious in conversations with your employees and look for ways to get to know them better; don’t forget to share about yourself as well. Never take for granted how much you matter to the success of your team.