Information & Tips to Lead Your Team in “The New Normal”
It may sound like a recent cliche, but in fact people have used the phrase ‘the new normal’ after almost every significant change in modern history. From the end of World War I to the dot-com bubble to the changes brought about by the 2008 financial crisis, we’ve used the phrase when faced with the realities of a changing world. And now we face another ‘new normal’ in the wake of COVID-19. With such broad changes coming about as a result of the pandemic it would be hard to argue the use of the term is unwarranted. As Marianne Flores, Director of Real Estate Strategy and Operations for IBM said, “We’re not going back to the old normal, that’s gone.”
And it isn’t just IBM; the past year and a half has brought a host of challenges to businesses around the world. One of the most important things to come to terms with is the fact that, as we come out of lockdowns and restrictions brought about by the pandemic, its influence doesn’t simply go away. The ways that companies have operated during this time have brought about permanent changes and it is up to the leadership of these companies to manage that change. Employees have new needs and new expectations in the post-COVID workplace and we will need to adapt as quickly and effectively as possible to this ‘new normal’ or risk the loss of talent.
After a prolonged period of telecommuting and/or altered working conditions, flexibility has become a key expectation for most employees. While some workers have struggled with remote work during the pandemic, the majority seem to have thrived, with 77% of telecommuters reporting that they are actually more productive working from home. Employers seem to agree: a two-year study by Great Place to Work® at Fortune 500 companies showed that 50% felt that productivity had not been impacted and 30% believed their teams were more productive.
One Harris poll found that 83% of respondents agreed that, if work is able to be done remotely, employers should not require employees to return to the office until COVID-19 is no longer a threat. It seems that we’re in no rush to return to full-time office hours. Obviously, full telecommuting / work-from-home models are not going to work for every business, but more and more companies are adopting a hybrid model where employees spend two or three days a week in the office and the other days telecommuting.
With this in mind, employee expectations for the office are also changing. Safety has become a serious concern, with more employees expecting their workplace to facilitate social distancing, to have stringent cleaning regimes, and to provide necessary PPE. Open-plan office spaces have already been shown to be generally unpopular amongst workers and bad for productivity but, in the wake of the pandemic, they also pose health concerns. Employees are asking for enclosed, socially-distant workspaces.
On the other hand, one of the main benefits of coming into the office is the opportunity to socialise and collaborate with colleagues. The 2020 State of Remote Work report issued by Buffer showed that loneliness is the biggest struggle remote workers say they face. Therefore, completely closed-off office spaces may come with their own problems. Ideally, employees are looking for workplaces with a flexible approach to their design and organisation, incorporating different areas for collaboration, private work, relaxation and socialisation.
While the pandemic has obviously brought about a focus on physical health, employees are also increasingly conscious of their mental health requirements. In 2020, 81% of US workers reported having their mental health negatively impacted by the pandemic, with 65% reporting that mental health issues directly impacted their ability to work. Workers are increasingly expecting mental health considerations to be a part of their overall support, with 67% of professionals believing that their employer has a responsibility to support their mental health and wellbeing at work.
Communication, Clarity and Transparency
As it is with any change management, communication is the key to transitioning a post-pandemic team. Along with changing employee expectations, the business itself will be adapting in new ways to deal with the post-COVID reality. In the face of all these changes, the common challenge seems to be the careful management of communication between leaders and their teams.
One McKinsey study has shown that only 32% of employees feel that their company has clearly communicated its vision for post-pandemic work, and that 47% feel anxiety due to this lack of clarity. While in some cases this may be due to the leadership genuinely not having a clear vision, in many more cases this is simply due to poor communication. Hybrid working may actually be exacerbating these communication challenges, with split teams either getting information face-to-face during meetings, or remotely by email, or not at all.
Some key points to consider when communicating with your team are :
- ● Be realistic. Not all changes are going to be good for employees and not everything is going to be easy for them to hear. Honesty and transparency will soften any potentially bad news.
- ● Explain why. Good or bad, decisions made by the company are easier to understand when team members get a clear picture of the factors behind the decisions. Again, transparency is the key.
- ● Choose your channels. Be sure to catch everyone. Consider the benefits of written announcements (asynchronous, create a record) or face-to-face meetings (more personal, team is able to interact).
- ● Be consistent. Set up an ongoing system for communication. Use the same channels for regular announcements and updates or a schedule of check-ins and meetings.
- Acknowledgement. Your team has probably had to adapt in unprecedented ways during the pandemic. Show you understand and be sure to recognise both individual and group efforts and achievements.
- Ground your message. A general sense of direction is good, but concrete activities are better. Setting tasks, key activities, timelines etc. gives your team a clear sense of what you expect from them, what they can expect from you, and what’s happening next. Not everything should be broad or abstract; don’t lose sight of the small stuff.
- Feedback. Make sure you have clear, established lines of feedback and upwards communication. Be certain that all team members know who is responsible for what, and who they should contact with their questions or problems.
- Manage your culture. Your team will take many cues from management-level communications, so be sure to set the tone that you want them to continue. If you want a collaborative, open, inclusive and positive workplace then make sure that’s reflected in your communication style. We’re Not DoneWe really are in a ‘new normal’ and one of the key things to come to terms with is that this is a permanent change. Although we have all looked forward to the end of the pandemic, it doesn’t mark the end of our work in adapting to it. In many ways, the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t over, they’re just beginning. The key to helping our teams to conquer these challenges is to remain open to change. With clear and effective two-way communication we can both understand the evolving needs of our team and, at the same time, show how we’re responding to them.This article was created by Mediareach Advertising, a leading London-based integrated marketing agency.