It is often said that the only constant in life is change. We certainly have had a massive dose of change over the last 18 months. Along with a contentious presidential election, throw in a global pandemic and you have the makings of a seismic shift in markets, consumers, and business in general.
Today’s workforce has certainly experienced incredible change. How it is structured, where the actual work is done, and who is responsible for various outcomes have all taken a dramatic turn. One of the most striking changes emerging from the pandemic is the impact of the remote workforce. Even though we are seeing our way past the worst of Covid, many of the roles that went virtual early on have not returned to the office — and some may never return. How do we maintain the culture of the organization when many of its members are no longer physically present? What is the best way to lead and manage teams who are spread out over different parts of the country?
The Way Forward
There are answers to these questions as many companies are learning how to keep their teams connected and focused on getting the important work done. Many organizations are finding out that, with a fresh approach, the workforce is becoming stronger and even more productive than ever before. But this calls for a strategic approach and a willingness to conform to the changes taking place all around. Let’s look at some of the key elements that need to be considered.
Reassess your current leadership and management systems. The workplace has been evolving over the last 10 to 15 years to a more fluid and much “flatter” management structure than in the past. As a result, the management team will find it much harder to be intimately involved and aware of what each team member is doing. That will require leadership to empower everyone to assume more responsibility for not just the outcomes but the way that the work is done. It will be management’s role to clearly define the expectations and allow the workforce to determine how best to meet those expectations.
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Communicate, communicate, communicate. Given that teams scattered, communication becomes a key factor in protecting a sense of belonging. This new level of communication is not just about the quantity, but equally must include the quality and the means of communication. Much of the interaction taking place in the new world of work is happening digitally. Chat, text, email and other forms of electronic communication have replaced face-to-face dialogue. A large part of effective interaction relies on both the words being spoken along with the delivery, which includes expressions and body language. Take two of those three away and it becomes important to be very deliberate on the message and the “tone” of that message.
Deeper connections with each team member. This new economy that is unfolding is causing a great deal of anxiety and stress on the entire workforce. A quick look at the recent statistics surrounding mental health crises and the large number of people who have refused to reenter the workforce bears this reality out. Working through this requires a great deal of patience and compassion — two words that are not often found in today’s business vocabulary. These two attributes require a desire to know and understand the uniqueness of each individual on the team and in the organization. The best way to walk into the unknown is to do it together, and that requires a strong bond.
Navigating the Turbulence
We’re right back where we started. The only constant in life (and in business) is change. The fact is, given how rapidly change has occurred since March 2020, we can say with certainty that the pace and size of change will continue to impact organizations and how they must quickly adapt and innovate. This will require leaders to become good at following and followers to become good at leading. The real key to this will be for everyone to understand and accept the fact that their roles and expectations will be much more open to change, right along with the changing economic winds. As Ben Franklin reportedly said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”