It’s been over eighteen months since our work lives significantly shifted all over the world. For most of us, this shift was immediate, and to a remote, virtual working pattern, which was a big adjustment both culturally and physically. Our reliance on office presence, business travel, client and team meetings, conferences, events, coffee breaks with colleagues, and building connections naturally through in-person interactions, disappeared.
The way we work has changed forever. We may go back to some forms of personal interaction and office-based working, but we know that will look and feel different in the future. We also know that some people will feel more comfortable returning to a ‘new normal’ than others, and we should respect that.
The pandemic has had multiple impacts on families, friends, businesses, livelihoods, and we can’t expect this to be totally forgotten, or time to rewind. We will remember and we will move on, but we also now need to look at the way we work differently in the future.
Leaders need to lead differently
From managing workload and output through visible actions, leaders should be thinking about how they measure and assess impact, rather than hours or tasks. Flexibility is key. It should no longer be an expectation for the entire team to be present in the office every day, and team meetings should offer the flexibility of in-person or virtual attendance. Empowering the team to feel comfortable setting their own agenda, being clear on deliverables and expectations, and respecting the boundaries that help employees balance their workload, their personal life, and their own health and well-being is critical to performance and success.
Be conscious of who is not in the room
Out of sight out of mind. We are easily biased towards the people directly around us. In-person interactions are often easier, more attainable and it’s often our first instinct is to think first of the person nearest to you. Now the question is how does this play out when nominating someone for that new project, or the promotion or development opportunity?
As we move forward into Hybrid working, our meetings will feel different with some of the team in the room and others connecting virtually. We must find ways to be more intentional in our efforts to include everyone and an equal and fairway. We must make extra effort to ensure clear communication and includes everyone’s voice and ideas. As a leader, taking the time to build relationships in different ways will be critical to help strengthen belonging and support ways of working that brings out the best in your teams.
Respecting boundaries and balance
There is more control over hours spent ‘working’ within the traditional office environment. This is simply because the hours worked are defined by a commute to and from the office, and simple actions like shutting down the laptop at the end of each day. And whilst additional hours for some would impose on these controls, catching up on emails or out-of-hours calls, there always remained a clearer distinction between work and home.
With the shift to remote working, our workday has become blurrier. Our home is our office, and it’s become too easy to start earlier, finish later, and make assumptions that team members can be more available outside of core hours, especially when working across multiple time zones.
Now is the time to set tighter boundaries around working hours, role model balanced working patterns including regular breaks for lunch, exercise, or other hobbies. We need to demonstrate a flexible approach to colleagues and teams, allowing them to decide how to structure their workday and to support focus, wellbeing, and engagement.
Find different ways to communicate
Zoom fatigue is now a common term. Sitting in front of the computer screen all day has become tiresome and it is important to find different ways to communicate and engage teams than purely back-to-back video calls.
This is our opportunity to be creative in how we collaborate. We know virtual meetings are a necessity, but there are also opportunities to consider how we connect virtually. Ideas such as team WhatsApp groups, outdoor walk and talk meetings for some fresh air, a coffee and zoom chat, or even taking the zoom meeting outside or to the local café, will engage and ideally, remove distractions or temptation to multi-task.
We will continue to learn and adapt as technology advances, and as we continue to navigate this new way of working. Thinking people first is critical to helping our colleagues feel included and engaged in how we work together.
It is the small actions that help our teams and colleagues feel that their role, their place in the company matters, and that they are empowered to make choices about how they work to be the best they can be for themselves, their colleagues, and their families.