Leaders need to ask the question: “What do I need to unlearn as their leader to build and contribute to the new world of work and lead the conversation in defining what will work for your team in this reality of having blended workspace?", says Anja van Beek, a talent strategist, leadership and executive coach.
Leaders need to ask the question: “What do I need to unlearn as their leader to build and contribute to the new world of work and lead the conversation in defining what will work for your team in this reality of having blended workspace?", says Anja van Beek, a talent strategist, leadership and executive coach.

Beyond the lockdown: What does the big reset look like for future-fit employers?

By Anja van Beek Time of article published May 8, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Now that more of the workforce has gone back to work in level 4, what does it mean for employers? Are they thinking longer-term vs just the now? 

We need to continue to be adaptive as change will not go away. It will get faster and faster. Learning organisations are the ones that will thrive in the future of work. Business, teams, and individuals must focus on learning and unlearning. 

This means we must be courageous thus continue being brave and afraid at the same time. We should experiment - see what is working and what is not, then adjust and repeat, start again, experiment.

The blended workspace

With the staggered approach to end the lockdown, workplaces will become a blend of the physical and virtual environments. Managers need to be mindful that the change back to the office environment may be as a big of a change as it was to work remotely… for some, it was a traumatic experience. Some need to be eased in. And some will be happy to be back at the office. In the post lockdown period, it is not only about what leaders do but equally how they do it, that matters.

Consider what would you want your teams to remember on their first workday after the lockdown? These are the moments that matter, and how you rally your team will be key.

1.  As showcased during the lockdown period, collaboration tools and platforms will support dynamic work locations and how your team collaborate. An agile mindset will be the norm, and organisations will value adaptability over following a process. This is an opportunity to be brave and evaluate efficiencies that were not effectively done before the lockdown.

2. Ensure that the safety of your employees (physical and psychological) is prioritised. This means change the office setting to accommodate the 2 metre physical distance even during face to face meetings. Ensure that your teams feel safe to speak up when they face problems – employers need to prioritise an environment where teams can share feedback without fear of being mistreated or that their opinion doesn’t count. Mental wellbeing will be more important than ever – employees need to be taught how to manage stressful scenarios (financial and personal), which will have a direct impact on the business and their productivity.

3. Distribute decision making power throughout the business. Remove bottlenecks in processes to ensure flow of value to clients. Evaluate the actual work of your company. Think about what your clients’ needs are, their profile and how their needs might have changed during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how your business needs to adjust. Always have your customer cap on.

4. Remember to include your employees – consider asking what they want. Ask them to complete a short survey to get their voice heard and make them part of the solution vs being told what to do “be back at work….”. A bold, but suggested move for some chief executives or HR Directors will be to set up a video meeting call where you allow your team members to share their concerns and ideas in an open platform – which will be an opportunity for the leader to think and answer it in that setting. Perhaps not all suggestions or questions will have answers, but it will be a powerful move to showcase and acknowledge to employees what they are saying. Remember to give employees a heads-up so that they can think about it ahead of the call.

Jump-start the culture

One of the trends for 2020 is to lead in a Human Centricity way. If there was one thing that was clear from a remote workforce during this time, was that “to be allowed to be human” was a big eye-opener for some. Humans are wired for social interactions. What cues are you giving teams to emphasise: “We are in this together; we have a future together”.

Future-fit employers build on the principle of the ‘invisible leader’ and leverage the power of purpose. Are your employees connected to the organisation’s purpose and does it excite them? Would they choose to use their talents and creativity to work towards the organisation’s purpose?

Leaders should consider what areas of the culture do they intentionally want to adjust. Someone said, “never waste a good crisis”, use this reset to start new rituals, possibly introduce new values, agree on new behaviours that will lead to the future-fit culture. Bring some fun into behaviour change and new rituals at work. Think of the Volkswagen experiment many years ago to get people to use the stairs and not the escalator.

Now, is the time to innovate and experiment. Leaders should encourage individuals to focus on innovation, creativity and problem-solving. This links back to the psychological safety point mentioned earlier and leaders creating an environment in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.

Opportunity mindset

Leaders need to model the behaviour they want to see. They should portray calmness, clarity and hope and highlight opportunities that can be identified from the change we face during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Post-traumatic stress will be real for some employees. The encouraging news is that over half of people report a different response to trauma, which, once they have made sense of this feeling, could be seen as post-traumatic growth. This could translate in, ‘I wish this didn't happen but, given that it happened, I feel like I am better in some way’. It could be a heightened sense of personal strength, or a deeper sense of gratitude. Perhaps finding new meaning in how they work or investing more in their relationships.

Learning from an experience like this comes from reflection. During the lockdown period, we have all experimented and learned something new. 

Things that come to mind:

  • new working routines,
  • when is their most critical time to be productive,
  • a new way of servicing customers vs an older way,
  • prioritising team check-ins and asking “how are you doing today” in a more sincere way.

Some of those experiments were by force, others were by choice, but we have all had tested different routines and ways to blend our work and life spaces. Some employees probably thought they will always need to be office-bound, and following this remote working prioritisation, it became clear that he/she could actually also work from their own home.

Post the lockdown, how can employers help their team members to identify the areas where employees can adjust their ways of working, to increase their own productivity? For the parents – how can leaders assist those working parents to reiterate that your work is measured on output and not based on the number of hours worked?  And once the kids are back at school, how can these working parents have more control over their schedules to find a healthy balance? This will be a mindshift change for some leaders, but a necessary one.

Consider using Obejectives and Key Results (OKRs) as a way to track progress in these uncertain times.

• The Objectives are the inspirational qualitative description of what you want to achieve.

•  Key Results are outcomes you want to achieve; the qualitative measure of results that will measure the value and impact to your clients or employees.

OKRs is based on tracking data, instead of just a data point. OKR’s increase alignment with the overall organisation objective.

Leaders need to ask the question: “What do I need to unlearn as their leader to build and contribute to the new world of work and lead the conversation in defining what will work for your team in this reality of having blended workspace?”.

This pandemic definitely won’t kill the concept of working in standard office buildings. A lot of collaboration happens in an office environment. However, the big reset will have businesses come back with an open mind of alternative spaces for working and how to make those setting matter. Work is a thing we do, not a place we go to, and office buildings need to amplify this opportunity for working differently.

It sure is a bumpy start to the new decade, but challenging times always include many opportunities.

Focus on the purpose of your business and build products and workspaces which will be loved and needed. Be persistent to add value to your customers and leaders should have an open mind. Most importantly, act with empathy and compassion towards employees, customers, and communities alike.

Future-fit organisations are learning organisations which invest in building resilience amongst employees. Who knows what the future will really look like, but your people will remain the most important success factor.

Anja van Beek is a talent strategist, leadership and executive coach.

BUSINESS REPORT 

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