As we start emerging from lockdown and navigating the reality of what work will look like after Covid-19, it’s essential that we don’t try and “get back to normal”. We can’t underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on us, both in relation to the way we work and also how we feel about our work. Life, and work, will never be the same again.
As managers and leaders, we must be conscious of the fact that the experience of the pandemic and lockdown has been different for everyone. For some, it has been a positive experience full of opportunities and for others it has been a constant struggle, laden with stress and anxiety.
As we return to the workplace, we have a responsibility to create a working environment where our team can feel supported and motivated to do their best work. So here are 10 things leaders need to do to create and build a positive culture and working environment where individuals feel motivated to do their best work following the return to work after lockdown.
1. Don’t Take Autonomy away
If you have had people working from home, you need to take into account that they have probably had more autonomy during this time. Returning to the office environment after 3 months or more of working from home is likely to make many people feel that they are losing a certain amount of autonomy, so this needs to be handled sensitively. Being flexible with regards to when people return to the office and on what basis (e.g., 3 days a week to start, or allowing them flexibility on working hours so they can travel when public transport is less busy if they wish) will be helpful. Talk to your team about how they have found working from home and what impact it has had on their productivity and ability to do their best work. Ask them what you can do to support them in their transition back into the workplace. What have they learnt from working more autonomously that they can put into practice going forward to work more effectively in the future?
2. Recognise the huge effort people have made and tell them how much you appreciate it
It is easy to feel isolated and unappreciated when working remotely, but simply having the team back together in a physical location will not be enough. It is essential that people feel that they are valued and are an important part of the team and organisation. This situation has been challenging. We have all had to put in a tremendous effort every day working in difficult situations – having to work under more pressure, working at home, having kids at home, caring for or worrying about sick relatives, or simply having to cope with the mental challenges of being in a lockdown situation. It is essential that, as a leader, you recognise the essential role every person has played in helping the team, the organisation and its customers get through this difficult time. Demonstrate to your team that you recognise their efforts and tell them how much it is appreciated.
3. Value creativity, innovation and change
Many teams and organisations have had to change working practices and become more creative and innovative about the way they do their work or provide services to their clients. As we go into this new phase it is essential that leaders ensure that they continue to harness the creativity of all of their people. Don’t fall into the trap of only innovating when external events force it – this is a great opportunity to weave more creativity and innovation into the day-to-day work of the team. Get into the habit of asking every single person what their ideas are for what the team/organisation could do differently. Often it is those on the front line who can have ideas that can have a huge impact.
4. Be transparent about the impact of the situation on career development
Going into this next phase, many of your team may be wondering what impact the pandemic will have on their career development and professional growth. The likelihood is for many organisations there will be some negative consequences. It is essential that leaders are transparent about the impact of the current situation on any career development opportunities from the outset. Encourage your team to think holistically about their career development and professional growth. Ask them to reflect on what they have learnt from the situation, what additional skills and abilities they have developed and how this can support their career development going forward. Encourage them to share what has been learned within the team and organisation. You also need to accept that you may lose team members if you cannot support their career development goals, and that is fine. Part of being an effective leader is knowing when to let your team members go and continuing to develop others.
5. Inspire with values and stories
People will need to be inspired now more than ever. We can’t underestimate the continuing impact the pandemic will have – we’re likely to be in for a tough ride over the coming months and even years. Leaders can inspire their teams by sharing stories of how the team and organisation has supported its community, clients and its people. Ask your team members to share what has inspired them. Individual and organisational values can also be a huge source of inspiration, particularly where these can be connected to the work the team does. Can you identify what values are important for your team?
6. Encourage time out to have fun
Even though your instinct may be to try and make up for lost time or lost revenue by working harder, don’t push the team too hard. Acknowledge that people have been working under difficult circumstances and may well be very scared about the uncertainty of the future. Encourage and support people to take time out for fun and to reconnect with their colleagues and reestablish relationships on a face-to-face basis. People will need to destress and let off steam and this will be an important part of returning to work.
7. Don’t prioritise quantity over quality
Would you rather have your team produce more work or produce their best work? Accept that team members will need time to readjust to the new working environment in the same way that they did at the outset. Remember that people need time to deliver excellence – ask your team members what they need to do their best work and encourage them to take the time they need. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make up for lost time or revenue mentioned above.
8. Lead with compassion and kindness
Personal growth is an essential element of leadership. Demonstrate your leadership skills by leading with compassion and kindness. This has been a time when many people may have grown personally as they have coped with multiple challenges. This growth is beneficial for the team and for the organisation. If you lead by example and highlight the importance of personal growth in the team, you will be able to build a positive culture where every team member can thrive.
9. Re-evaluate your team’s purpose
Does your team have a clear idea of its purpose? If you want the team pulling together in the right direction, you need to be clear about your purpose. It is essential that all team members are crystal clear about what their purpose is in the team and what impact their role has on the organisation’s clients. This is a great time to revisit and even revise your purpose to take into account how you plan on recovering from the pandemic and coping with future challenges.
10. Communicate, even when you have nothing to say
A lack of communication breeds uncertainty. Where there is uncertainty, it is really easy for distrust to thrive. You must ensure that there is regular, open, communication about the future to build a culture of trust, even when you have little or no information to give. If you don’t know what the future might look like, be honest – there should be no room for surprises.
We’ve shared 10 ideas of how you can ensure that your team feel supported in their return to the workplace. However, these 10 ideas are all underpinned by one fundamental skill – active listening – which, if it is missing or not properly executed, will hugely decrease your impact and effectiveness as a leader. When you put these ideas into practice, ensure that you do so with an intention to listen openly.
All of the areas we have mentioned above form part of Emotional Salary, the non-financial benefits we get from working. Emotional Salary is fundamental in creating a positive culture and working environment where individuals feel motivated to do their best work. Following extensive research into Emotional Salary we identified 10 factors which constitute Emotional Salary. Based on this research, we developed a unique online tool, the Emotional Salary Barometer, which measures Emotional Salary.
Our tool can help individuals take responsibility for their career, see future opportunities to transform their work and create a pathway for direction and success. It can help leaders put people at the centre of their strategy by listening to and understanding what their employees value most and build a culture of mutual trust, respect and responsibility.
You can find out more about the Emotional Salary Barometer here.