A return to the office and the more traditional way of working is starting to happen. Of course there are risks and rewards of doing this. And from several conversations I’ve had with clients I know there are many preferences for the future. I also understand that remote working has challenged our ability to stay connected in a meaningful way.
A Gartner CFO Survey showed that 74% of companies intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently. Whilst some companies have pushed their return to office date to early 2022 we’re likely to see a hybrid working model become the norm.
And what impact does this have for our leadership?
Command and Control
Whilst leadership wasn’t all about command and control. There was an aspect of more immediate feedback when we were in the office and so we could respond accordingly.
Now we can’t physically sense and see one another, any kinks in the relationship and there is a tendency to overcome these by managing things, and with that people, more tightly. Micromanagement is on the rise. Issues of trust are on the increase. And when you factor in the swift ways things have been changing our thinking has become more tactical than strategic.
All in all a potent recipe for demotivation.
What’s been asked of us as leaders is our ability to stay open minded, present and alert to the context we’re managing and leading at the moment. What’s required today, this week, could very well and probably will be different the next week. What one person needs right now could shift in 24 hours, depending on what’s happening.
We long for certainty, stability, predictability. What we find comfortable is because it’s known. Even if something is better for us, the team, the business, if it makes us feel uncomfortable, we look to reduce it to lessen the anxiety.
Autonomy and responsibility are something our employees have been seeking, and the last 18 months have given us a huge window to allow them to take this.
What it’s shown us is how much we perhaps spoon fed or picked up the pieces. Or how much we smothered and never realised.
Now we really can empower our staff to make decisions.
And in the transition, we need to watch that they don’t feel abandoned.
If there is a lack of clarity, feedback and communication of expectations, then once again we’ll see motivation drop.
Outcomes v Activities
An opportunity in this shift in how we work is that our focus should be on agreeing outcomes, i.e results, rather than a list of activities and things to do. Once we both know the desired result, then how we get there, the things we do and how long it takes are where our autonomy kicks in. And by how long it takes I’m taking about a shift in mindset from 9-5, or working super long hours. Agree a deliverable date for the result, not the number of hours you think it should take to get the result.
Isolation and Fatigue
Of course in remote working we’re seeing a rise in isolation and fatigue. In the office, even if you were only there 2 days a week you could notice if some one was isolating themselves or being isolated. You could spot signs of fatigue before it became burnout.
Remote working and one that’s happened through crisis, fear and loss, means it’s far harder to spot these things early on.
Our challenge is to help people cope with the blurring of personal and work life. What’s absolutely fine, what’s OK, what’s desirable, what’s not acceptable.
Share, humanise, give clarity.
There are some zoomies… and if you don’t have your video on, or you do and your other half walks into the room singing their head off, it really doesn’t matter. There are other zoomies and I want to see you, bad hair day, bags under your eyes, cat walking across the desk, the lot.
Again it’s about the context rather than a set of absolutes.
It’s also about creating that relationship that allows for vulnerability. It’s easy and tempting to always be positive when you connect. And if in the conversations you or the other person are always positive, it’s a sign. We open up and share how we really feel with those we trust.
This is an opportunity for you to enhance your coaching skills, your emotional intelligence, your communication flexibility to build a relationship with your team that means they’ll volunteer or share earlier how they’re really coping and handling work and life at the moment.
Then the next challenge is helping them increase their resilience.
Some people are chomping at the bit to get back into the office. Others are dreading the day. Some businesses will return to 100% office, others have already sold the premises. The rest will be a blend.
Manging the mix will pose further challenges. Vital here are honest conversations and transparency. Be mindful here of the stories that you tell yourself. The stories that take hold within the team.
I’ve said several times that a key component of being a great leader is your ability to be of service to those you lead. These are extraordinary times demanding much from leadership.
Look at what your people need most from you over the coming months. Where have you got it sorted and where are their needs asking you to grow?
And if you’d like help with developing your remote leadership skills get in touch.