In pre-Covid times, a “workplace” meant, to many, a brick-and-mortar site — and “going to work” meant stepping away from one’s personal life for the day and commuting to and from a physical “work” location. But last year turned this paradigm on its head, and non-essential workers got work done in kitchens, dining rooms, and even laundry rooms — if that was the only way to keep loved ones, two-legged and four-legged, from making cameo appearances on Zoom.
While most executives are hiring big consulting firms to help them reimagine the workplace, I believe this process has already happened organically and what we need to do now is acknowledge it and teach leaders and employees how to thrive within it.
As the pioneer of a “work from anywhere, whole-person” firm, I have been thrilled to witness the type of workplace changes that have been driven from within the ranks of most companies. It began as teams strategized a product launch after making their kids PBJ sandwiches. It began as they reviewed monthly receivables before teaching Grandma how to FaceTime. And it began as they sat beside a spouse filing for unemployment benefits, while listening to an earnings report. Professionals everywhere made “work from anywhere” a success almost overnight. And they did it while opening a window into their whole lives, and welcoming colleagues to peer inside with more vulnerability and visibility than ever before. We have all had greater transparency into each other’s lives, and we’ve observed the many roles we all must play, of which the role of employee is but one.
So, as we continue to strategize about what comes next, let’s not forget what our teams have already achieved. Let’s use our vision, ingenuity and compassion to acknowledge what has been created. Let’s meet people where they are and learn together how to thrive within that.
Let’s keep these five things in mind.
- One-size-doesn’t-fit-all – and that’s OK: While we’d all love to have a template for what happens next, it’s neither practical, nor advisable, to do so. Tailor your approach to your business, your people, your culture. Some organizations welcome radical transformation, while others struggle with incremental change. There are no wrong answers here.
- Lead with trust and compassion: The past year-and-a-half has drained us physically, mentally and emotionally. Companies that deploy an all-stick-no-carrot strategy may find their top talent fleeing to competitors who are more flexible and accommodating. Offering each other a little grace at this time, given what we’ve experienced — and continue to experience — will help bolster your retention efforts.
- Co-create, rather than dictate: Employee input and engagement is vital to any change initiative, however large or small. Invite employee to share their thoughts on what an ideal work experience looks like and feels like. Then take that vision, and your own strategic objectives, to breath life into that experience.
- Anxiety will be a given: No matter how carefully planned your “next phase” is, don’t be surprised if people struggle with the transition. After being in lockdown for more than a year, the prospect of being in the office, even for 1 or 2 days a week, will be daunting to many. Everyday activities, such as gathering in a conference room, sitting in a row of cubicles, or dining in the lunchroom with others present may be stress-inducing.
- Invest heavily in support and resources: Make sure your HR team, managers and supervisors have the training needed to identify, and help, employees who are struggling. Provide confidential, easily accessible, two-way communication channels that people can use when needed.
As our plans take shape, let’s tap into the same creativity, resourcefulness and grit that got us through 2020. After all, the work experience, regardless of what form or shape it takes for your business, is above all a human experience, so let’s treat it that way. That will be the best, and most meaningful, “welcome back” we can give employees, who so deserve our gratitude and appreciation.