Just when we were beginning to adapt to all the changes at work due to the pandemic, things are changing again as people head back into the office. You might be tempted to say that everyone is returning to business as usual, but in many ways, that term no longer applies.
As Scott Blanchard, president of The Ken Blanchard Companies, explains, “We’re not going home to whatever work was like before. We’re pivoting into the future and reorganizing ourselves in a way that takes advantage of new realities.”
How are you navigating this transition to the new world of work? If you are a leader, you’re probably feeling torn. On the one hand, you have concerns about people’s safety. On the other hand, you feel the pressure of financial commitments and marketplace demands. How do you resolve these seemingly opposing forces?
Communication Is Key
The first step is to communicate, communicate, communicate! It’s always important to keep information flowing, but it’s crucial to do so during times of transition.
People appreciate hearing from their leaders. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic back in March 2020, Scott began sending out a weekly email to everyone in the company. These weekly emails expressed everything that was on Scott’s mind—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Even when the news was dire—such as having to cut back on staff and services—Scott was candid and compassionate. He gave people information with as much advance notice as possible and explained the leadership team’s thinking behind every major decision. On Zoom calls with the company, people could see the pain and anguish on Scott’s face as he discussed some of these decisions.
The response from the company was an outpouring of support for Scott. People empathized with the difficult position of being a leader in such a tough time. When we had our People’s Choice Awards earlier this year, people chose Scott for the top award—the Most Values Led Player—even though his name wasn’t officially on the ballot.
Whatever decisions you and your leadership team make about the return to work, inform people about your decisions with candor and compassion.
Adapting to a Hybrid Environment
Leaders can smooth the way for a successful transition back to work in several ways.
First, recognize that the pandemic caused a major shift in the way people think about work. Today’s workers don’t think of work as a place they go; they think of work as something they do. According to a recent Gallup poll, 35 percent of full-time employees say that, given the choice, they would continue to work remotely as much as possible. This means that your workplace will probably be a hybrid space designed to accommodate people who come to the office as well as people working remotely.
Second, create conditions that make it easier for people to get work done. “People don’t want harsh lighting and cubicle farms with no places to rest and relax,” says Blanchard Senior VP Shirley Bullard. “Give people motivation to come to the office by creating areas that are comfortable and inviting.” For example, people coming back to Blanchard’s offices will find a new hobby room, massage room, meditation room, and lots of places to gather on comfortable sofas and chairs. While it may seem counter-intuitive, changes like these increase employee engagement and productivity.
“Coming to work is a way to beat the virtual fatigue,” continues Shirley. “Socializing with others at the office breaks up the monotony of back-to-back Zoom meetings.” People are more brilliant when they have a sense of autonomy and are not fatigued. Plus, bumping into people at the office leads to impromptu conversations that can spur innovation and motivation.
Third, meet with the people you lead. Get together in person at least once a month, if possible; more often is even better. Ask them how they’re doing in their new, hybrid work environment. Let them know that your organization’s policies might be changing as the situation evolves. Understand each person’s circumstances, listen to their concerns, and help them resolve any issues.
Learn More in Our Seminar Series Starting June 16
To explore more ways to create a successful return to work strategy, join us for a complimentary, five-part webinar series on Returning to the Workplace: Exploring a Hybrid Model. Register for any single event—or all five—using this link: https://www.kenblanchard.com/Events-Workshops/Returning-to-Workplace-Series.