Fast Forward to the Future of Work: Leadership in the New Normal - Part 1 of 2
The way we work has changed drastically in the past four months. Remote working has now become the norm and is set to stay that way for much longer, if not for good. There are companies that have already decided that home-working is the way to go and are closing down offices. Meanwhile, flexible meeting spaces and hubs are on the rise, enabling workers to choose a place to meet that is nearby and fit for purpose when needed.
However, most organizations will opt for a hybrid approach whereby the office will become a place to meet, brainstorm and network; and home-working will be recommended for conference calls and getting stuff done. Repurposing the office to accommodate this new way of working at the office also requires a new leadership style. After all, how can you ensure a productive and engaged workforce when not everyone is sitting at a desk nearby and productivity cannot be measured by the number of cars still in the parking lot late at night?
When working remotely and using online tools, collaboration can be more efficient and structured. Yet according to The Work Trend Index issued by Microsoft recently, it can also be more tiring than in-person collaboration. Their research team measured brainwave patterns and noticed that brainwaves associated with stress and overwork were much higher when collaborating remotely than in person. In particular, when attending video meetings which require high levels of sustained concentration, fatigue begins to set in 30 minutes into a meeting. It’s tiring to have to focus continuously on the screen and stay engaged. Online, there are fewer non-verbal clues that would normally help you to read your colleagues or know whose turn it is to talk.
The research also showed that nearly 60% of people surveyed feel less connected to their colleagues since working remotely more often. However, there is also an upside as the majority of people felt more empathetic toward their colleagues now that they have – literally – a better view of life at home.
Management by wandering around
For decades, many leaders walked through their workplaces or factories to chat with employees informally and to get a good understanding of what was going on. It was a successful approach, as management by wandering around enabled a good leader to explain the link between a specific task or job and the company’s overarching purpose. The best example is the story of the NASA employee who learned how his cleaning the floor helped to get a man on the moon.
Being in the office led to a sense of belonging and identity. It helped create a common culture, social cohesion and, perhaps most importantly, shared trust. This cohesion and trust helped to shift toward remote working fast and successfully in crisis times. But there is a risk that cohesion could erode if leaders take it for granted when managing a hybrid work environment for the foreseeable future. There is also a risk that two cultures emerge:
1. An in-person (working in the office) workforce who continue to benefit from collaborating onsite
2. A virtual workforce who can feel isolated as they miss out on strengthening their social ties through team meals, coffee corner chats and discussions around company events and politics.
Focus on the ties that bind
A sense of belonging and common purpose is key to creating a shared culture that inspires everyone to deliver their best work, and ultimately contributes to the company’s success. For leaders in the new normal, it is important to focus on the ties that bind people together to provide stability and a sense of belonging for all employees, whether working in the office, onsite or both.
A sense of belonging and common purpose is key to creating a shared culture that inspires everyone to deliver their best work, and ultimately contributes to the company’s success.