The keyword for the pandemic has been “pivot.” For some, that word conjures up a scene in the TV Series “Friends” where Ross is directing Chandler and Rachel to pivot while moving a couch. He yells out, “pivot” so many times, Chandler can’t stand it and tells him, repeatedly, to “shut up.” If that’s how you’ve felt thanks to the overuse of “pivot,” no one would blame you. Get ready to yell, because I’m going to use it again. The pandemic caused a lot of folks a lot of pain. For people fortunate enough to have been able to adjust, there may be another adjustment on the way. This is another pivot. In the sports world, “pivot” can refer to a basketball player who has both feet on the ground, is not dribbling, but still wants to change their position. They can move only one foot. The stationary foot becomes their “pivot” foot. If they lift up that pivot foot or change pivot feet altogether, that’s called travelling, which is against the rules. For leaders who are working with teams that are starting to think about operations that more closely resemble pre-pandemic operations, there is another pivot in your future. Now is the time for travelling, old rules cast to the wind.
People tend to be happiest at their work when:
There is appropriate recognition and appreciation
Work relationships are good
There is actual work-life balance
They get along with their supervisor
They have opportunity and encouragement for career development
They can see that their contributions mattered
They feel they have purpose at work
As long as people are people, these things are likely not to change. What changes is how leaders ensure their teams can have these positive experiences. In a traditional shared-space work environment, there are typical ways to engage people. Sometimes there are parties, potlucks, pop-in chats, public recognition, travel to conferences, and just casually interacting with peers. In the remote working environment, some of the old ways didn’t translate too well. That can be good and not that good.
Good: some leaders were forced to give more trust to their employees which, based on research, would almost always turn out well.
Not Good: Zoombies.
Good: more productive due to fewer interruptions from colleagues.
Not Good: same productivity with A LOT more to manage (home, maybe with spouse, maybe with kids, maybe with pet who wants just one more snacko or to sit on your keyboard). Where does that leave us moving forward?
Carefully examine what worked throughout the pandemic. If it works when so many people are experiencing so much change and uncertainty, why wouldn’t it work during other arguably less stressful times? Similarly, look at what did not work and reduce or eliminate that. Caution: “Well, Jason worked remotely and he did terribly. So, no more remote work for anyone.” Not this. Push against using one data point, numeric or anecdotal, to make an entire case.
Going back to the list of ways employee satisfaction is held high, how do leaders ensure they are doing those things? Communicate – it’s overused maybe more than “pivot” but for good reason. Communication is key. It’s not about newsletters, emails, meetings, or even discussions. It’s about understanding, demonstrating a culture where questions are welcomed (even if it seems the topic has already been covered), and listening more. A lot more.
Empathy – trying to understand the perspective of another person. “I don’t care, Johnson, I want that report in my inbox by 5pm or you’re fired!” Hopefully, this isn’t an actual quote. Assuming first that each employee wants to succeed then taking time to truly understand why they haven’t done so is more empathic than directives and threats.
Compassion – having patience and appreciation for learning curves and transitions to the next style of how we interact at work. This takes effort. It takes effort to slow down and understand others, hear their concerns, and appreciate discomforts or problems they are facing.
Self-Care – leaders can’t bear all the emotional brunt all the time. It is important to take time away; from the office, screen, just thinking about work. This helps leaders support their teams more meaningfully day-to-day. It also helps leaders be more reflective and consider big picture issues rather than the whack-a-mole approach to problem-solving.
Presuming there is a switch to “back to normal” is a fallacy. People have experienced a different type of work environment. Some will be very happy to go back to the way things were. Others will not like that at all. Leaders will have to deploy some of the same skills they used, or learned, when work from home first became pervasive. This is more change management and all of the struggles and successes that come with it.
Successful leaders will see the next phase of the pandemic as another opportunity to do better for their team, their customers, and continue to develop into even stronger leaders.