Covid-19 is far from over. What started out as a 2-week pause has ended up being a 4-month long struggle for most companies. As the economy starts to reopen, businesses are now faced with a new challenge: how to lead in this new era. Leading post-covid will bring about its own challenges. This blog post will explore how leaders can stay connected with employees in a remote-work environment and how to maintain culture in this new era.
The office, as we know it, has changed. And while it likely won’t stay that way forever, remote working will be here forever. Leaders who are used to gathering their teams physically to hold meetings, now have to adapt to creating teamwork, harmony and maintaining culture while people are at different corners of the city.
Best-selling author, Simon Sinek posted a video a few days ago talking about where he sees the office going. In the video, he mentions managing his own 100% remote team and says it is absolutely possible but takes a lot more time than managing a team that’s physically in the same space.
In fact, Simon is not alone; there are thousands of companies who operate 100% remote and only get together a couple of times a year in person. The difference between those companies and perhaps your company that was forced to shut its doors after covid hit, is that your employees didn’t sign up for a 100% remote work environment. Staying connected to those employees needs to be a leaders’ significant focus.
Challenges of leading post-covid
Before diving into maintaining culture, it’s useful to look at some of the challenges leaders face with managing remote teams. These challenges are universal. If you’re leading post-covid, then you’ve likely experienced at least a few of these.
Feelings of isolation come from being apart from peers, being unable to talk to others to bounce ideas off them and have casual conversations. Those are personal feelings that leaders are rarely allowed to talk about or even consider. The more senior you are in the organization, the fewer people you have to talk to. That’s normal. When you’re at home, wondering whether you can call Larry on his cell to “just talk” about something, and you start second guessing whether it’s really important to interrupt his day, feeling isolated is natural.
Also, there’s a misconception that introverts are having a great time during this lock down. If you’re an introvert then you know nothing could be farther from the truth. Introverts still crave human connection especially at work.
Decreased bonding moments
Bonding moments at work are a funny thing. Laughing over a shared experience, or having a vent session about a project or meeting, or a quick brainstorming session to get an idea are all moments where we connect with our colleagues and team members. When you’re a senior leader, bonding keeps us sane. Without those moments, we feel spent; they’re a requirement for our mental health. When you’re working remotely, those impromptu interactions become rare and you have to make a concerted effort to reach out to people.
Missing out on building relationships
I put this in here reluctantly because I don’t necessarily agree with it, however, there is enough written about this that I thought it worth mentioning. Building relationships at work can happen in many different ways, and the phone is still alive and well. What is missing in a remote work environment is those lunches and coffees and drinks after work that we took for granted pre-covid. Building relationships doesn’t come from working on projects together. It comes from learning about the whole person you’re working with, and that knowledge comes from spending time with them outside traditional work settings.
Depowering face-to-face interactions
This is for leaders who placed high stock on facetime and visibility in the office. Yes, I’m talking to you! I know because I was (am?) one of them. And the reason I placed such high value on facetime in the office was because I loved those impromptu conversations with my team. After the conference call ended, as we walked out of the room, those 2-minute sound bites – those are the things I felt created relationships and bonding moments. Now, though, those don’t exist anymore, so they need to be rethought. We (you and I) have to depower face-to-face interactions.
Leading post-covid – Keeping the culture alive
Keeping the culture alive is possible the biggest obstacle for senior leaders as they begin leading post-covid. With more people away from the office at any given point in time, and no end in sight for when offices will reopen, it’s easy to focus on the here and now and forget about the business of culture.
Creating and maintaining culture is a concerted effort. If you missed my blog posts from last week where I talked about why and how to define an aspirational culture, check it out. You’ll see that defining an aspirational culture is hard work and takes a lot of thought and reflection. Creating and maintaining that culture becomes even harder.
There are a few things you can do to keep culture alive as you’re leading post-covid.
In this context, vulnerability means admitting when you don’t have all the answers. We’re leading through a period when no one has the answers. It’s ok to tell your employees that you don’t know what the future holds and that you don’t know whether something is going to work. It’s ok to experiment with new methods, new tactics, and new thoughts. Employees respect leaders who are genuinely truthful about how they’re leading and telling people that you’re trying something new with no expectations of success, is perfectly ok.
Communicate your vision more often
Most leaders have some method for conveying their vision. Some use quarterly meetings, some use emails, some use a cascade method of communication. When your teams are spread across multiple locations, it becomes all the more important to communicate your vision. Chances are your ultimate vision and mission hasn’t changed. Your tactics have changed, but your destination is static.
Now is not the time to hold back on communicating that vision. When you reiterate your vision (and there’s no such thing as over communicating), people feel a sense of connectedness. They know they’re all working together for the same common purpose and goal. So, if you only had quarterly meetings, send out emails too. If you only sent emails, consider a daily (short) video blog that you can share with the entire organization. The objective is to remind employees of the end goal and how the company is tracking.
Show how to adapt values in a remote work environment
It’s one thing to talk about your vision and your goals; it’s another thing to live your values on a daily basis when the team is dispersed. In last week’s facebook live session, I talked about the importance of values on culture. If values are critical to your culture, then living your values in different work environments is even more important. And living your values when you’re working remotely could look different from working in the office.
For example, if one of your values is “Treat people fairly”, consider how meetings are scheduled and conducted in your workplace. Does everyone have a fair shot at participating in and contributing at meetings? If not, tell people how those values adapt to a remote work environment.
Focus on recognition
Leaders should take time for recognition on a regular basis anyway, but recognition takes on a whole new meaning when your team is working remotely. Now’s not the time to skimp on words. Now, more than ever, employees need to hear from you and be celebrated.
This is especially important for employees who don’t like working from home (yes, there are a few of those). They may appreciate not having to commute to work, but for some people working away from an office is a real struggle, and it’s important to acknowledge that struggle. Some employees face distractions in the form of other family members at home, and focusing on work takes double effort. Praise people for pushing through hard things.
Just like there’s no such thing as over communicating, there’s no such thing as over recognizing people. Everyone wants to be appreciated and the best appreciation is for the things that are generally taken for granted. If you’re like me and you forget to recognize, put it in your calendar. When you’re a high performing leader, it’s easy to just focus on the work and let celebrations take a back seat. I’ve put in reminders to celebrate after large projects, my team’s birthdays, special anniversaries, and periodic “job well done” recognitions.
Pay attention to new employees
If you’re like most companies, hiring hasn’t stopped. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have started new jobs this lockdown and they have all unanimously expressed that the onboarding experience was lacking in some way. That’s not necessarily a reflection on the leader, but the situation. It’s tough starting a new role and especially tough when you don’t know anyone in the company.
Take time out of your week to offer one on one support to your new leaders. More check-ins, more opportunities to talk through situations, more hand holding. If you’re a C-suite executive, don’t assume your direct reports don’t need support and coaching. Everyone needs support and coaching, and, arguably, senior leaders need it more. Especially in those first few weeks on the job.
To sum it up
Leading post-covid is going to look very different from leading through regular times. Regular times may never come back, and your style and approach needs to adapt as well. Your broader organization needs to know you’re thinking of them, that you appreciate them, that you acknowledge things are different, and that you’re all still working towards the same common goal.
How have you adapted your approach as you’re leading post-covid?