Our People & Culture team held a round table recently to discuss several topics relating to the effects of the pandemic on the workforce and office culture. Many organizations are now facing an unprecedented re-imagining of policies and practices as the world prepares to return to its new normal. During the conversation, each person was invited to share their thoughts and strategies on how to manage the transition back to the office.
The second in our series “Thoughts on a Post-Pandemic Workplace,” weighs in on how leadership and the role of manager will need to change as organizations balance a return to the office and the likelihood that work-from-home is here to stay in some capacity.
If you missed our first entry in the series, click here to read “Culture Shock,” a discussion about post pandemic hybrid work models.
Navigating the New Normal
After over 18 months of lockdowns and working from home, the way we work and interact has fundamentally changed. As many organizations are looking at what policies to implement in a post-covid world, we look at how the role of Manager is apt to change in this new environment.
We sat down with our People & Culture team to chat about how COVID-19 and an increase in hybrid work environments has forced an evolution of how managers approach their role and any new expectations have emerged as a result.
Leading the Way
“It’s not going to be a one size fits all approach and I think the manager competencies are really going to evolve and become much more sophisticated from an EQ point of view. Especially when people are not in the office, managers are really going to have to have good intuition, be able to pick up on these cues and be really in tune with their people in an abbreviated time frame. Emotional intelligence is going to be paramount.”
We know and accept that managers play a key role in employee retention. So, it makes sense that their function and how they are supported within the organization structure should figure prominently in retention strategies.
The pandemic has opened the door to more remote work and distributed teams. There is a greater risk now of movement from employees because this new environment makes it easier to change jobs. The manager role in retention is more important than ever.
In a new hybrid workplace environment, managers will not only be responsible for implementing and enforcing the change management and transition to a post-pandemic work practices, but they will have to be more intentional with their interactions with their teams. The hybrid workplace may limit the face time with employees.
This need should give rise and heightened relevance to the role of “people manager”.
Providing the relevant tools and training for this role is a baseline need in organizations. Making the right decisions when promoting or hiring people into the role, and ensuring managers are empowered to act in the best interest of the business and the team is more critical.
So, what skills will this post pandemic role need to emphasize?
1 | Communication
“There will be more onus on the people managers when it comes to employee retention, they need to know their groups, know their buttons, be comfortable asking tough questions and being comfortable in doing something based on feedback they get. Because if a team is distributed and there are different working models, how to we ensure that the teams needs are being met? People managers are going to have to shoulder more responsible in this area.”
As organizations adjust their policies and navigate the needs of a distributed team, communication will be paramount. Managers will be responsible for initiating and reinforcing ongoing workplace practice changes while at the same time keep apprised of how each team member is doing.
When there are less opportunities for face-to-face meetings and collaboration, the manager will need to find different ways to ensure that their team is not operating in silos when working outside of the office.
2 | Empathy
“From a culture and a hybrid workplace perspective, employees will wonder how much the company care about them, their mental health and overall well-being. Now, people working alone at home have a different reality, so I think one thing that companies need to be really aware of is the employee’s perception of care. “Does the company care about me and what I’m going through, my personal situation? Do they care about making this work for me as well?” I think the mental health and individuality perspective is going to be a big part of culture in this hybrid working environment.”
The pandemic has certainly brought the conversation of work/life balance back to the forefront. Collectively, for the past year, we’ve faced the unprecedented stresses of juggling the needs of work, school, family, and health.
For those who are returning to the office, there may be some anxiety about coming back. For those working from home, they’ve likely lost the down time during their commute, and the daily water cooler/coffee break office chats.
Again, managers will be the connection point to the organization.
3 | Engagement
“Managers will likely need to be given more flexibility to do things to keep their team engaged and to support retention, which could be a discretionary budget that can be used for social things. There is a need for organizations to be nimbler.”
One of the benefits of having a team that regularly meets at the office is the sense of camaraderie, engagement and team building that often “naturally” results. Sorry managers but with distributed teams you will have to continue to be creative in determining ways to build that same sense of purpose and belonging. Keeping multiple lines of communication open and making sure both local and virtual team members are aware of those lines.
Virtual employment puts employees at risk of losing their voice in the company; as the leader, it is your responsibility to open lines of communication and determine which medium allows your virtual employees to share their ideas and opinions equally with those around the meeting room table.
4 | Encouragement
“There is not necessarily a change in philosophy from a retention standpoint, the change will be in the action and elevated role of the manager in terms of the overall team performance and really honing in on the individual needs while mitigating the gaps and risks. Managers are still pulling the team together but in a different way than they’ve had to before.”
Managers are the ones who engage with the individual on a daily basis so the importance of the relationship between a manager and their team cannot be stressed enough.
Some of the usual team processes will be tested in the hybrid workplace:
- Performance reviews. Managers must remain acutely aware of any perceived imbalance in their teams with respect to employees’ access to resources (people in the team including themselves) and visibility.
- Team launches. With distributed teams, team launches are an opportunity for managers and team members to recognize, acknowledge, and discuss needed norms and to decide collectively how to manage them.
- Managers will bring people into the team, yet not everyone can physically come to an office. To put their new virtual hires on a comparable footing to those who are brought into a face-to-face office environment, inclusive team practices need to be incorporated into onboarding sessions.
About Stratford People & Culture:
Our team is made up of experienced practitioners including leadership coaches and strategic HR advisors who are ready to roll up their sleeves and help you manage the transition to a post-pandemic workplace. Our experience lets us lean in as a trusted resource, leading departments, divisions and whole organizations through growth and change that is aligned with your business plan.
If your organization is looking for help in supporting your leaders and defining how the manager role will transform, Stratford’s People & Culture team can help. Reach out to us, we’d be happy to chat.