Take a quick tour of LinkedIn and you will see many well-intentioned leaders and companies proudly showing off their “welcome back” packages and sharing their plans for helping employees “re-adjust to coming back to work.”
As a recent participant of a Fundamentals of Business Leadership simulation workshop shared during a discussion of best leadership practices, “What the [expletive deleted] is wrong with these people? Back to work? What do they think we’ve been doing for the past 16 months? They are treating us like we are summer campers and it’s insulting.”
This awkward idea of “welcoming employees back to work” has been one of the most startling and surprising parts of the pandemic and it’s a step backward for good leadership best practices. I am currently in the process of writing a portfolio of micro-simulation leadership scenarios for a lead client and they wholeheartedly agree that we need to make sure that leaders have the right skills and tools to help the transition to a hybrid work environment and stay focused on the most important thing: business results.
Based on our initial research and work with leading clients, I am happy to share the top three best practices that leaders should be utilizing in the new hybrid environment and none of them includes the words, “welcome back to work.”
1) Acknowledge the accomplishments
The last 16 months has been unprecedented. There was no playbook for how to work and lead in a global pandemic, but a majority of companies and employees used innovation skills to not only survive, but to thrive. You should take real and sincere time to stop and reflect on what just happened. Memorialize the tools and processes that were created and make them even stronger. Thank your employees for their agility and resilience and also don’t forget to thank your customers for working with you and adapt to the changes.
I find it kind of amusing that so many companies talk about and use buzzwords like agility, resilience, and curiosity and when they actually were used in an extreme circumstance many of these so-called experts didn’t understand them and certainly didn’t acknowledge them. Don’t make that same mistake.
2) Strengthen what works
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Working in an office environment isn’t as productive as many think. The constant interruptions, the office politics, the grind of the daily commutes is bigger and more unproductive than many of us realized. As we evolve into the next hybrid model of work you should take some time to think through and identify the areas that are really working. Here’s a few ideas:
- Better collaboration on projects
- Better project management
- More efficient meetings
- Better onboarding
- Training that sticks
Think about all the best practices that have made your organization so successful over the past 16 months and feed them, nurture them, and strengthen them.
3) Adapt quickly
Your organization and people are much more adaptable, flexible, and resilient than you ever imagined. Remember that you are still discovering what works for your business model moving forward. Experiment, take some risks, try new ideas, be different than your competitors. If these new ideas don’t work, then fix them quickly. Your people will have even more respect and energy because of it.
I see that many companies who are “going back to work” are starting with a 3-day a week system (3 days in the office, 2-days remote). If that doesn’t work for you don’t be afraid to modify it and try new ways. The bottom line is that everything is possible. Just be open, transparent, and communicative and your people will appreciate that.
In summary, things are different. More different than ever before. One of my favorite quotes in all of business is by Marshall Goldsmith and it goes, “What got you here won’t get you there” and it’s never been truer. Treating employees like kindergarteners won’t work in 2021 and beyond so start thinking of ways to break the old school thinking before it’s too late.