Our perceptions of the workplace were fundamentally altered throughout 2020. While disruptive, the experience distilled complex work concepts to their bare basics. Consequently, business leaders today understand team dynamics more intimately and are better equipped to deal with contingencies. It is the ideal foundation on which to build a stronger people-focused organization in 2021.
Consistency and Integrity
At the outset of the lockdowns, there was a profound and universal sense of urgency. A year later, lockdown fatigue has set in and even hypochondriacs find it difficult to be consistent. The slew of politicians and public figures repeatedly getting caught flouting their own social distancing rules don’t help.
This sense of different rules for different folks is problematic. If “we are all in this together” is seen to be just a slogan, it only deepens the divide. If you enforce particular rules for social distancing, be the first to embody them and do so consistently. Straying from the path, even outside the workplace, may not just undermine your message but will damage your credibility.
Treading the Tightrope
There is no panacea for workplace management; while Wall Street adopted a “let’s return to the office” approach, tech giants were perfectly happy to embrace work-from-home. While both decisions were made at the corporate level ostensibly for corporate profit, the effects on workers have been devastating in both cases.
In the first scenario of encouraging a return to normalcy, the flipside is an impression that profit conquers all. The second scenario, seemingly benign, has led to an epidemic of depression and isolation that has had a detrimental effect on far more people than have actually contracted Covid-19. Only your employees can tell you what works for them and what does not. Listen to what they say.
All good leaders understand the power of giving their employees a voice and a platform. In these extraordinary times, the ability to share problems and concerns is especially important. Because Covid is a health issue, it may be prudent to offer your employees an anonymous portal through which to interact, ask questions, and give suggestions.
Regardless of the programs and initiatives you launch, a meaningful sense of belonging can only thrive when reinforced by a parallel sense that individual opinions and perspectives matter. Engage your team members in conversation, learn about the challenges they face, and build solutions together.
For many workers, going to the office involves running the gauntlet of long periods within high-risk areas such as public transport stations, trains, and buses. Is that repeated distress balanced out by their physical presence or is it counterproductive? Does the workplace at which they arrive convey a reassuring sense of safety (through cleanliness)? Is it possible to create a suitably safe and hygienic workplace, complete with regular sanitization and HVAC air circulations systems within your budgetary constraints?
The answers are different for every business and a situational fluidity regarding Covid remains. The cautious optimism with which we return to the workplace in 2021 is tempered by the realization that some things may never return to “normal.” Regardless, people must be at the forefront of your executive decisions at this trying juncture.
See my article Keys to Creating and Communicating a Return-to-Work Policy for more advice about ways for your organization to move forward.