As we aim to lessen our exposure to COVID, we are also shrinking our face-to-face interactions with others. For many parents, this means adopting a “learning pod” model for the upcoming school year. In the workplace, it means a different kind of pod: we’re becoming more siloed and isolated from our colleagues than ever before. Previously, when we were all working together in one space, I was able to stop by someone’s desk to connect informally and see how they were doing. Spontaneous meetings in the office lounge or cafeteria would inspire new ideas, plans, and partnerships. Now, our access to those informal moments is restricted, and teams are not connecting organically. We end up only connecting to those associated with immediate work. This creates small pockets/pods of people that are unconnected to one another – and they are focused on individual priorities and less connected to the greater organization.
The solution to the pod problem is not straightforward. After all, it’s safe to say we will not be going back to the old days of bustling offices any time soon. Organizations must take into account the fundamental need for human connection while recognizing the changing feelings towards safety and security. How do we lead and engage employees at a time when everyone is so disconnected?
- Create occasions to connect outside of work. As a leader, I’ve been focused on how I can influence more positively and organically, trying to create occasions to engage outside of the immediate work. We all need to make time for this, it’s just as important as scheduled meetings and milestones.
- Be authentic and transparent. Given the uncertainty of this time, employees are no longer expecting their leadership teams to know it all, but they are looking for transparency and authenticity from their leaders. There is an increasing demand for humanism from leadership teams to help support employees as they navigate new challenges like the virtual work experience, Zoom fatigue, and increased familial responsibilities. Covid has encouraged us as a leadership team to look inside our organization and lean on our most valuable asset – our people – for the way forward.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. My organization, Jackman, has always been about enabling transformations. So, when transforming our own organization, our teams are highly engaged and want to understand in great detail why we are making certain decisions. Therefore, we recognized the profound need to connect with our people to understand their preferred way to move forward with this reopening. Spending time on communicating specifics may seem daunting, but the more time I spend with our teams on communication and open discussion, the more engaged they are with us as a leadership team and as a company.
- Prioritize employees’ mental and emotional wellbeing. At Jackman, our focus is on putting our people first, which means we want to hear how they are feeling in this digital work environment. We started the pandemic with weekly mental health check-ins and talks from experts in the field to help everyone feel at ease and understand what they’re going through. That then translated into a survey to further understand how employees were feeling in relation to back to work procedures.
- Allow your people to inform your policies and procedures. We used our survey results to inform our new policies. We discovered that the majority of employees were excited to come back to work. So many businesses today are choosing for their employees, telling them not to come back until January. But why choose for them? There are many creative solutions to ensure all employees are cared for. Among other tactics, we created a 3-month flex schedule, and a system for scheduling who is in the office when to ensure proper social distancing is possible. We’re doing temperature checks for employees who come into the office, as well as distanced desks and limited-occupancy meeting rooms.
As the economy continues to reopen, your most valuable asset will be your employees. Look in the mirror and assess how they will feel you ran your organization during this time. These are unprecedented times for all levels of the organization, your employees will understand that you don’t have all of the right answers. Instead of shying away from this, use it as an opportunity to include them in conversations around reopening the office. Companies that treat employees in an inclusive way will feel an improved sense of employee loyalty and engagement moving forward.
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