First came ‘The Great Resignation’, now it’s ‘Quiet Quitting’ that’s grabbing headlines. These COVID-triggered trends have raised several questions about leaders, leadership, organization culture, and employee burnout.
Pandemic life forced employees to re-examine their priorities and the premium they placed on work, to define their identity. Remote work teaches employers that productivity need not be linked to physical presence in the workplace. Corporate acceptance of remote work is, at best, gradual and reluctant, even as a slow yet sure shift has already occurred to hybrid working models.
“There’s this clinging narrative of a ‘return to normalcy’ that many employers are holding onto, when in fact, the world of work will never truly return to the way it was before. The pandemic revolutionized the workplace and expedited an already growing need for remote workers… flexibility to take control of their own schedules—a necessity for those with long commutes, pricey childcare arrangements and those who simply wanted to spend more time with their families.”
– Ragu Bhargava, CEO at Global Upside.
For organizations to deal with the next onslaught of attrition, leaders need to prioritise a few fundamental shifts. Some of these pertain to work in online modes, others pertain to physical spaces (office environment).
#1. Launch a ‘Cameras On, Please!’ Movement
Leaders need to encourage employees to reveal their authentic selves. It has been over 2 years of speaking into machines. Human nerves are frayed at the thought of taking yet another call on MS Teams/Zoom or the likes of it. Messy backgrounds, kids playing in the same room, technical issues—excuses to hide are plenty.
Yet, 2 years is long enough to figure out a WFH environment that you and your employees feel comfortable being seen in. Non-verbal cues have always been a large part of communication, hence the need to adapt. If leaders believe in turning up at office meetings in a no-collar tee, they need to own up to it. Does it set a benchmark? Yes, it does. Do you (as a leader) decide what benchmarks to set? Also, yes!
A new 2023 habit? Make ‘camera on’ the default meeting protocol; make one-off distractions acceptable. It will lead to a better understanding of messages received and/or delivered by you.
#2. Bring Back Watercooler Conversations
Once upon a time, there was a workplace… And then there was a home that employees returned to after their time at work. Each was a distinct space. The workplace offered moments of spontaneous connection – people passing by each other in corridors, while grabbing a beverage at the pantry, even while on a bio break to the washroom.
WFH pretty much laid to rest all opportunities to have ‘no-reason’ interactions – a smile here and there, a nod acknowledging the other’s presence, peering over a partition for a quick word, even a shared joke at the watercooler. The best communication platforms (Zoom, Slack, Skype, etc) hasn’t solved this problem yet. Hence, leaders need to…
A new 2023 habit? Change office layouts to foster collaboration and creativity. To figure out means to understand how employees are really feeling. Reinvent the role of an office; make it a place to celebrate project milestones, host special events, and conduct immersive training. Let offices function as venues with war rooms, classrooms, and coffee bars rather than factories with traditionally structured meeting rooms, cubicles, and a pantry.
At online meetings, start with “How are you?” as a genuine question rather than a conversation-opener; and don’t take “All good” as an answer. Follow it up with more questions that reflect genuine intent to understand each participant’s state of mind. “Tell me more…” is a good way to encourage people to speak up about how they are really feeling.
#3. Embody the “Hybrid Work” Spirit; Don’t Just Pay Lip-service
Even as the “new normal” becomes more and more real, managers sometimes keep looking back wistfully and saying that it’s time to go back to “how things were”. Such comments, if made regularly, risk offending employees significantly. Study after study has proven that WFH has not affected productivity as much as managers feared it would. Employees have been working remotely almost uninterrupted while being available for family needs. But wishing for a return to old times implies that work needs to happen in a physical office for an organization to succeed.
A new 2023 habit? Let’s accept that the genie is out of the bottle, and the only way forward is to accept that there’s no way of putting it back in. Rather than lamenting the past, leaders must embrace change, put employees at ease, and collaborate to find solutions. Have an honest exchange of your expectations vs. their concerns and meet them half-way.
#4. Redefine the Industry of ‘Busyness’
“Busyness” is the new currency of attention. The number of Zoom meetings on a leader’s work calendar is perceived as a signal of the clout they hold. With the visibility advantage of face-to-face interactions diluted or negated by WFH, employees may be left to their own devices to ensure that their work gets duly noticed and credited.
Hard work, creative ideas, and pet projects might all get lost in the peak-hour traffic of a leader’s calendar. More and more collaborative meetings are happening online. More and more large-audience meetings are happening online. Some participants might choose audio-only in such meetings and risk being forgotten in the sea of faces and voices.
A new 2023 habit? Practice and actively encourage online meeting etiquettes – being on/before a meeting starts, not multi-tasking while a meeting is in process, not scheduling back-to-back meetings, emailing outside work hours, and alerting the next meeting group if you are running late. As a leader, it is important to restore employees’ confidence that their efforts are not going unnoticed.
“One of the secret benefits of using remote workers is that the work itself becomes the yardstick to judge someone’s performance.”
– Jason Fried (Founder, Basecamp)
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