Can work just go back to the way it was? Nope, because COVID changed everything – especially work.
Managers need to lead differently. We all need to communicate differently. And companies need to do business differently.
But different can be good – even better, say Harvard Business School experts.
Here are five keys to creating a workplace where people communicate and collaborate effectively and are engaged and motivated.
Be honest about your needs
Employees will more likely accept and adapt to new workplace norms if they’re part of creating them.
“Leaders need to commit to telling the truth about what the company needs, while engaging people in the hard work of creating solutions together,” says Amy Edmondson, a Harvard leadership and management professor.
Work with employees to identify new goals, expectations and demands now that COVID changed work. Then explore different ways to make your workplace the right fit for everyone.
Do hybrid responsibly
Many companies have decided hybrid is the way to go: As long as employees are as productive working from home as they are in the office, then they can split the workweek between the two.
If that’s your case, keep in mind “hybrid remote arrangements should be designed to bring teams physically together during periods,” says Prithwiraj Choudhury, a Harvard professor who studies how geography affects worker productivity.
Point is, if you choose hybrid, meet when employees are on-site and enhance that interaction with virtual experiences when they’re not.
Make face time a priority
Some employees are excited to be back in the office. Some aren’t. But most have one thing in common: They like the flexibility they experienced working remotely. You may already accommodate that with hybrid schedules.
So you want to make face time when people are in the office together a priority.
“Make a team schedule, so the days in the office are most meaningful and focused on connections, both scheduled and serendipitous,” says Julia Austin, a former senior lecturer at Harvard.
Add ‘kindness’ to the to-do list
Everyone had a tough year. A gentler workplace can help people transition into new norms. Leaders will want to set the stage.
“Managers can exhibit kindness in many ways: actively listen, check in, offer support and understanding, help connect employees to necessary resources, acknowledge their efforts, and thank them generously,” says Boris Groysberg, a Harvard professor of business administration.
And remember to be kind to yourself. You endured the pandemic, too, plus the pressure to help your employees through it.
Focus on engagement
Regardless of where work gets done, managers will want to focus on engagement. Employees may need a nudge (or jolt!) to get back to on-site work, demands and norms.
“Leaders should be focused on how to make work inspiring, compelling, and engaging, whether that work is done at the office or not,” says Gary Pisano, a Harvard professor of business administration.
Regularly tie each employee’s work to bigger company goals, values or missions. Remind them of the positive impact they have on the organization.