April 27, 2021

The “next normal” can be great, but only if you empower your people

Last year, we faced an unprecedented transition from in-office work to working remotely—a shift that stirred anxiety and prompted us to reassess our previous work styles, tactics, and processes. Now, a year later, we are beginning to enter the “next normal” that we’ve been anticipating.  Make no mistake — the return to in-office work will not be a return to our work pre-pandemic, but instead has the potential to be a wide-reaching and lasting transformation. 

Though this is yet another new shift in how we work, it shouldn’t intimidate us. Despite the challenges it presents, the hybrid work model is an opportunity to make our workplaces work for everyone.

By empowering your people to make decisions for themselves and for their teams, your organization will begin a transformation into one led by employee needs. How will you support your mid-level people-leaders in forging the path forward with a new way of working? 

Trust your leaders

Empower your people to make decisions for their teams by creating a culture of psychological safety and honest, frequent feedback. Studies of organizational effectiveness in the high-stakes setting of a hospital have found that high-performing teams make more errors than low-performing teams. That’s because on high-performing teams, errors weren’t the result of reckless behavior and were more likely to be caught, challenged, and solved before they could pose a problem. These findings can be attributed to high psychological safety and cultures of high feedback, where all levels of staff are encouraged to be innovative and offer their thoughts, opinions, and feedback. With more perspectives in the room, there’s a higher likelihood of finding the right solution, even if it hearing “wrong” solutions along the way. 

  • Let your people experiment to get better results. 
  • Allow room for mistakes, ideation, and innovation.
  • Build psychological safety by leading with grace and compassion from the top.

Assume a growth mindset 

We are on the precipice of a new work model with plenty of room to test boundaries and experiment with what works best for our teams. There won’t be one set method to handle this transition, so assuming a growth mindset can minimize stress and pressure to get it right the first time. Allow room for creativity in solution-making and reduce the overall anxiety associated with the hybrid work model.

We’re in new territory, and if we’ve learned anything from our recent forays into the unknown, it’s that we have to be flexible and patient with ourselves and each other as we learn. Learning by trial and error isn’t always fun, but it’s effective. Lean into that discomfort and learn to surf with the waves instead of fighting against them.

Lead the way, mid-level managers! 

Managers will be expected not only to lead, but also to assist their teams in the transition to the next normal. This transition can flow more easily if managers are:

  • Prepared with clear policies and processes.
  • Trusted to make judgment calls in ambiguous situations, and rewarded for doing so.
  • Open to feedback, and ready to act upon it.
    • Be wary of inaction fatigue, which occurs when people feel their feedback is not being heard or implemented.

When planning for this transition, remember that your people are generally antsy and ready to make moves after what may have felt like a year of stagnation. If there has ever been a time to put your people first, it’s now. 

Be prepared to make decisions about who can work from home and who will work in-office. Set metrics and standards to be clear and as fair as possible. When planning with your team, consider how to: 

  • Maintain a work-life balance.
  • Uphold culture and values specific to your organization and team.
  • Keep employees engaged and strive to prevent diverging cultures within teams.
  • Define communication norms that are inclusive of both remote and in-person employees.
  • Offer a consistent experience.

Managers can and should prepare for individualized plans of action more tailored to their employee’s individual needs than in the past. We are not returning to pre-pandemic work life. Many people have moved, have taken on additional childcare or eldercare responsibilities, and have had direct experiences with COVID-19. As tempting as it is to flip the switch back to its default state, that has the potential to do much more damage than good. Take it slow; be patient and kind. Put your people first and we will continue to muscle our way through each new wave of change and transformation. It’s all data, after all, and this is an excellent opportunity to experiment.

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