Leading the transition back to work #Covid-19

After a challenging ten weeks of lockdown all four nations within the UK are now setting out plans to return to the “new normal”.

During this time people have had widely different experiences: carrying on attending work in very different environments, working from home, being furloughed or being made redundant. For the last group, their transition to find a new role is likely to be the most difficult and challenging. For the others, the transitional period presents a new path to navigate.

As a leader your responsibility to facilitate that journey back is key. What should you be considering when you think about people leadership?

People will respond differently to the new situation just as they have responded differently to the lockdown itself and the associated changes to their work environments. Accordingly, they will have different needs and will respond to different levels and types of engagement. Some people are desperate to get back to normal and others are reluctant.

For example, many people are concerned about:

  • the health and well-being of their families and themselves (if these are major concerns, they will be distracted and possibly anxious)

  • job security (will the business or organisation survive or contract?)

  • changes to working practices (will there be more constraints or processes? Will their role have changed materially? Will the workload or team have changed?)

  • leaving the ‘safety bubble’ of being home for an extended period of time

  • the safety of commuting to work and general travel

  • going back to work before the children can go back to school

For others, this period has been a positive one. Many people have recognised or developed new strengths and attributes during this period which they have put to good use. Others have found working from home to be highly productive. They are likely to want to maintain these changes.  How can you ensure these are valued and supported?

In other words, in leading people back to work, effective leaders will recognise that people are different; they have had different experiences and have different needs. Understanding these, and responding appropriately to them, will lead to greater trust and engagement in you.

Communication therefore, as always, is key. Start by listening and understanding to gauge where your people are now. By starting where they are, you can shape more responsive and relevant communication to them.

Initiate dialogue and discussion: what has changed for your people? What are their concerns, hopes and challenges? What reassurance do they need?

Talking about what has changed, both within the organisation and for your people, is a good starting point. How are your people responding to these recent changes? This will have been a period of strong personal growth for some and major stress for others. Giving people an opportunity to be heard and to shape the ‘new normal’ is likely to lead to a productive transition. In our recent survey around 55% of people wanted to hear more frequently from their leaders - ideally a weekly communication. Weekly virtual check-ins and updates are an easy win and hugely valued where they happen. They are also an excellent opportunity for further engagement.

So, a valuable exercise to start now is to reflect on the changes, understand where your people are in their experience of it, and collaborate with them to create the new workplace. Even if your teams will be working at home or furloughed for some time yet, creating the new picture of the future will enhance your leadership effectiveness and the security and motivation of your people.

In a recent survey we asked people who have been working from home what the challenges have been. To see the summary results click here. If you are in a leadership role and would value a sounding board for these (or other) matters, do get in touch. Call 01223 655667

or email: sarah@managingchange.org.uk

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