Leaders, Don’t Squander This Moment

The determining factor among the CEOs who win the talent war and those that lose will be how they handle work-life alignment issues and virtual team fatigue in the new hybrid or fully back-to-the-office environment. A four-step strategy.

While many businesses made it through the pandemic intact, it’s clear the human toll was significant. Look no further that the 2021 Edelman’s Trust Barometer that reveals “an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world.” Nearly 40 percent of workers, according to HRD Connect, indicate that they have become frustrated and disengaged due to anxiety caused by the introduction of new processes and changes associated with Covid-19.

As the pandemic begins to recede and business revs up again, there are predictions of a massive talent migration and accompanying talent shortage that will cause significant disruption in some industries and organizations. The DJS Global Job Confidence index of 2020 reported that among supply chain professionals, 41 percent of the global respondents indicated they are unlikely to stay with their current employer in the next few months. A study conducted in March and recently documented in Envoy’s Return to the Workplace Report uncovered that nearly half of employees surveyed would likely leave their jobs after the pandemic if their employers don’t offer a hybrid work model.

As CDC guidelines and state orders begin to turn on the lights in our dusty offices, CEOs are making decisions about when and how their workforces will return. Their teams are forming policies and communication plans that will impact whether their most talented employees stay with their organizations or seek alternate employment.

The determining factor among the CEOs who win the talent war and those that lose will be how they handle work-life alignment issues and virtual team fatigue in the new hybrid or fully back-to-the-office environment.

No Going Back

For some CEOs, it will be tempting to try to return to the workplace of 2019. Remember the good old days when you could walk down the halls, see your people working, and have a sense of control over productivity?

It’s an exercise in futility. Our individual and collective experiences over the last year have changed each of us and our workplaces forever. Employees have proven that they can be effective and productive while working from home or during off-hours.

It may be tempting to delegate the return-to-work plan to HR. Don’t. Reconnecting with employees and establishing a establishing your organization’s new workplace culture is critical for the success of your business. The entire executive leadership team needs to come together, get creative, and create a plan that doesn’t leave anyone out.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you tackle this issue that will give your organization a leg-up on the war for talent.

1. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. You are likely concerned with equity; however, you hired individuals and they are expecting individual consideration. Also, be mindful of the haves and have-nots that come from the disparity of workers that are in production jobs versus office jobs. The answer isn’t just to make everyone come to the office so hourly workers won’t get mad. Yet it is a real communication challenge to explain the differences in treatment by workers. This attention to individual situations and needs will help you retain critical staff members.

2. Create a clear point of view backed up with process and based on data, not your personal needs or frankly, old-fashioned ideas. Read the research. Put employees into categories of workers based on what is required to do their job well. Is their work schedule sensitive?  Are they required to collaborate in a specific way with others? How often? Systematically asking these questions will help you surface all the relevant issues.

3. Take time to listen to employees and ensure leaders create a two-way dialogue about back-to-work needs. As tempting as it is, this is not a time for just a well-worded memo. Equip leaders to have conversations with their direct reports and take time to capture the feedback. Empower mid and senior-level leaders to make work arrangement adjustments with your organizations within the parameters you have laid out.

4. Assume good intent. Don’t we all deserve a bit of grace? Employees that have stuck with you through this crazy year and have successfully juggled work and family while scared for their safety deserve your trust. Employees appreciate the flexibility and will repay it with discretionary effort, ensuring that their preferred working situation remains in place.

Organizational responses to the post-Covid recovery range from letting go of physical workspaces and recreating a 100% virtual workplace to CEOs counting the minutes until they can walk the halls and see cubicles filled with workers.

Remote work may not be the best choice for your organization, and it’s certainly not the only way to build your future business. However, it would be a tragedy if leaders don’t fundamentally stretch their thinking from the lessons learned during the pandemic.

Don’t squander this moment!

Steve Dion is Founder and CEO of Dion Leadership. Steve has dedicated his career to understanding and improving organizational cultures through the creation and deployment of innovative assessment, leadership, and team development programs. He is a regular contributor to CEO World Magazine, Training Industry, and HRCI’s HR Leads Business Blog.