Where your employees work and how well they work, either remotely or together, is just the tip of the iceberg as your organization thinks through the return to work post-COVID.

Trend #1:  The return to delegating decision-making to the individual contributors, and refocusing communication on vision.

Why is this significant? COVID caused leaders to centralize some of the decision-making for speed and efficiency’s sake, decisions were pulled into the leadership team without feedback from key stakeholders.  While necessary for the short-term, this will need to change for long-term effectiveness and employee engagement. Moving forward, leaders will need to delegate participation in decision-making outside of the leadership team and closer to the front line. This leads to better decisions, by people who know the work, probably more than you actually do as a manager, which often leads to better decisions. 

Decisions should sit with the person who owns the work as they have the most context for that job. It is also efficient and leads to empowerment for the individuals involved. Their scope of responsibility now increases.

Second, communication of the organization’s strategy improved during COVID. Organizations did a good job communicating their internal strategy to keep the wheels on the bus. Generally, the employees’ perception that the organization was meeting its goals improved during the pandemic.  Leaders should lean into continuing to focus employees on vision and strategic goals post COVID.

Also, for many organizations, the perception is they were more effective with employees working remotely, but not across the board. 

Summarizing . . . 

  • Returning decision-making to front-line individual contributors involved and affected by these very decisions.
  • Refocus on the good communication skills that got you through COVID.  Post-COVID, the challenge will be to communicate your organization’s strategy continually to meet your customers’ needs and organizational goals.

Trend #2:  Refocus on employee engagement and culture.

During COVID engagement fell off the radar of many leaders. They didn’t have time to follow up with stressed employees, much less have discussion on culture and keeping that intact when everyone was virtual and siloed. Others, focused completely on engagement and the employees, they checked in, they organized town halls walking employees through services and support, meetings with leading medical Doctors, walking them through what was known about Covid. They gave time off, to deal with the stress of what we were all going through. They put their employees first.

Post Covid and ramping back up, employers will need to reconnect with employees to assess the level of engagement. Leaders should actively listen and continue to model the strength and wisdom they learnt during covid.

Summarizing . . . 

  • Connect with Employees Issues. With people feeling increased stress being cooped up, less work-life balance, kids at home, we have to ask, ”What issues are affecting my employees now, and how do I plan to address them?”
  • Refocus on your Values. With people back in closer proximity, facing relationship challenges that didn’t happen on web conferences, it will be time to refocus on organizational values and coaching them in alignment to those values to achieve performance.
  • Re-engage your top talent. Post-COVID, disengaged employees will take advantage of options and choices. While Human Resource Management says employees are spooked by continuing high unemployment and staying put in their jobs we have to consider if thel “the return to normal” will tempt your best people to leave?
  • Give your female employees grace. NPR reports women are leaving the workforce at four times the rate as men. The burden of parenting and running a household, while also working a job during the pandemic, has created a pressure cooker environment, and women are bearing the brunt of it. In light of this, how will you listen to and respond to stress levels your female employees are facing? What programs will you put in place such as returnships to have women come back into the workforce.

Trend #3:  Heightened diversity and inclusion focus

Last summer’s experience of racial injustice has significantly heightened the tone and focus inside organizations when it comes to diversity & inclusion.

Summarizing . . . 

  • Improve multi-cultural competence. What is the hard work of creating culture experiences where minorities would feel safe and welcome in your organization? Common reading assignments help build competence.  Examples of books include:
    • The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby
    • Long Time Coming, Michael Eric Dyson
  • Evaluate and expand training. Where do employees presently feel a sense of belonging from empathetic leaders vs. well-meaning one-off training sessions?
  • Include millennials in the discussions. Diversity and inclusion are important topics for justice-minded millennials.  How do millennials value diversity in your culture? How are their voices, convictions, and ideas being heard?
  • Rethink the interview process. Job applicants with white-sounding names get 50% more interviews. Where does this factoid land in your search and hiring of candidates? Organize discussions digging into types of bias and what to be aware of as a hiring manager. 

Trend #4:  Decentralized / hybrid virtual cultures are here to stay

When we are done with COVID, it is estimated that the number of people working from home will double from pre-COVID numbers.  So, there will have to be new patterns to incorporate larger numbers of work from home employees with office employees. Research has found the majority will never want to go back to the old way of working.  Only 12% want to return to full-time office work, and 72% want a hybrid – remote office model. This is a huge change in terms of how we work, globally.

Summarizing . . . 

  • Discover current best practice cultures. Do some research into what best practices exist, read The Culture Map by Erin Meyers, read No Rules, Rules by Reed Hastings. Spend the time to deliberately identify your culture and break it out as behaviours, then reinforce that in meetings, coaching and town halls.
  • Identify hybrid virtual culture approaches. How is your organization preparing for the post-COVID work environment?  Are you ready for a majority hybrid-remote office model?

Trend #5:  Don’t be shocked: 1-1 meetings are key to your team’s success!

Believe it or not, organizational cultures have truly moved from “performance management” to “development conversations.”  Managers continue to be the key link between employees and organizations. A 30- to 60-minute weekly or bi-weekly meeting can be a haven of mutual listening, understanding, affirmation, challenge, and action for individuals and teams.

Summarizing . . . 

  • Training managers to communicate. Generally speaking, how comfortable do individuals feel discussing issues and concerns with managers where you work? They should be able to discuss anything with you as you are building a relationship with them that should make them feel safe. Psychological safety is critical to performance and it starts with you.
  • Pre-populate agendas with open-ended, invitational questions and genuine interest:
    • How are you feeling?
    • What’s on your mind?
    • What are you most excited about?
    • What are your top priorities this week, and how can I help you?
    • Share what you know is going on that would make a difference for them

Trend #6:  The gig economy will continue to grow

Freelancers, consultants, independent contractors/professionals, and contract workers… what was considered a side job has turned into a trillion-dollar industry.  People like flexibility… Some even like working from their van while on an adventure.

From an employer perspective, the gig economy can translate into cost savings for employee benefits, office space, and overhead, while bringing skills and competency to the organization.

Summarizing . . . 

  • Identify gig opportunities. We are talking about going beyond Uber or Grubhub.  Identify simple projects where employing a gig worker could add competence and save time or money.  Examples include graphic design, web/mobile/software development, marketing, etc.  Need something translated and don’t know where to turn?
  • Bid the project on a gig / freelance website. Some examples of places to find gig/freelance workers to complete projects include Upwork, Freelancer, Guru, and Fiverr.

Trend #7:  Go digital for continuous learning and development

Ten percent of a person’s development is classroom oriented and online/digital training can meet the need at reduced costs. While organizations learned this during COVID, it’s hard to place a measurable value on digital learning, just as it’s hard to focus while sitting at your desk facing a full email in-basket and Teams/Slack list of unread messages.

It’s amazing at how incredibly efficient meetings over video-conference can be. Instead of driving to a meeting, or flying to a meeting, you can recapture all the travel time into productivity and spend less. These and other digital tools will play an important role as a new kind of headquarters now being developed in a digital-first world. Organizations that do it well will drive engagement, achieve organizational agility, maintain alignment, and empower teamwork across all disciplines and locations.

Summarizing . . . 

  • Online learning is not bound by geography 
  • Online learning is not bound by time (or a particular time of day) 
  • Online learning can allow for frequent and immediate feedback for or from the learners 
  • Online learning can be offered over and over again which reduces costs in the long run 
  • Online learning is fast becoming a preferred method of learning for younger generations 

The world has changed drastically and it is time for organizations to be agile and nimble and adapt to these changes, in fact, drive them forward within their organizations to increase efficiency, innovation, to empower employees and to reduce costs.