Maintaining Productivity & Performance Through Ongoing Change

One day we were working in our Chicago office, the next day we were working from home. For us, change happened overnight (as someone in a neighboring office was diagnosed with COVID early on). And to be perfectly honest, transitioning from seeing each other in the office every day and enjoying our close, connected work culture – to working alone at home with dogs, kids and spouses Zoom-bombing – was a challenge. 

It’s also going to be a challenge to go back. 

One reason is that 66% of employees just aren’t comfortable going back to the office yet. There’s some regional variation in the US – workers in the Midwest are slightly more likely to be comfortable returning to work than the Northeast, for example. The numbers are similar in the UK – according to a recent poll there, 57% said they did not want to go back to “the normal way of working in an office environment with normal office hours.”

Taking stringent health and safety measures is going to be vital in the early days (and you should ask your employees which health measures would make them feel the most comfortable coming back into the office).

But even when there’s a vaccine and the pandemic is entirely behind us, it’s still going to be a rough transition. 

To make the transition back to the office easier on your employees and your leaders, here’s what we recommend.

Plan for an adjustment phase – don’t expect practices or people to ‘snap back into place’

Part of planning for an adjustment period is to make sure you clearly understand what worked and what didn’t in the minds of your employees during the work-from-home period. 

In a recent survey (June 2020), 54% of employees said they were equally or more productive working from home than working in the office. 

So if there is a problem or deficiency that leadership has noticed during the work-from-home period, you have to communicate what hasn’t been working clearly. Otherwise, your employees may feel that the return to the office is arbitrary and not to their benefit. This is one of those times when clear, straightforward, transparent communication is going to be key.

Old-style management will not work on employees who’ve been successfully self-managing at home!

Your employees have experienced unprecedented freedom and autonomy while working from home, and they’ve largely been successful at self-directing. That’s wonderful. That’s one of the goals of being an engaged organization with employees you don’t have to micro-manage because they’re invested in your larger purpose and doing their part to move your business forward.

And many businesses have gotten a taste of that. But to keep those gains, you also have to maintain that level of trust with your workforce. You’ll need to improve communication between employees, managers, and leadership and develop a structure – with your employees – to allow for more freedom and autonomy, along with appropriate levels of support and clear accountabilities.

You may not be able to go back to ‘standard operating practices’

Many standard operating practices – the things you’ve always done in the ways you’ve always done them – won’t survive in a post-COVID world. The sooner you adjust, the more smoothly your organization will transition. But to do that, you’ll have to collaborate with your team members to determine which practices to stop, what to change or improve, and which to continue. It’s an incredible opportunity to strengthen and streamline your organization, and your employees are on the front lines, ready, willing, and able to give you valuable insights (but you have to ask for them). 

Change is never easy, but it’s always a valuable learning experience. Our job, whether at home or in the office, is to take the lessons from this time and use them to come back stronger.

New Imperatives for Leaders – A Deeper Dive 

The changes our businesses have experienced carry important new remits for leaders, necessitating adjustments in how leadership communicates, motivates, and leads their teams.  One important question many forget to ask is whether their employees have the same trust and confidence in their leaders as management does. We call this the Leadership Perception Gap, and unless it’s bridged, many leaders will struggle with implementing change and generating good performance. 

Take a deeper dive into the Leadership Perception Gap in the webinar below, and come away with actions you can take for assessing and closing the Leadership Perception Gap within your own organization.