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Leadership Now: Managing Through Return to Office & War for Talent

There’s no doubt, the turbulence of the past year and a half have transformed how we live, work and lead. Many managers are finding this period of time – past lockdowns and required remote status – to be even more challenging as we navigate the new normal in team functioning, hybrid workplaces and a war for talent.

Here, I’m sharing some of my favorite strategies that coaching clients are finding valuable:

1. Collaborate, Don’t Dictate

The job market right now is a swirl of activity, and it’s a candidates’ market. With 2020 in the rearview mirror, unhappy employees are leaving – in record numbers – for more flexible and lucrative opportunities. Now is the time to ask the opinions of your team members and arrive together at solutions for how work gets done successfully. Every situation and team is different, but you can avoid that “last straw” moment by creating dialogue and building consensus rather than forcing mandates. Share the information you have, gather information from others, and make decisions as a team with the knowledge you have today.

2. Cultivate Culture

It’s surprising how many managers believe the corporate culture is only about what happens when colleagues are physically in the office. Culture isn’t about the things you may do for employees, like doughnuts or coffee in the breakroom or casual dress days. It’s formed by interactions and traits that leaders cultivate in their team members. Rather than focus on a lounge area, I encourage leaders to engage their partners or direct reports in ways that facilitate successful work. Do they build consensus, provide actionable feedback and empower people to run with tasks they’re asked to complete? Do they share information that is meaningful about the company’s business conditions and changing priorities? Do they detail the realities and complexities of each role to show how it and impacts organizational performance? Do they value the whole person and understand the need for family time, leisure pursuits and vacations? Are employees considered equally to their peers for promotions or plum assignments? If the answer is yes to all of these, you’ve got a great cultural foundation, and there are many candidates who likely want to work for your company. If any of these questions startle you, it might be a good time for a culture checkup.

3. Embrace a New Normal

Many managers, adhering to the idea that we should return to normal, want to get everyone back in person as soon as possible. However, that will eliminate a large portion of candidates who value the opportunity to work remotely, at least part of the time. In all of the searches I’m currently conducting, the candidates’ first question is about remote status. Some immediately take themselves out of the running if there isn’t a possibility of remote work. Now that the pandemic has shown that nearly every role could function remotely, we can’t ignore that truth. As well, shortages in necessary services for working parents, like full-day childcare, are barriers to returning to the office. Beyond those obstacles, many younger employees are valuing their quality of life more than their salary. No one knows what the end game will be, but managers who work with their employees to find solutions that fulfill the organization’s needs, as well as their individual needs, will come out ahead.

4. Make Virtual Meetings More Effective

Whether you love them or hate them, virtual meetings aren’t going anywhere. It’s best to make the best of them. Even when meetings are standing (weekly/monthly) they require preparation, participant commitment and a clear, timed agenda. Determine who really needs to be involved, and who can just get the outcomes document. Prohibit multi-tasking or video-off attendance and ensure everyone knows the expectations for the meeting. Give everyone involved a chance to speak in ways that respect their comfort levels, whether that’s presenting an agenda item, sharing an update or giving an opinion. And keep them briefer than an hour whenever possible. Fresh approaches for making virtual meetings brisk and effective can breathe new life into even the most boring video calls. But whatever else you do, list and assign action items at the conclusion of every meeting. It demonstrates respect for everyone’s time and promotes prompt attention.

5. Be Purposeful about Think Time

To strategically evaluate the next moves, rise above the fray and really consider what’s best for your team and your business, you need time to think and recharge. Decide how much time you need and then schedule it. Maybe it’s 30 minutes to eat and 30 minutes to decompress and ideate or take a walk. Use the time to change your surroundings and unplug; you’ll be surprised how much more energy you’ll bring to your next meeting. It may take two to four weeks to start finding that time in your schedule. But to reap the benefits, you’ll need to be as purposeful about those appointments with yourself as you are about everything else on your calendar.

Some of these strategies can be implemented immediately. Some may take some time and buy-in from your leadership partners. But giving dedicated thought to how you plan to lead in the months ahead can help your organization find greater success in growing both your culture and your high-performing talent.

If you’re interested in strengthening your organization’s leadership capabilities, let’s talk.