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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Shifting our perspective: How leaders should respond to COVID disruption at work

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

Pre-COVID, many employers approached recruiting new employees with the mindset of putting the burden on candidates to prove why they should be hired for an open role. For those who made it through the hiring process, they had to adapt to whatever the prevailing culture was at their new company. It was a “fit in or hit the road” situation.

Today, we are in a market where potential employees have a great deal of leverage. There is a massive number of people quitting and looking for new jobs. In addition, more employees than ever before got a chance to work from home during the last two years. Not surprisingly, many of them liked the flexibility and don’t want to go back to the office full time – even whenever it becomes fully safe to do so.

Job candidates have long had to answer questions like “Why do you want to work here?” or “How will your experience benefit our organization?” Those are still great questions to ask, but be prepared for candidates to ask YOU crucial questions like “Why would I want to work here and for you?” or “How will working here be different than at your competitors?”

In the past, only the boldest candidates would ask those questions during an interview. Yet now if those questions aren’t asked outright by a candidate, a savvy hiring manager or recruiter will address them proactively. Candidates have a lot of choices for open roles and you need to be ready to sell them on your position and company just as much as they will need to sell you on being the right candidate.

How this works for retention

If you don’t want someone on your team to be part of The Great Resignation, you might need to adjust your approach to working remotely and offering employees flexibility to find the right work-life balance for them.

In some organizations, many leaders are calling all employees back to the office because they want the team to be there in-person full time. The problem is that many teams don’t want to be back full time. This is a risky bet for leaders. If you’re going to enforce the old rules, you need to clearly articulate why it’s important to do that in a way that your employees will see as benefiting their personal development, team dynamics or work product.

Check out these statistics below from the Future Forum Pulse, a global study of more than 10,000 knowledge workers:

"Flexible work practices are now deeply ingrained and valued, and expectations are not budging. Seventy-six percent of employees want flexibility in where they work, and 93% want flexibility in when they work. These results have not fluctuated over two quarters now—across all geographic areas surveyed. People working fully remotely feel two times better about work-life balance than those working full time in the office and 2.4 times better about work-related stress."

Calling teams back to the office full-time just because it reassures you as a leader to see people working is not a strong justification. In fact, I think doing that is likely to hurt your credibility. Personally, I prefer being with my team in the office; however, I find the flexibility of working remotely a few days a week to be great. If your company is not going to issue a top-down directive requiring people to work in the office that you must enforce, I think it’s best to be flexible and build something that will work for you and your team.

A wake-up call for leaders joining new organizations

A little over a month ago I moved from an organization where most employees and teams were back to working in the office together full time. In my new role, almost everyone is still working remotely and will keep doing so for at least several more months. When I do go into the office, I might see three or four other people on a floor that used to hold 200. There are some members of my team that I haven’t met outside of online meetings.

Getting up to speed in this environment presents some challenges, and as a leader you need to find a way to work around them. You have to check in with people more often and ask them what they need.

Perhaps most importantly, you might need to get over your personal resistance to having a remote team. This wasn’t a problem for me, but I know many leaders struggle with it. Just remember that it’s not all about you – it’s about you and your team.

Overall, this disruption is likely to be permanent. Yes, some companies will bring more people back in person and offices aren’t going away forever. However, employees have experienced major benefits in flexibility and negotiating power. They won’t want to give up either, and I think that’s a good thing in the long run for everyone. It just requires resetting our expectations and adjusting our actions.

"Leaders who genuinely listen to employees, foster flexibility, embrace inclusion, build connections and lead by example will create a work environment that is more productive, balanced and innovative than before."

- Future Forum Pulse Survey

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