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  • Jude Mahony

3 blocks to build on as we start the recovery from COVID-19

Digital workplaces are now the norm (hallelujah!), but there are other side-effects that have come out of COVID-19 and will continue to build as the workforce moves onto it’s next wave of change and recovery.

As we start to move back to face-to-face interactions and back to usual workplaces, there will be three building blocks that will remain for me from this time in lockdown.

Leadership behaviours, personal resilience and flexible work arrangements

Flexibility

Having the ability to work from home has been a tenet of my career for nearly ten years. Working with teams across Australia and internationally has meant I have always needed to manage remotely and find ways of maintaining connections without in-person interactions.

Having teams in different timezones forced me to work outside normal office hours and to make sure I had a balance of work and pleasure time. Working out of a dedicated home office was great most of the time, other times not so great. Walking into my “dungeon” at 5am and not leaving until after 9pm was a health hazard. (Dungeon is what my family called it – not me!) Having the flexibility to work around personal commitments, still maintaining connections with all teams, across multiple timezones was not just a luxury, but a necessity to do my job.

Having the flexibility now is still a necessity – not just because of COVID-19, but to allow me to do my job, maintain relationships and maintain life balance. We have all tried hard to build and maintain relationships through this period, but we also know that it is more difficult over Zoom than in person - though still achievable.

Concentrating on deciphering physical cues and non-verbal communication is much more challenging when you are not sitting across from a person and can only see from the collarbone or waist up. It takes a lot more effort than you realise and can be exhausting - especially if you have technology challenges thrown into the mix!

I was talking to an ex-colleague last week who had just returned to work from parental leave and has been working from home full time since her return. Her ideal working pattern is three days at home and two days in the office. Her bub is in childcare five days, and with an hour-long commute, working from home when she can, makes sense for her family situation. It gives her the best of both worlds – removing the commute time, means more family time. Time in the office means her personal relationships are maintained and she gets to reconnect with people on an informal basis more easily.

Prior to COVID-19, there were many research articles written about the need to offer flexibility as part of the gig economy and to attract and retain different generations.

The Silver economy wanted flexibility to allow them time with grandchildren. The millennial generation wanted flexibility to maintain lifestyle. Now, most if not all, generations will want to maintain some semblance of flexibility to keep their balance.

Remote working has been a great experiment for many, and flexible work arrangements will be the expectation of most following relaxation of restrictions.

What level of flexibility will you maintain once your office re-opens? What are your expectations of your manager once life returns to it’s new drumbeat? Do you expect your employer to continue to offer flexible work arrangements? What will you be offering or expecting?

Leadership at all levels

I have had many conversations with members of my teams over the years on leadership. Especially during performance reviews or development planning. I have lost count of the number of times I've heard the phrase “I want to move into a leadership role”.

Leadership means different things to different people, but to me, it is a behaviour and one that can be displayed at any level of an organisation or in any role – if you choose to do so. It is not reliant on a title. In fact, many individuals who are fantastic technical experts, have been promoted to “leadership” roles and fail miserably. A technical expert still needs to learn leadership competencies.

Agile teams don’t rely on one leader, holacracies don’t rely on one leader, networked organisations don’t rely on one leader.

Leadership behaviours are displayed across all roles and team members, not just the “manager”. Networked, borderless organisations empower and engage, provide transparency and encourage innovation.

During COVID, we have seen many examples of leadership. (Some of which make me cringe, others that make me applaud). What has been consistent is that the leadership displayed has not necessarily been by people who have “leader” or “manager” in their title.

The taskforces that have been created to work through COVID-19 are very good examples of this. They are collaborative, cross-functional, networked teams where resources and expertise are shared, teams are empowered to make decisions in a faster, less siloed cluster and traditional hierarchies are reduced or removed.

Networked organisations rely on cross-functional teams where individuals may play a part in a programme, a project or a deliverable. Leadership behaviours are required in every team member, at every point. It is one of the key transferrable skills that has been flagged as a “skill of the future”, but is clearly a skill required now.

What shift will your organisation make to ensure you maintain the “safety” for individuals to lead by example, collaborate, share resources and focus on the critical business priorities to sustain your business?

Resilience

The ability to recover from adversity and overcome setbacks is critical as we start to emerge from lockdown. Understanding our emotions, working through them and using aspects of the situation to create a positive outcome works for some. For others, not so much. The mental health toll has been recognised, but not necessarily addressed.

The rush to move to remote working and physical distancing meant that many people were removed very quickly from normal social interactions to trying to find not just somewhere to work at home, but ways of keeping socially connected. I have heard lots of talk about how we need to backtrack now and ensure ergonomic assessments are undertaken of home working situations before we “allow” remote work to continue, but haven’t heard mention of any “assessments” of the mental health of our teams to enable flexible work arrangements and/or to enable a return to their workplace.

Assessing resilience will give us a good indication of how our people are looking for ways to progress and forge forward, or whether they are not coping with this setback and not able to see the unique opportunities that challenges present. Resilience can be developed. Remembering that the move to a new path forward is a change that will also create its own anxiety. Understanding your team’s resilience now will help your return-to-work planning.

Understanding the uniqueness of each of your team, and supporting them through coaching, mentoring and identifying the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) will empower them to move through the next change phase with positivity and purpose.

What steps are you taking, as part of your recovery plan, to ensure you understand your team and their resilience? How will you assess your team?

Author: Jude Mahony

15th May 2020

The Optimal Resourcing mapping of your future workforce approach includes:

  • identification of critical roles and skills that fit your immediate needs and long-term strategy,

  • an adaptable workforce composition plan, with flexible, scalable options to suit VUCA business environments,

  • talent retention and acquisition strategies that ensure your team can continually evolve to meet the changing demands of your business.

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