Since the beginning of March and the Corona quarantine, our lives have been turned upside down. For some, their stream of income has completely dried up. For some others, fast profiling in other professions – like a hair dresser I know who started offering child sitting during the day, so parents can work peacefully, helped them to survive. A few lucky entrepreneurs and companies selling products and services online were riding the wave, as customers moved inside.
Physical distancing didn’t by any means bring social or emotional distancing – people were more keen than ever to reach out to each other, to talk, to share and to hold each other through the downturn. One other less visible category has been also massively impacted by the crisis. Their name: corporate managers.
For years I have been hearing how Czechs people are not ready to work from home. In the past, companies offering even a handful of home office days were turning their apparently benevolent approach into a major benefit. All that changed irreversibly on March 13th, when most of the Czech Republic went to work from home. All of a sudden, remote work was not only possible; it was vital for the survival of organizations. As always, abrupt moves tend to tear the veil on what used to be hidden in the background. Unfortunately, we were also able to see what was really behind the unwillingness of companies to allow people to work from home: decrepit IT infrastructures and poor people and managerial remote working skills.
The king is naked. Long live the king?
While coworkers adapted fast – some even started to use their personal IT infrastructure to cope with the challenges of remote work, the same cannot be said about managers. The reason is simple: for managers, the missing skills are not hard (how to share a file on Zoom or on Teams), things that can be learnt in a snap of a finger. For managers, the missing skills are much deeper and more insidious. All of a sudden everyone could see, with painful consequences, the lack of communication skills, emotional intelligence (self-mastery, empathy and conflict management being just a few of them) and, simply, leadership. Despite the relative investments into these areas over the last few years, the fact that people development has been done superficially and unsystematically became painfully obvious, as coworkers started to complain about lack of clarity, confusion, anxiety and a general lack of sense of direction for team and individual performers. All of a sudden it was clear for everyone: in the remote environment, the king was naked.
Confronted with this painful realization, some managers rubbed their hands at the thought that in May we would be going back to work and all will go back to “normal.” Surprise surprise: the reality that expects many managers upon returning to the office is not that simple. Their lives got complicated by the fact that many people simply got used to working from home. Most often, these are the same competent people with entrepreneurial spirit, who are able to be productive and deliver results regardless of their circumstances. These people, perhaps after many years, took a taste of that myth that we’ve been talking about for the last decade: work-life balance. In the safety of their homes they found themselves (relative) masters of their days. Some could do more work early in the morning, before their children woke up, then be with their families, then work again, then be with the family again. Some found room for more exercise – from home or around the home, but nonetheless. All of a sudden people didn’t have to choose between themselves, their families and work anymore, as they had everything in one place. The enormous time and financial savings became also obvious and people won’t want to part with that so easily after the quarantine easement in May.
For all these reasons managers should now expect that some of their best performers will want to continue working from home. And even though some people might feel threatened by job loss short term, when we look long term the footprint of their work-life balance experience will stay with people and they will want to replicate it sooner rather than later.
What does this mean for managers? While in the past we were living in a polarity: teams mostly connected through presence in the office or teams working remotely, as in the crisis, now we are faced with the new reality of leading hybrid teams: teams mixed of people working regularly from home AND from the office. This new move on the labor market brings a few structural shifts that we need to pay attention to and integrate into our practices and our companies.
Motivation über alles
In order to manage people in hybrid teams, managers will simply need to know how to work with people’s deep, inner motivation. No amount of money can buy a lack of well-being, as people understood during the crisis that our lives are simply short and it is vital to spend our time on this earth wisely. This means that we can expect more investments in the future into managerial training in motivation, communication skills and strategic enablement skills in general.
Productivity measurements will experience a revolution
A manager’s first and most important task when leading a remote workforce is the capacity to set a clear purpose of the team, a clear vision and clear goals. Then it is on the manager and the company to mark the journey towards achieving those goals and to measure people’s progress. If in the past productivity was measured mainly through yearly evaluations and hard KPIs (the number of calls made, the number of customers retained etc.), in the future measuring soft KPIs (like the capacity to communicate with empathy, sharing information fast and sensitively, leading effective virtual meetings etc.) will become more and more important. This is why we can expect a revolution both in productivity measurement systems in companies, but also with productivity measurement service providers.
The entrepreneurial career will finally take off
I have been talking for a while about the entrepreneurial career, where movements are possible in all directions leading to a wider, deeper and more meaningful expertise and life and where there are no career gaps, as long as people use their time meaningfully for rest, education and family matters. People will also start to have more employers, some of them located abroad (and paying more), which will take the war for talent to the next level. We need to understand that the ability to work remotely removed the barriers for career management for competent people; not only they can now work from anywhere, they can also work for whomever needs them and is able to pay for their expertise.
Brands will need to cope, compete and become more authentic
In order to win the war on talent, brands will need to put even more efforts into becoming visible through authenticity. Corporate brands will finally understand that having visible, strong personal brands to represent them is nothing wrong – by the contrary, such personal brands can become magnets for outside talent, as they stand as a living guarantee that people fare well in that company. It will also lead to more efforts in corporate communications and, hopefully, to that long expected transition into integrated communications.
Office spaces will decrease in size and be reallocated
As less and less people will want to travel to the office, more and more office spaces will be reallocated. Former open offices can all of a sudden become innovation hubs, art galleries and spaces for encounter, dialogue and a deeper form of humanity. In the same spaces where just a few months ago stress was rampant we might the light at the end of the tunnel through innovation, mindfulness and peace.
Sustainability will become about sustainable lives
All in one, thanks to the last two months we have a chance to reconsider what it means sustainable living. With more people working remotely we have less traffic. People will spend less (which also means less waste in terms of food, packaging etc.), but they will spend it more mindfully on meaningful things and experiences and they will also create more personal savings that won’t let them so vulnerable during the next crisis. In a word, sustainability will move from being a corporate slogan into becoming a lifestyle.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to live in this new world.
This post has been first published by the Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine in my personal column I, the Brand. Republished with permission.