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When I think about today’s workplace, these three words come to mind: empathy, flexibility, and grace. As the manager of a 30-person team that went from 100% in-person work at our client’s site to working fully remote in March of 2020. Cultivating and nurturing these skills was essential to managing the stressful moments and discovering new ways of working together. These skills didn’t always come easy and I will never claim perfection. And as we contemplate what the future of work will look like post-pandemic, it will be imperative that we all carry these three skills into this next phase of working.
When the collective business world transitioned to remote work, we had to figure out how to balance often competing work and family responsibilities. It was easier for some than others depending on family circumstances, temperament, stage of career, and other factors.
I’ll admit that I initially tried to maintain a façade that I could operate as usual – just remotely. However, as my home life naturally crept into video calls and I began to find a new balance managing both work and home together, my thoughts around working from home evolved. I’ll never forget a particularly important quarterly review meeting when my sons showed up on-screen holding a shoebox with a dead mouse in it! Pre-pandemic, I would have been mortified. But in today’s world, I was happy to share a laugh with the client leadership team, and we kept moving forward.
So, yes, I learned quickly that business as usual was going to be anything but usual. As a leader, I also realized that I needed to model that this was ok by embracing the frequent moments when my home life to creeps into my work life.
The small, random moments of interaction that form the foundation of healthy, productive workplace relationships were no longer happening organically at the office. To effectively manage my team, build a strong culture of collaboration, and deliver for our client I knew it was essential to find new ways to connect, including:
Encouraging that cameras remain on for many team and client meetings. In the absence of face-to-face connection, seeing others on-screen is the next-best option.
Scheduling regular 1:1 virtual meetings with my team members and stakeholders. Carving out time was a challenge, but I knew that neglecting to make them a priority would set the relationship back.
Empowering team members to drive the culture of connection in their own pockets and in their own ways. The team hosted virtual happy hours or online game sessions where that banter crucial to team development and cohesion was the main point. With many new members on our team, this was particularly important.
Celebrating team birthdays and recognizing above-and-beyond work by sending special treats through a food delivery service directly to team members’ homes (something I will definitely continue to do)!
As parts of the world are slowly finding themselves in a better place relative to the pandemic, the question naturally arises – what now? Will remote work continue, or will employers once again require in-person workplaces? Maybe a hybrid solution will be proposed with a combination of in-person and remote workdays.
As we all transition to the next phase, transparent communications will help address the natural stress and anxiety that most certainly will occur. Following are some considerations for when communicating with your team about any impending workplace changes:
Recognize and address lifestyle changes from the pandemic: Understand that just as the pandemic-necessitated move to 100% remote work wreaked havoc with the professional and personal lives of your employees, many of them have since readjusted their lives to accommodate that reality. Some people have physically moved from their homes, experienced disruptions to childcare situations, and/or changes to a partner’s employment situation. Asking them to change yet again is bound to cause stress and, possibly, some resistance.
Have empathy: Lives have been forever changed by the pandemic and people may be fearful or anxious to increase their in-person interactions. Allow their concerns to be heard and work with them on how to comfortably re-engage. Consider keeping face-to-face meetings small initially, rather than requiring large, whole team meetings, for example. Help them determine which suppliers should be met with face-to-face and which can continue to be virtual check-ins.
Conduct scenario-building activities: In the weeks leading up to any major workplace transitions, take time to better understand where each of your team members feels comfortable and what potential issues may arise. Then, openly communicate about how you will address their concerns with different options considered. I encourage you to consider Design Thinking principles when coming up with your solutions. Consider questions such as, “What happens if we do meet in-person?” and “What do we give up by having a virtual meeting?” to help brainstorm possible options.
Focus on the positives with your team: Lean into stronger social connections and fewer daily distractions to help increase productivity and cut down on hours worked. Encourage the reinstitution of firmer boundaries between work and home life to avoid burnout on your team.
Whatever decision is made by employers with regard to in-person vs remote vs hybrid workplaces, I truly hope that empathy, flexibility, and grace will continue to be extended. I know that I will carry those lessons forward from this most unusual time in my career.
If you are looking to be a part of a workplace culture that values connection, consider checking out our open positions at WNS Denali.
Senior Manager, WNS Denali
Cassandra Thomas has partnered with a number of clients to deliver Source to Pay solutions throughout her 11 years with WNS Denali. Today, she leads a team delivering Sourcing, Contracting, and Procurement services to a Fortune 500 high-tech client. She's passionate about driving operational efficiency across S2P programs and is excited to share how she's able to keep that up in today's work-from-home environment by building a Culture of Connection on her team.