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Kalyn Ponti | 10 June 2020

Supporting our teams to thrive as the office reopens

It’s been two months of adrenaline.

Keeping our organisations going and supporting our teams to stay safe have been important and heavy loads for leaders to carry.

We reopened our physical office last week and it’s going well, thanks to collective power of our team. The adrenaline has decreased this week. It’s now setting in that we’re through the emergency phase and into a new phase of recovery.

At Humankind, my two primary responsibilities are our financial performance and the employee experience of our team. This works well for us. Throughout my career, I’ve always been responsible for business performance and I fundamentally believe that investing in people is the path to success. Culture alone won’t get us a great company. If our service isn’t superior, or the market doesn’t want it, we will fail no matter how good our culture is. Culture is to a company what training is to an athlete. An athlete will only succeed if they have the raw talent; training alone won’t be enough.

As we transition into recovery, these two priorities have never felt more important. The financial performance of our organisation and the wellbeing of our people are the absolute imperatives.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this recovery phase and wanted to share what we are doing, in case it’s helpful for anyone else. 

How is the team feeling?

  • Most importantly, ask them. We’ve rooted our decisions around re-opening the office and new operating rhythms on insights from our team
  • As a generalisation, there will be feelings of excitement as people get to reconnect and grab their coffee again
  • There will also be deep feelings of insecurity. The economy, job losses, and how the virus is progressing around the world will create uncertainty and therefore create feelings of insecurity about people’s jobs
  • This is concerning because feelings of insecurity not only impact our people’s wellbeing, but also decrease team-oriented behaviours like going the extra mile or helping colleagues. This can be really detrimental

Supporting your team when the office re-opens. What can leaders do?

Provide a sense of personal control

  • Provide flexibility. This giant work from home experiment has forced us to be more hands-off and provide more flexibility and autonomy over when, where and how people work. When people are trusted, they are far more likely to act in a way that is trustworthy
  • Give them the ability to contribute to decision-making. Show them their input matters. Co-design new operating rhythms and ask for feedback on new ideas, policies or practices
  • Make yourself visible and available

Take a one-size-fits-one approach

  • The virus is not impacting people equally across demographic lines. In addition to existing inequity, it has also drawn attention to inequity spanning areas such as parental status or health status. We have to be aware of this and how these factors can impact performance
  • Provide flexibility around timeframes for returning to the office. Everyone’s experience has been different and if someone has a legitimate reason to feel uncomfortable returning just yet, explore alternatives with them. If they are uncomfortable, giving them time is better for everyone
  • When making decisions, bring diverse voices to the table to ensure you are supporting your entire workforce to thrive, not just the majority groups

Innovation over productivity in the short-term

  • This is a hard one as many of us are in a position where productivity really counts right now
  • Can you give some allowances here? There will be sensory overload for the first couple of days and the fact is that people just won’t be as productive
  • With the uncertainty mentioned above, in the long run, jumping right into 100% productivity might work in the short term, but could lead to burnout or mistrust down steam
  • Use this time for innovation. Which new habits can we keep from the past two months, helping us to be more innovative and collaborative than ever before?

Re-establish a short-term mission

  • We’ve realised our purpose of bringing humanity to work still stands but our vision and existing annual goals feel irrelevant or too far off given the rapid pace of change
  • We’ve been transparent around our financials and the team know exactly what we need to do to hit key performance milestones (including both revenue and profitability)
  • We’re looking to establish a 2-3 month mission that our team can rally around. We’re wanting to provide clarity on priorities and also acknowledge the evolving nature of the next few months

Continue to focus on wellbeing

  • There are many sources of stress related to COVID and we’re all feeling the toll this takes
  • An employee’s experience at work has a direct impact on their overall wellbeing. When people are feeling good, they perform better. We all care about our teams so it’s also just the right thing to do
  • Re-iterate the resources available and ensure you have a deliberate wellbeing programme that is simple and tailored to your team

Live your values more than ever

  • In times of crisis, our values matter. Be deliberate about how you incorporate your values into the key decisions being made over the next few weeks
  • Our actions are our culture so now more than ever, we have to be intentional
  • Again on trust, the congruency between our stated values and how we actually act is key right now

I don’t get the sense that the ongoing transition is going to be easy but considering the factors above us helping navigate. We’re excited about how the nature of work is changing. Our team is incredible, and I know your teams are too.