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3 questions leaders need to ask to prepare for the future of work after COVID-19

It’s time to rethink our working norms so that we can build a flexible, resilient workforce.

3 questions leaders need to ask to prepare for the future of work after COVID-19
[Photo: Halfpoint/iStock]

Recently, I had an in-person meeting with a colleague who lives locally. It was the first time I had met with a professional colleague in person since early March. The meeting went longer than planned, and, in addition to our agenda, we chatted a bit about our personal lives. We had so many ideas. I left the meeting inspired, energized, and full of new purpose. Even though I am an introvert, the in-person collaboration created a spark that I had been missing.

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The world has proven that individual work can be tackled successfully from remote settings. Workers can maintain flexibility with the support of technology and empathetic leadership. This is a great accomplishment for the corporate world. However, we cannot take for granted the importance of in-person connections to drive ideation, performance, and success.

Right now, many organizations are actively planning for “reentry.” They are not only considering when employees will return to the physical office but how many, if any, will return at all. Companies are evaluating what it will take to enable more consistent remote working for the long term. They are considering the value and purpose of in-person collaboration and how to organize the workplace to meet these needs.

In this moment, leaders have a unique opportunity to reimagine what the future of work will look like and to operationalize it. For our mindsets to move from survive (I need to do what it takes to get through this) to thrive (I am ready to challenge myself, innovate, and exceed expectations), organizations must move out of crisis-management mode, through reintegration, and into a steady state for the future.

To begin to motivate ourselves and others in our organizations to move through this progression, we must create an environment that allows employees to feel inspired, energized, and innovative. As leaders, we must be prepared for a long journey to build a work culture that supports both in-person collaboration and remote working. And, it starts with asking some hard questions about the reentry strategy.

Why, and in what ways, do we need to work together?

Think ahead about how you will embrace employees who need to return to the office, as well as those who would prefer, or need, to work remotely. Consider:

  • What is the value of congregating in a physical space?
  • In what situations is it still necessary to work in the same room all day, side by side?
  • When should people gather for intentional collaboration purposes?
  • How productive/effective are we at working virtually?
  • How can we assess the positive and negative impacts of a remote work environment on the long-term?
  • Nurturing the spirit of innovation—in-person and virtually

If your organization is considering having employees in the office, it likely won’t be nine-to-five, five days a week. Individual work can be tackled from home. Changing your physical space by turning your cubicles into collaboration spaces can create a new vibe for the office that focuses in-person meetings on energizing others through collaborations and ideas. Of course, for now, these spaces will need to be socially distanced, but as we are
learning, there are many ways to create a feeling of togetherness, despite physical gaps.

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If you won’t be back in the office soon, to maximize connections and creativity with your virtual team, you can create interactive multiday virtual summit experiences that change the game on a typical workday. You can send employees tools for the meeting, care packages, and other items that are geared toward connection and creativity.

What do we need to enable hybrid collaboration across teams?

The future of work must enable the spark of innovation and creativity that is brought about by inspiration and collaboration. Being together—in person, with others—brings that spark, and the new thinking and innovation that companies need to move forward. Consider what tools, training, and technology will be required to make sure that people in the organization can collaborate in a hybrid model. For example, you can continue to drive engagement and connection by reallocating your rent money for small team, multiday retreats that combine fun, inspiration, and great thinking.

Be sensitive to the impact of isolation. In his book Together, Vivek H. Murthy, MD, explores the crisis of loneliness that many of us are feeling. He reflects on the roots of connectivity and their importance to human existence. Dr. Murthy states, “Beyond basic survival, connection increased the rate of human innovation and empowered the tribe’s creativity.”

Working remotely can contribute to loneliness and other mental health concerns. This feeling of isolation will have a long-term impact on work outputs–which is why a hybrid solution is so important. Combining virtual and in-person interactions is critical to maintaining the highest level of motivation and morale.

How can we reimagine the way we work to ignite energy and performance?

Enabling new ways of working will require significant mindset shifts regarding work-life balance, setting boundaries, effectiveness, and collaboration.

Leaders must take a close look at the behaviors for which they are coaching and rewarding. As you take a look at how work gets done in the future, you may need to reconsider how to measure today’s drivers of success and productivity, including output value, emotional
intelligence, resilience, and agility.

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As we continue to hover on this bridge between what was and what will be, organizational leaders have a tremendous opportunity. It’s time to rethink our working norms so that we can build a flexible, resilient workforce that is equipped with the physical space, tools, mindsets, and organizational support to move from survive to thrive.


Diana Vienne is a senior partner with Notion Consulting, a global change-leadership consultancy that helps leaders tackle complex business challenges.

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