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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Three ways to handle the new normal at the office

Let’s look at three major areas of concern for business leaders today and see where we can make some changes.

Three ways to handle the new normal at the office
[Drobot Dean / Adobe Stock]

We didn’t become entrepreneurs to play by yesterday’s rules, but the changes following the last two years’ events would overwhelm any business leader. You might feel as though you’re losing a grip on the direction of your business due to working from home or in half-empty offices. Maybe your business growth has slowed and you’re struggling to connect with others to get it moving and expanding again. Or maybe you’re struggling to maintain control as your employees operate more autonomously.

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For so long, we focused on hustling and pushing through even when there were setbacks, hoping to come out stronger on the other side. But the cost of that constant hustle can be your mental health. Entrepreneurs are extremely susceptible to mental health issues as you have the weight of your business, its finances, and your employees all on your shoulders. It’s crucial to take time for yourself and assess what is and isn’t working to better adapt to this new normal in business. So, let’s look at three major areas of concern for business leaders today and see where we can make some changes.

WFH VERSUS OFFICE CULTURE

As lockdowns and remote work extended throughout 2020, many workers wanted to continue their remote arrangement when things opened up. In the FlexJobs study, 75% of workers agreed that workplace stress affected their overall health. Therefore, it would seem the solution to many people’s anxiety would be to work remotely. However, it’s now been more than two years since lockdowns began. What helps many people mentally is also harming others. In a 2021 study, nearly two-thirds of people polled reported feeling isolated and lonely some of the time, with 17% all the time.

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In addition to the struggles faced by workers on both sides of this debate, more than four in 10 employees are concerned about retaliation if they seek care or time off for their mental health. As leaders, we need to set the example and make space for our employees’ needs by providing options.

One solution to this dilemma has been creating a flexible schedule of remote and in-office work, often based on individual workers’ needs. Leaders are also encouraging employees to take vacation time and make doctors’ visits when necessary. Respecting office hours, even for employees working remotely, ensures you are putting your people first and that work lives aren’t being blurred with home lives.

TEAM BUILDING

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How do you create a team atmosphere when everyone is in different locations? Communication is key. Whether it’s weekly Zoom meetings for everyone, one-on-one check-ins via Slack, or organizing a safe company lunch where you can all come together, time with your team is essential. It allows everyone to see what everyone else is doing, be accountable for both wins and setbacks, and create camaraderie.

Equally important is time apart. If everyone knows what they’re meant to be working on and expectations are defined, there’s no need for micro-managing. If you find yourself constantly checking in, it might be time to reassess how you’re leading.

You also must assess how productive your employees are in their new environment. If someone is not as productive as before, you must identify whether that environment change is to blame.

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As more people switch to a flexible work-from-home/office setup, a survey found 77% of workers reported greater productivity, with 30% accomplishing more in less time. Much of this growth came from workers taking fewer breaks at home without coworkers around and less need for sick days. If your employees are performing better in less time, be sure to recognize the efforts and accomplishments during group Zooms and set an appreciative tone for the team. Use apps like Slack, Asana, or ClickUp to communicate key performance indicators you can track that work for you and your individual workers, and then step back and see how they do.

Giving employees more autonomy might feel tough for leaders who rely on traditional office setups and a series of conference room meetings throughout the day. However, the benefits can be productive for you as well. If you’re not stressing, odds are, your employees aren’t either, which is better for everyone’s overall mental health.

GROWING VIRTUALLY

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Now that you’ve implemented everything outlined above, you can focus on the bigger picture of expanding your company and your overall goals. You can use those great communication skills you’ve established on Zoom to set virtual meetings and drinks with potential clients and/or new partners.

You’ll also have time to discover new opportunities via social media. Check out apps that focus on your business’s niche as a way to connect with others and use hashtags to find people in the same service or selling a similar product. With the extra time you have, sharpening your approach will lead to more positive results.

You can reach more people virtually and in a shorter time than you ever could in person. If you communicate effectively in these environments (beginning with coming from a place of selflessness), then there’s no limit to the impact you can make in your market and those you connect with. These wins will inspire you to keep going and remember your mission while keeping those mental health setbacks at bay and eliminating the risk of burnout.

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There’s been a lot of change in how we run our businesses over these last few years and it’s not slowing down any time soon. Regardless, always remember that you set the tone. Your mindset will impact all others. Don’t fight it; instead, get yourself in the right headspace, trust the people you choose to work with, and embrace this new age.


CEO of Stage 32, the largest online marketplace of creatives & professionals in the global entertainment industry. Best-selling author.

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