Work has changed. The sudden transition to remote working as a consequence of the pandemic has forever blurred the line between home life and working life, and as managers and employees, we must create flexible and cohesive environments to attract and retain talent and help grow our companies. Get it right, and work can be better than ever. Get it wrong, and we will be in an endless cycle of managing high staff turnover as employees seek opportunities that align with their values and priorities. Leaders must now also rebuild and rehire, expanding into new regions for the first time. As Witco’s UK General Manager, I have seen first-hand the challenge of building and sustaining a growing team. Here’s how to give this challenge the best chance of success.
Before taking on a new region or team, you should be clear about what it is that you are setting out to achieve. A business is only as good as its people, and people need to understand how their day to day aligns with their company’s strategic vision. Provide as much information as you can about your vision to your new hires as you bring a team together. One of the main drivers of the Great Resignation is employees struggling to find purpose in the work that they do. By effectively communicating your ideas about the company’s values and mission – employees can understand how each decision, how each member of the team, plays a crucial role in the success of the company, and how they fit into the bigger picture. A clear, collective purpose will help you find the right team, and crucially, keep them.
Share physical spaces
Before the pandemic, remote work was gradually becoming more acceptable. Many company heads felt the office was unwieldy and expensive and even an obstacle to productivity. But after two years siloed into online bubbles, we also saw that many of us are yearning for a physical space to come together. Remote works for a lot of people, but for many others it doesn’t, which is why I believe in a hybrid future. Physical spaces allow employees to connect with colleagues and to build the relationships necessary for self-development. At the same time, we must enable home working and treat those working remotely just as we do those in the office. Through the pandemic, one in five had a promotion or appraisal pushed back, and experts now warn against the danger of proximity bias – giving unconscious preference to those who you see more of in-person. Create as many opportunities as you can for your team to reconnect in person wherever possible, and avoid “out of sight, out of mind.”
Know when to let go
The value of physical spaces is not limited to collaborative working. To forge authentic, trusting relationships, employees must be given the space to get to know each other informally. As a leader it is important to allow your team to see each other as people and not as their roles, so give your team space to do that both in the office and out of it. Office banter going on between the team? Good. Don’t feel you have to participate or understand every in-joke. Let your team find their level with each other. Similarly paying for your team to go for dinner without you may be a good investment for building an effective team in the long run, even if the instinct is to keep things tight and focused.
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the varied needs and challenges employees face. Many in parenting or caring roles will have benefitted from remote working, while others may suffer from isolation and career stagnation. In countries that moved back to the office after the lockdowns ended, employees are more likely to report that they see colleagues as friends than in countries that stayed online. Crucially, managers should give their employees the opportunity to voice their opinions and to choose a setup that meets their needs where possible.
Employees should be afforded the chance to take an active role in shaping their experience of work and company culture, using polls and marketplace functions to create events, vote on after work socials and organise the learning and developing opportunities that they feel will benefit them most.
Stay ahead of your team’s needs
A bizarre quirk of the modern workplace is that we do not try to retain good employees until it is too late. It is only when our brightest and best come to us with another job offer that we scramble to counter.
Especially with the demand for talent so high, managers must take a more proactive approach to keeping the needs of their employees met. This means better and wider use of ‘stay’ interviews, meeting regularly with staff to share needs and concerns, to recognise hard work and to steer people towards what motivates them, be that money, perks or development opportunities.
It also means better management of the flow of information and incident reporting: keeping employees happy requires regular communication and opportunities for reporting problems within the office as they arise. Software solutions are increasingly stepping in to fill the communication gap inevitably created by distance in physically disjointed teams.
Remote working technology and the pandemic have forced the world of work to change and reorganise. As teams settle into hybrid work, managers will be pressed to offer employees a fulfilling professional experience that benefits from the flexibility of online work and the collaboration of the office. Those who fare best will use trust and communication to their advantage, helping employees articulate their needs, using all the digital solutions available to meet them. These tools will help to ensure that the mistakes of our past become the wisdom for our future.