Over the past year and a half, the workplace has changed dramatically. Now, with some employees working from home, some in the office, and some in a hybrid capacity, it’s hard to know who is doing what, where they are, how they’re doing, and how to engage with everyone effectively. The workplace has become like the wild, wild west.
For organizations, developing and maintaining an energetic work environment and a positive employee culture is more difficult, but more important than ever. Leaders have been (rightfully) focused on their employees’ physical health, accommodating the need for more flexible schedules, and moving most (if not all) employees to work remotely — only recently has mental health become a focus.
But many of these changes have brought about new, unforeseen challenges that are impacting team members at every level of the organization. Everyone from interns to top-level leadership has had to deal with, and overcome a difficult transition into doing things differently. And in most cases, none of these groups have any idea what the others are going through.
Remote employees have the luxury of working from their home, eating their own food, drinking their own coffee, and even working in their PJs. They spend no time commuting or and save money going out for lunch. Those who work from home have some real perks over those who work in the office.
But, with those benefits come some unique challenges that only remote employees face — challenges that they may or may not even be aware of. Lacking much of the face-to-face communication with colleagues they are used to, many virtual workers can feel like they’re not part of the team. They tend to experience loneliness on a higher level than in-person employees and can struggle mightily with not having direct contact with leadership on a daily basis.
A large number of remote employees also face “work-from-home paranoia.” This occurs when people feel stressed about awaiting a response from a colleague, client, or supervisor. Virtual workers report feeling like they’ve done something wrong if they don’t receive a quick response — a feeling that many of us can relate to. This pandemic phenomenon has created startling new levels of stress for these employees. Work-from-home paranoia can even contribute to overall feelings of isolation and general anxiety.
In-person employees have direct access to leadership on a regular basis and enjoy some of the “normalness” of working in a real workplace. They can easily pop into a supervisor’s office to get some facetime with the boss or discuss a question that comes up.
But, employees working in the office face some different challenges than their remote counterparts. They sometimes express feeling jealous of their remote colleagues, who they feel are “lucky” to be able to work from home. This will inherently create some animosity between the two groups.
What’s more, while it can definitely be a benefit to be around leadership all day, they may also feel that they are being watched more closely than their remote colleagues. This concern, whether valid or invalid, can lead on-site employees to feeling like they don’t have as much freedom throughout the workday as they used to.
Leadership question marks
Many people look at organizational leaders as having it easy during these times of the wild west in the workplace, but they are in a critical and under-appreciated position.
They now need to figure out how to do their old jobs with a whole bunch of new complications thrown in. Who is working where? How do they keep their remote and in-person employees engaged? How can everyone stay in-the-loop and on the same page? All of this on top of the usual daily challenges of being a manager or leader.
Right now, no one has the perfect answer for these issues — no one can tell you exactly what to do. There is no precedent and a universal, one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist. Leaders are literally learning on the job, and it’s anything but easy. The only thing they can do is to participate, communicate, and engage more with their team, in search of a solution that works for everyone.
HR: The new frontier
HR leaders are in a unique position to help leaders with these new organizational challenges. The semi-remote/semi-in-person workforce presents a perfect opportunity for employee tension and conflict. Previously, when everyone was working in the office, managers and HR leaders would hear about and see conflict firsthand, in real time, as it arose. They would see and feel the culture among their employees, and had the ability to stay ahead of issues bubbling beneath the surface.
It’s hard to feel the culture on a Zoom call. HR leaders have to fend off conflicts that they can’t even see coming. Conflicts that seemingly come out of nowhere because they’re not able to pick up or notice the clues right away.
This situation would be daunting for anyone, but with a few practice and policy changes, HR leaders can help an organization prevent these new employee issues that have arisen out of the pandemic.
So, how do we fix it?
By reading this far, you’ve already taken the first step! Being aware of these challenges puts you as a leader on the path to being able to combat them in the workplace.
Showing compassionate leadership is the next step. Helping employees understand that your care about their problems, and you are concerned about their well being will naturally guide you in the right direction. Here are some helpful strategies to help you become a more compassionate leader:
1. Touch base with your remote employees twice as frequently as your in-person employees.
We recently worked with a leader who made a conscious effort to send twice as many emails and Slack messages, and get on a phone/video call twice as often with her remote employees as she did her in-person employees. As a result, her remote employees felt more connected to her and less isolated. This strategy will also help leaders pick up on problems they’re not seeing and have an idea of how their employees are doing and who could use some support.
2. Create a team chat, channel, or message thread.
This is a good way to keep everyone connected to all of the little things going on during the workday.
3. Don’t forget how important it is to have fun at work!
This is the best way to keep your employees engaged. Schedule a happy hour and invite everyone! Now that things are opening back up in many places, scheduling a team happy hour or dinner for the whole team can bring everyone back together (remote workers included) and remind people that they are one big, happy team. If your team isn’t quite ready to gather indoors yet, organize a team hike, walk, or other outdoor activity.
4. Hire an experienced HR professional.
The workplace has become the new frontier over the past year. With employees working from various locations, changing schedules, and the increasing need for employee engagement, leaders and their HR colleagues are put in a unique position. The struggles that come along with these changes are ones that we have never seen before in the workplace, but with a little practice and these tips, your organization can develop and maintain a positive, supportive culture with great employee engagement!
At Flynn Barrett Consulting, we have years of experience working with leaders and employees on engagement and communication issues. We can help your organization break through the wild west in the workplace and get back to working as one big, happy, productive team again.
Schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help ensure your employees feel connected, confident, and appreciated, wherever they happen to be working and learn how to navigate the wild west in the workplace!