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Leadership and home working - a new kind of workplace

Karen Brice Karen Brice

Leaders should value new cultures and be brave enough to make them sustainable. Karen Brice looks at how to keep home working employees engaged and feeling valued as lockdown eases. 

Before COVID-19, attitudes from more-traditional leaders on home working were mixed, to say the least. Opinions ranged from seeing it as a long-term opportunity to take unnecessary cost out of the business, through to a lazy way of working where people were not so much agile as absent.

In the last couple of months, many leaders have witnessed new ways of working emerging and seen that remote working is not impossible to control; in fact, it’s very much the opposite. The new ways of home working are not just productive, but also cost-effective. One said, “we’ve tried for years to control our expenses without success and now they are down to zero.” And people are valuing this more-flexible way of life.

Home working is better for employees

These new home working practices are also encouraging an adaptive and more mature, ‘adult to adult’ culture to manifest. One built on team commitment and individual accountability, where we're all able to contribute and have a voice. How teams build high levels of performance is, at last, being taken seriously. Talking about the awkward stuff, as well as having fun together, is breeding a new level of honesty and trust. Leaders are learning that compassion matters; well-being and mental health at all levels is something that is universally recognised. 

In one of our recent pulse surveys, some of the results would have made leaders’ toes curl in the old world. According to this, 75% of employees don't want their workplace to return to the way it was before COVID-19. It is important that leaders are seeing this as an opportunity to think in truly innovative and strategic ways, providing excitement as they plan for the future. 

For instance, how would a 40% reduction in your cost-base help your future plans? We’ve re-evaluated our business model by using behavioural norms as an indicator. We are looking at our properties and how we can make them places that our people would really value as spaces to collaborate and feel safe.  

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How do we sustain and grow this new way of operating? 

Crises bring about remarkable changes in behaviour and COVID-19 is driving a global culture shift. Early-adopters of home working are rapidly changing how they lead and many employees like this new form of engagement. We are working better, delivering fast results that no longer need four levels of sign-off, as the idea wilts and dies. People are empowered, feel liberated and egos are back in the closet where they belong.       

But now comes the next big test. How can we sustain and grow this new way of operating, and support the economy at the same time? Key to this will be not to slip back into the old power-based cultural norms of hierarchy, authority and cliques. These are no longer appropriate. The roles that weren’t valued before, such as central services, now have our utmost respect, and back-office functions, such as finance and HR, have become the lifelines of business.

Larger employers mean greater security

Moving forward, people will put greater value on the re-assurance of working for a strong, healthy organisation, perhaps more than a start-up; but only if it is one that doesn’t indulge itself in the old-style corporate game. It will get tougher, but we cannot go back. It's no longer about who is in the office and who is home working. It's now about working together to move our businesses forward.    

So here is the call to action: how will you sustain the momentum and not lose vital focus and energy? Keep open, keep visible, keep accessible, because if you don’t, there could well be an employee rebellion in the future or even worse, disengagement and apathy.  

10 tips for maintaining home working after lockdown

In the weeks to come, organisations will continue to be challenged to ensure business opens up in new ways that work for all stakeholder groups. Maintaining that positive momentum will be critical.

If you want to know more about how to ensure your culture survives and thrives, here are our 10 tips for leaders and their teams as we merge into our new world of home working: 

1 Stay human and authentic - don’t let the door close on organisational connectivity

2 Share as much as you can –  the highs and the lows, speaking with honesty and humanity

3 Talk about current and future strategies as a ‘we’ thing – leaders, at last, are talking strategy like never before  

4 Make culture and strategy work as one – never speak about one without linking in the other

5 Challenge the old hierarchies if they dare to re-emerge – they have no place in this new world

6 Back the innovators – encourage them to keep turning ideas into products quickly

7 Make this new team-process mindset and welfare sacrosanct – commitment, accountability, focus and care

8 Maintain a rhythm to your internal communications – be consistent, as surprises create unnecessary anxiety   

9 Listen, coach, encourage and support – these are the new leadership tools for success, so drop the internal competition

10 Build the ‘new normal’ together – no more ‘them and us’; value this new culture as more accountable and productive

Authentic leaders, connected cultures and fast innovation can become the new norm. We’ve proved that in eight, short, transformative weeks. Now we need to make it sustainable.  

To discuss home working further, contact Karen Brice.

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