COVID-19 created unprecedented change when it comes to the way that we work. As the pandemic eases (at least in the U.S.) and companies begin to consider what a post-pandemic workplace may look like, it’s clear that returning to how we operated before 2020 isn’t an option.
During the pandemic, workers became accustomed to the benefits of working from home. 25% moved or are considering moving. Even as some companies and their leaders make a public push to get employees back in the office, they are quick to acknowledge that, for some employees, it may be impossible, leaving leaders to navigate a messy move to a hybrid workplace complete with new, unforeseen challenges.
Worrying about how your company and its services will adapt in an unstable, unpredictable economy is challenging enough. Nurturing the morale of your workforce during this transition can leave you feeling overwhelmed. The good news? You’re not alone.
In a February 2021 survey of talent professionals, over 91% told us that their leaders are struggling right now (n=179). A stunning 68% reported that leaders feel overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change (n=184).
While there is no silver bullet to help leaders navigate these challenges, executive coaching can provide leaders the support they need to make the transition to the hybrid workplace of the future.
Sometimes adapting to new conditions is fairly straightforward. A new skill becomes essential and there is plenty of expertise accessible to help you master it. A few hours on LinkedIn Learning and you can feel pretty confident in trying out something new. But this isn’t always the case. And it certainly isn’t the case for the transition into the hybrid workplace.
According to a March 2021 survey by McKinsey and Company, “Executives are most likely to expect that after the recovery, the current, pandemic-era ways of working remotely, traveling for business, and using office space are the most likely to stick to some degree once the crisis is over — though results vary by sector and by region.”
“There’s a tremendous desire on the part of large sections of the workforce to continue to have the capability to work from home, at least partially,” said Dr. Michael Platt, Founder of the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative, an AIIR partner. “But also recognition that people want to be part of the culture of their organization. They miss out on opportunities to interact, to connect, and also for the innovation that is sparked by those interactions.”
There’s a tremendous desire on the part of large sections of the workforce to continue to have the capability to work from home, at least partially but also recognition that people want to be part of the culture of their organization. They miss out on opportunities to interact, to connect, and also for the innovation that is sparked by those interactions.
Some leaders may feel like they’re surrounded by land mines and one wrong move could result in devastating blowback. Ask team members to come back to the office too early? Boom. Remote employees suddenly jealous that local colleagues are getting more face time? Boom. Do nothing and let your culture continue to crumble until there is nothing left? Boom. It doesn’t have to feel this way.
If you can combine careful consideration of multifaceted problems with employee collaboration and empowerment, you can take your organization to new heights. That’s a very tall order that even the most skilled leaders may struggle to achieve, especially considering that burnout is at an all-time high. This is where an experienced Executive Coach can make all the difference. Unlike skill training or any other form of professional development, coaching takes the time to dive deep and consider situations from all angles. Even better, many coaching engagements last for 6 to 12 months, giving leaders the time and space to analyze the outcomes of their efforts and approach new variables with intention.
At AIIR, we’ve adopted a 2021 theme that we call “Ride the Wave.” Early in the pandemic, it became clear to us that leaders didn’t need to just adapt to a set of changes, they needed to develop the ability to continuously adapt to constant waves of change. It’s truly unlike anything leaders have experienced before, as if we’ve stepped off of the dry land and now must learn to navigate change that is much more fluid and abstruse, often with hidden depths.
Executive Coaching and Team Coaching have been incredibly successful in teaching leaders how to surf the waves of change. Leaders who have experienced our coaching report increased productivity, higher sales and employee motivation, more effective communication, executive presence, self-awareness, and influence.
As restrictions loosen in some regions and vaccines become more accessible, conversations about “coming back to the office” are happening. What that looks like, though, is variable from person to person. Returning to the office isn’t something everyone wants or needs to do. Many employees work better from home — or at least they feel more productive. Others are open about their struggle with it. Some want to embrace it but may not know how. Other employees may have moved mid-pandemic and are now becoming aware of the long-term challenges the distance may present.
“No matter how much you plan or how much you anticipate, there is a work in progress element to it all,” said AIIR Founder and CEO, Dr. Jonathan Kirschner, on a May 4th conference call with the AIIR Global Coaching Alliance. “Everyone is doing their best to navigate these waters together.”
Once you start really exploring these challenges, you start to see that the layers of complexity are nearly endless. More than ever, we live in a global world. That means that vaccination and infection rates may be extremely different for your employees (and customers) across the globe. While some may be starting to relax, others are experiencing the worst.
Similarly, vaccine access is nowhere near equitable across locations and populations. Some even say that they feel “vaccine guilt” if they’ve been able to become fully vaccinated while others are still waiting. Is it inspiring or alienating to share your experience?
The spectrum of feelings on the return to in-person workspaces is wide and vacillating. If leaders aren’t careful, they could negatively impact company morale, which is already sensitive and fragile. The transition out of the pandemic is going to run on different timelines for everyone — there will be no uniform, singular path that works for everyone. It’s imperative, though, that leaders understand that vaccine anxiety is valid and rational, especially for employees of color or disabled workers who may have their own sorts of reservations or deliberations about COVID-19 vaccines.
This is another place where having an Executive Coach can be invaluable. No matter how hard you may try, your experience is biased in ways that you may or may not be aware of. An experienced coach, especially an independent coach that is working outside of your organization, can be a trusted confidant that brings a completely separate set of circumstances and experiences to your development.
Outside of vaccine anxiety, there are other concerns about returning to the workplace. For many workers, especially women and nonbinary employees who are parents that are responsible for child care. Staying at home has been helpful for many parents who want to save on child care costs. Physically disabled people may not feel that their workplace is as accessible as their homes are. Workers who have ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, or other invisible disabilities have different needs as well. Simply put, the office as it once existed wasn’t for everyone, and if it doesn’t transform, adapt, and accommodate, then your organization’s success is at stake.
This change, as significant and variable it is, doesn’t mean the end of the office but it does mean that we’re moving into the unknown. Executive Coaching can help leaders navigate these challenges as we move forward into the “new normal.” With the right support, leaders can have the empathetic adaptability to better support the needs of employees, ultimately building a high-performing, happy workforce.
Executive Coaching with an experienced coach can help leaders navigate times of great change, benefitting their workforces and organizations.
Partner with AIIR to empower your leaders and ascend into the future.