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June 29, 2021

Three leadership lessons for the post-COVID workplace

Leaders shouldn’t act as though the changes of the last year didn’t occur. Here are three new leadership behaviors to embrace — permanently.

Although no one’s quite sure what the post-pandemic workplace will ultimately look like, one thing is already clear: How I manage my teams and interact with my supervisors has changed for the better — and, I believe, permanently. By adapting to the new dynamics driven by the pandemic, leaders can better support their teams and generate results.

Even as a seasoned home-office worker, I found plenty to learn as the work-from-home environment suddenly went global and opened a window into the human side of business. Co-workers attended meetings with babies in their laps — and didn’t feel compelled to apologize. Through the pandemic, we learned that everyone needs a little grace, even when an urgent deadline is looming.

Here are three lessons from the events of 2020 that leaders can put into action:

  1. Remember that communication really matters. With the pandemic, social unrest and economic upheaval all happening over the last year, the pressure often felt intense. It was a relief for employees to hear from corporate and team leaders in all-hands company emails, acknowledging that although we’re in a tough space, we’re all in this together. These emails were more detailed than in the past, and they often included resources such as webinars, support groups and counseling.

    The lesson here is, don’t ignore what’s happening to your staff. We all know there’s work to do, and it’s important work, but employees need to be acknowledged as real people.

    The same human touch makes a difference in the everyday emails shared across teams. Although our work isn’t personal, the relationships are. When I’m delivering information regarding project due dates, I am very straightforward, but I also share something positive before I make an ask. I also tailor the information I share for quick and fluid processing. Some people only want bullet points; others prefer an entire spreadsheet. I deliver the information in the way that works best for them.

    As leaders, we often underestimate our power to help make someone’s day better. When I end meetings by saying, “Make today amazing,” people invariably pause and smile. Make sure your message isn’t always about the bottom line. “Thank you, we see you, and we value you” goes a long way.

  2. Recognize the productivity boost that comes when you acknowledge everyone’s human side. The biggest surprise of 2020 is how simply recognizing the human aspect can boost team productivity because it lets people find space and take a deep breath. I’m working more than I was 16 months ago, but the company’s offer of schedule tweaking — in this case, taking off every other Friday — has given me a more balanced home life. Having flex time when I need it has made a big difference for my four children and, as a result, has made me more productive. By attending to the human side, organizations get much more in return.

    The benefits of that give-and-take ripple through to our home lives, too. Like many who worked from home offices pre-pandemic, my workspace suddenly became my family’s study area when our local schools closed. The nuances of my open-door policy became part of our new togetherness: When my office door is closed, do not disturb.

    One of my sons made me a “Meeting in Progress” sign to hang on the door. The understanding and generosity at the heart of that gesture helped us all relax and make the best of a challenging time. My kids learned that while mom needs to work, I’m always there for them.

  3. Accept that workplace attitudes have changed. The changes I’ve experienced personally are permanent, and I’m guessing that’s true for others, as well. The pandemic taught me that, yes, there’s always work to do, but family is non-negotiable. In my case, my manager understood that as long as my family is settled, I’ll be my best at work. Everyone’s motivation is a little different, however; take time to understand what fuels the people who work with and for you.

It’s not an option to act as though the changes of the last year didn’t occur. Leaders must find a way to harness change and evolve as circumstances dictate. Although we’re all moving at the speed of digital, we’re still whole people who need balance in our lives — and we’re looking to leadership to help get us there.

Ladawna Cole
Global Brand & Creative Consult
Picture of  DIgitally Cognizant author Ladawna

LaDawna Cole is a Senior Principal Consult in Cognizant's Global Brand and Creative group. She leads projects that span service lines and industries, and specializes in program management, process analysis and marketing activation.

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