The pandemic forced us to do what we, as Americans, do best: innovate, collaborate and find short-term creative solutions for keeping businesses, services and schools open and running. In an employment version of the Wild West, companies and organizations that had rarely allowed employees to work from home invested in new technologies, instituted policies on the run and scrambled to figure out how to manage staff.
Many workers enjoyed this changed reality, while others required a new level of discipline to complete assignments effectively, collaboratively and on schedule without working late into the night and burning out. Managers had to learn how to support their dispersed teams and communicate effectively. Traditional, hierarchical ways of leading weren’t as effective, and the dichotomy between tech-savvy and multi-generational workers posed greater challenges.
Workplace leaders have transformed into what I call “service leaders,” mission-driven to meld old and new ways of working, communicating and thinking to create cohesive teams and stimulate individual performers. Here are four necessary adjustments for making the transition to a service leadership role that better suits today’s workplace realities and remote workers:
1. Ask employees what they need to do their best work
Leaders must ask two questions of each direct report: “How can I be more present for you?” and “How do you work best?” One size does not fit all. Discovering how to guide staff more effectively requires a willingness to compromise and a better understanding of each worker’s unique needs, constraints and strengths.
2. Move from a reactive to a proactive mindset
Service leaders are mindful, thoughtful and flexible, moving from reactive to proactive. Establish a firmer foundation for your leadership by setting up clear two-way expectations for quality, deadlines and communication.
At a recent two-week senior leadership class I facilitate at a local college, participants discussed challenges and shared potential solutions. For example, we debated rethinking work hours to suit people’s lives. Some might do better in a nine-to-five world, but others are more effective working 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Service leaders can build goodwill and improve delivery quality by accommodating flexible hours that fit workers’ personal needs and adjusting deadlines, calls and meetings accordingly.
3. Communicate frequently and bring teams together, remotely and in person
People working remotely miss the social aspects of office life — the simplicity of impromptu meetings or walking into a colleague’s office to work on a problem, get guidance or plan next steps. How do service leaders ensure the collaboration, joint problem-solving and team building we once took for granted?
One solution: Ask teams to gather for periodic in-person lunch meetings, social events and regular in-person and virtual small-group work sessions while remaining mindful of work/life balance (limiting dinnertime and weekend meetings). In addition, for teams that live in different time zones, find appropriate times to establish regularly scheduled team and one-on-one calls.
4. Don’t ignore training needs and growth opportunities.
Given today’s employment challenges, how do service leaders continue attracting, cultivating, training and retaining talent? Measuring output is far easier than seeing the path that led there. Leaders must be attuned to process change and how things are being done, not just to ensure that deadlines and quality are consistent. When a service leader sees a gap, that’s a development opportunity, a chance for mutual goal-setting and additional learning and growth. Taking the time to discuss these issues individually, and to respond positively and creatively, strengthens each participant and the team itself.
Leadership has to be transformational and visionary. Everyone has different experiences, talents, interests and challenges. A service leader takes the time to understand and work with each team member. This is necessary for setting effective boundaries around work/life balance and for promoting good decisions and autonomy, reinforcing deadlines and ensuring productive interaction.
Mary E. Ignagni, Ph.D., is program director of the Industrial/Organizational Psychology program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.