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We Made it to 2021, Now What? Adapting Management Styles for the Post-COVID Reality

Published on February 16, 2021

For a lot of us, getting to the end of 2020 felt like a relief. But in reality, we’re still far away from getting back to “normal”, including in the workplace.

For people who are able to work remotely, this will continue for the foreseeable future as vaccines are slowly rolled out.  And there have been a lot of growing pains and adjustments when it came to transitioning remote work. Managers may have discovered that their way of managing didn’t transfer very easily to remote format. Teams may have realized that physical proximity was what helped them feel connected with each other and supported. Individuals may have found that having people around is what kept them focused on work throughout the day.

Research

In April 2020, we conducted a survey of remote workers in Canada and the US and the key takeaways for leaders was the need for:

  1. Compassionate and collaborative leadership
  2. Management availability and clarity of expectations and deliverables
  3. Ensuring people have the tools and resources they need

In November 2020 we conducted a similar workforce survey in Victoria, BC, and found:

  1. Those who had regular check-ins were more satisfied and less anxious
  2. Those whose leaders asked for their input felt more satisfied and less anxious
  3. Over half of respondents felt overloaded and anxious at work, and would benefit from having management monitor and adjust workloads (particularly if there have been layoffs)

Flexible management for remote work

Not all employees are going to love working remotely. For those who don’t love it, they may need a different type of support than those who are more comfortable working independently and without people around.

Hogan researchers have found that the key competencies important for successful remote work include: self-management, communication, dependability, flexibility, and relationship-building. Since managers are working with both people who have adapted well to remote work and people who may find it much harder, there is a need to adapt the management style to suit individual needs. 

The key competencies important for successful remote work include: self-management, communication, dependability, flexibility, and relationship-building.

Self-management

Those who aren’t as strong at self-management may need support from management. This can mean providing more structure and more regular check-ins to keep them on track.

Communication

If someone doesn’t proactively communicate with others, they may need their manager to draw them into team discussions and have regular check-ins to understand how they’re doing.

Dependability

Some individuals may need to be supported in creating a structure for keeping track of tasks and keeping others in the loop on work while working remotely. 

Flexibility

Those who aren’t able to adapt as quickly to new situations, processes, or tools/technologies may require additional support to get through adjustments and learn new tools. Support can be provided by their manager or by partnering people to support each other.  

Relationship-building

Some people may not feel as connected to others without being in person. While we’re all suffering from Zoom fatigue, talk to these employees who may be feeling more isolated to see what they need. Try creating space for casual interactions that aren’t work focused like social video calls with coworkers. Or as the weather starts to warm up, try creating opportunities for team socially distanced outdoor meet-ups. 

No single management style that will suit every employee. The key skills for managers are to communicate openly, find out what employees need by engaging them in discussions about it, and continuing to adjust and be flexible as internal and external pressures shift in order to best support employees. This flexibility will result in greater resilience for both managers and employees.

Why adjust if it’s just temporary?

Our recent Victoria, BC workforce study revealed that 69% of employees strongly desire to continue working remotely on a full-time or part-time basis even after the pandemic. Multiple surveys of employees around the world have confirmed a desire for remote work in some shape or form. Organizations need to prepare for that interest and consider ways of making it beneficial for both the employer and employee (e.g., ability to rent a smaller office space or not needing to move to a larger space when growing in size).

How can managers adjust?

It’s become clear that managers can’t coast through this with an outdated style of managing that requires seeing people at their desks. The focus has to shift on outputs and outcomes, regardless of hours spent at a desk. This shift is an opportunity to strengthen new management skills, check-in regularly with employees to see what type of support and structure they need, and make continual adjustments.  Regular team meetings help people stay informed and reduces uncertainty as we face continuing changes and disruptions. Tweaking management styles to be more flexible will help organizations and employees be more resilient.

One of the most important pieces which has been highlighted throughout this pandemic is the importance of asking your employees for input. Ultimately, the manager or leader has to make decisions but by asking employees for input, including them in brainstorming, and soliciting their perspective, employees will have more buy-in to changes that happen and managers/leaders can make more informed decisions by having a broader range of perspectives about situations.

Above all, employees and managers need to engage in self-care, reach out to each other for support when needed, and use healthy coping mechanisms to get through this and come out more resilient and compassionate than before!

Contributors

Gillian Harper
Guest Author

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