Managers and HR realize why leadership is important over the last year. They have quickly and dramatically been called on to lead their workforces through extreme challenges that, it’s a fair bet, weren’t covered in the handbook.
Indeed, fiction that deals with apocalypses and pandemics were extremely popular over the last year, perhaps showing that what was previously ‘make-believe’ was suddenly more instructive than ever intended.
Leadership in 2021 needs to acknowledge that a pandemic and its fallout will likely impact work and workforces for some time to come and be optimistic and realistic about how to manage, lead, and inspire their people through the weeks and months ahead.
Championing new technology
Leadership in 2021 will include making informed technology decisions and implementing forward-thinking solutions. Any software that’s adopted should be able to flex with the needs of the business, and it should be constantly updated and maintained so business leaders know they have invested in tools that will go the distance.
For example, using a modern HR system to help bring people back to on-site work will be indispensable for businesses with homeworking staff who will now return to the site.
If leaders and HR want their businesses to embrace new tech, they must make it clear that they are using this technology, too. For example, suppose a company rolls out a video conferencing tool to their staff, advising employees.
In that case, this is the new way to communicate with each other when not face-to-face, then managers need to use the tool, too – reverting to calling people by phone won’t help with embedding the new way of working.
Embracing hybrid and homeworking
Hybrid working is a pervasive buzzword, reflecting an attempt to return to some sort of ‘normal’ while retaining the flexibility that many businesses had to adapt as the pandemic took hold.
For hybrid or complete homeworking, for that matter, to be a success as lockdowns lift, leaders and HR need to put their support behind these new ways of working.
Recent statistics by the ONS show that progression and bonuses might be hindered by homeworking. If a business is serious about enabling staff to work from home, it won’t be enough to simply put out an internal comms saying so; they’ll need to walk the talk.
If a senior business executive is seen to be in the office daily while also telling staff that they support and encourage homeworking, their actions will undermine their words. Similarly, if HR doesn’t update its processes to reflect new ways of working, people won’t feel like they have permission to embrace hybrid or homeworking.
Changing the Layout
Some organizations are showing a serious commitment to hybrid working by changing the layout of their offices to reflect their use more as meeting hubs than everyday desk-based working environments.
This sends a powerful message to a workforce that how work is done is changing – and the business is investing money behind those changes to prove it.
Leading people through this transition also means remembering the people who might be upset by not having a desk, working out why it’s important to them to be in the office every day, and then meeting their needs in a hybrid operating model.
Connecting with people and understanding their work needs is essential if leaders want to help their employees through upcoming changes. Everyone has been through a lot over the last year, and it’s a given that people might be struggling with their mental health.
Like a new hybrid working arrangement, pushing through even more changes without consulting with people might be very distressing for some employees.
This isn’t the time to lead from an ivory tower – this is the time for managers and HR to talk and listen to the workforce to create a working environment that suits both the business’s commercial needs and the welfare of the organization’s workers.
Supporting good mental health
As the dust settles following the pandemic – and against the backdrop that other countries, like India, are still really struggling – some people might be finding it hard to get back to normality.
They may have lost family or friends to the pandemic or had it themselves. Even if it didn’t land on their doorstep, they might feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what we’ve been through with the pandemic.
The CIPD recently ran a webinar on helping employees with grief. Being prepared to deal with employee grief and trauma will help HR teams and managers support their staff and themselves as we all try to move forward.
Leaders might be keen to get their businesses back to pre-pandemic productivity, participation, and engagement. Still, there needs to be an understanding that mental health might be a bit more fragile than it was before the pandemic.
Promoting well-being on multiple fronts
There are lots of ways that leaders can help their employees with well-being. Throughout the pandemic, some businesses gave their staff access to apps like Calm and Headspace. This support should continue, and companies should consider if they can fund as part of their reward packages in the long term.
Offering classes that promote well-being, either on-site or online, such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, are other ways for businesses to invest in well-being. And if HR, managers, and senior leaders are seen to participate in these activities, to normalize them, all the better.
Fostering well-being should also include promoting work-life balance. The ‘balance’ will be different for each employee: some people might thrive on working long hours, and others may need the flexibility to manage responsibilities outside of work.
Creating a workplace where employees can raise their needs without worrying about their perceived or future job security and where they witness people in senior positions working in flexible ways to maintain their work-life balance is critical.
Why Leadership is Important to caregivers
Balancing caring responsibilities alongside employment is a work-life balance challenge for many people.
Over the last year, we’ve seen people juggle a lot: parents working while also caring for and homeschooling their children; family and friends helping sick or shielding loved ones; concerned members of the community volunteering to help isolated neighbors with shopping; etc.
We might have been in lockdown, but people got through the last year by pulling together and supporting each other.
Many caring responsibilities existed before the pandemic, and some new ones that cropped up may well continue beyond the initial peaks. HR and managers can provide leadership for their employees who manage work and care in several ways.
Support and Flexibility
Organizations could set up support groups for carers led by a member of HR or a senior business leader – if that leader shares a common carer experience with the people in the group, that will help build connections.
Such a group could provide both support and inspiration, a place to share experiences and discuss the challenges of balancing work and being a carer.
Business leaders and HR can also work with the carers in their organizations to better understand what flexibility they might require. The business can lead the way with innovative new approaches to work-life balance that they might not have previously considered.
A critical part of being a leader in 2021 will be open-minded to new ways of working and how change can serve both the business and the workforce.
Looking at what’s going on in the wider world
The pandemic hasn’t been the only significant change we’ve seen over the last year. There have been important calls for progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as well as continued campaigns for a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way of life.
HR, business leaders, and internal and external communications teams need to be aligned on how they will lead their business on these issues. Understanding why the world is calling for change and then doing what can be done within an organization to advocate progress will help engage current employees and attract new talent to the business, too.
Why Leadership is Important to Attracting Talent
Being a leader has never been easy. It’s only going to become more demanding and complex. The organization will be able to attract and keep top talent If business leaders and HR show they’re willing to embrace new ways of operating:
- hybrid working
- greater work-life balance
- more support for caregivers
- driving positive changes in DEI and the environment, and
- keeping up with the latest advances in technology to stay competitive and efficient
World events have shown why leadership is important in initiating change on an unprecedented scale – leaders just need to embrace the changes that’ll work for their businesses and guide their people through them.
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