We can’t turn on the news or access any form of social media without some report or comment on returning to work in the office. Which firm is announcing a new hybrid work arrangement? Which company is not renewing their lease in favor of remote work forever? How are employees reacting to a “back to normal” schedule?
The layer underneath those headlines is what we must navigate as leaders facing these decisions, delivering the messages, or executing the plan. Beneath those headlines, we find the human response to change. A leader walks right into the reality of emotions clashing with office rules and business demands.
Change of any kind can create a variety of stressors on a team. A leader is challenged to navigate changes as an individual, while simultaneously “rallying the troops”, and considering the needs of the organization, customers…and “the bottom line”.
Pandemic-sized changes demand a multi-faceted values approach from a leader.
1. Commit to your own values.
First, spend some time considering your own personal values. What matters most to you? What do you need to be your best self? What are your priorities for your time, relationships, and focus? When faced with a challenge, we put ourselves in the best position for strength and success when we align our actions with our personal values.
• Looking at your own values as your “stakes in the ground” can help you decide where you put your energy. With so many discussions going on, it can be easy to be swayed or distracted from what is truly important to you. The simple exercise of reviewing your own values, perhaps even writing them down or posting them in a visible place, can be a helpful step.
• Invest time in what restores you, such as a health or fitness activity, time with family/friends, reading or journaling, or a spiritual or religious practice. This intentional time will prepare you for handling difficult conversations and showing up for your team in the best way.
2. Coach your team in supporting each other’s values.
Next, think about the values held closely by members of your team. Some of this may be known by what they have told you (“family over everything” or “I am happiest when I am helping others”), and some of it may be things you have observed (“James never misses his workouts and makes a lot of healthy choices” or “Lisa is an explorer – always planning her next trip to a new place”).
• Invite your team to share ways they have been able to dive into their personal goals or to more easily align their actions with their values over the last year. For example, a team member has a personal value of achievement, and during the pandemic she enrolled in an online MBA program. The remote work schedule made this possible since she “added time back” to her day without a commute. Another team member may talk about how the flexibility to work from home allowed him to visit his grandchildren more frequently. He has developed some new routines – such as taking them to a playground as soon as his work day is finished – and he has talked about the level of contentment this has brought to him.
• Encourage your team to reflect on creative ways they can honor their personal values within their new schedule. It might mean carving out special time for important things like studying. Or it could mean discussing a temporary schedule accommodation during peak times of the semester. Opening this up for a group discussion without judgment can foster collaboration, support, and innovation. One team member may gladly stay later to cover for his teammate who wants to head to the park with his grandchildren before sunset. In return, he comes to the office later, which allows him to take an extended morning run, supporting his desire to prioritize his health.
3. Collaborate to find the best (and new) ways to honor organizational values.
Finally, look at your organizational values – whether they are clearly defined and engraved in artwork hanging in the lobby or they are just known because of the experience felt while working there.
• Give some consideration as to whether or not any return to work plans or guidelines are in conflict with one of the organizational values. For example, your organization may have a shared value of Innovation. Does the new in-office schedule provide maximum time, space, and opportunity for innovation? Or is there a need to create some options that allow quiet space in office or time outside of the office to support innovation? With emotions running high about returning to work, it can be helpful to take the time to assess whether or not the new plans truly reflect the organizational values and support the employees’ efforts in upholding those values.
• Discuss what worked well or didn’t work as well in a virtual or hybrid environment. An organization that values customer support may recognize that some of the personalized attention given to customers has suffered in the virtual world. Or perhaps your organization has a goal of production excellence or “zero errors” – your team may discuss where there have been gains in efficiency or accuracy.
• Guide your team to think about how honoring the organizational values ultimately benefits everyone – perhaps through high productivity, customer retention, or low turnover. This is another great opportunity to pull your team together to collaborate. Is there a way to replicate any gains experienced while working virtually now that your team is in the office? What creative activities will support a shared value of teamwork with employees now working hybrid schedules?
A values based leadership approach can be your guide through murky times when the best decision isn’t always easy. Leading with your values will give you the foundation you need to take charge of moving your team forward, through change, to success.