Previously published on Forbes
Most of us don’t change unless we have to. We have been in need of a whole new approach to work for decades, but it wasn’t until the global pandemic hit that organizations were forced to change.
Because the truth is, none of us were really happy with the way things were — long commutes, loads of travel, office politics, 50- to 60-hour workweeks, untold distractions at the office. It wasn’t working. But who would have ever conceived of a hard restart for the entire planet?
I didn’t always understand that change was such a difficult proposition. I remember debating with one of my professors in graduate school who insisted that it takes pain to provoke change in organizations. I was an optimistic young woman then, and I simply didn’t want to believe that we couldn’t — or wouldn’t — collectively, proactively change when we knew it would make things be better.
But we don’t. We get comfortable being comfortable. We like to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. Neuroscience tells us that our brains like to travel the same well-worn neuropaths of behavior and thinking. It takes less work.
And then, a crisis hits. And we have no choice.
Today, we are all being forced to reimagine the way work gets done.
Continuing to Rethink The Way We Work
Earlier this year, one of the parents on our team needed some relief. Suddenly becoming a home-school educator didn’t exactly jive with the full-time role she had in our company. At first, she took a six-week leave of absence, just to sort out the home situation. Then she went part-time. During one of the many conversations we had about all of this, Shanon asked me, “When did work become the central thing in our lives?”
I looked it up.
The Ford Motor Company advanced the idea of an eight-hour workday in 1914, when it scaled back from a 48-hour to a 40-hour workweek after Henry Ford stated that too many hours were bad for workers’ productivity.
The federal government passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. Aside from the 40-hour workweek, the Fair Labor Standards Act also included several important reforms, including establishing a minimum wage, overtime pay and putting an end to “oppressive” forms of child labor.
Nearly 100 years later, we are in the midst of another revolution in the way we work. This is the revolution that we have been envisioning for years: giving people considerably more choice and control over where and when their work gets done instead of demanding face time at the office and rewarding those who spend the most hours there.
“Work is going to start feeling more like it wraps around your life, rather than the other way around,” one WFH employee said to me recently. What a concept! Many white-collar workers say their lives are now more in balance. They have adjusted their schedules to better fit their lives, and they’re enjoying it.
3 Strategies for Leading in a WFH World
What can you do as a leader of teams to make WFH work? Here are three strategies to consider:
1. Establish agreements for when and how work gets done.
For example, your team should be available from 9am to 4pm, four days a week for a conversation or a video call. Or no Zoom meetings on Mondays so that focused work can happen.
2. Create more connection points, not fewer.
Recent studies on remote workers show people are feeling more disconnected and less loyal to their team and organization. Fix this. Do a morning huddle every day, just to check in on what people have on their plates and what’s likely to get done that day. Or have a weekly team check-in as a look back on the week.
3. Increase trust
The bottom line to giving your team more autonomy and freedom is trust. That starts with your own behavior. Do you trust yourself to stay focused on work and not get distracted by your life? Do you have solid structures in place that allow you to be productive with your work? Second, do you trust members of your team to work remotely and get their jobs done? If not, this is your leadership development focus. Either hire people you can trust or cultivate more trust with the folks you have.
Above all, don’t resort to micro-managing. Don’t go backwards. Managers will be challenged to manage the work and not the people. Find ways to encourage accountability that are empowering and productive. This is a time that is rich with innovation and new approaches.
Change is hard and we like to be comfortable. My challenge to you: Stretch yourself to get uncomfortable and try new things as a leader.