by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator
If you study history, you know the word “unprecedented” is often over-used. Whatever is happening, there’s usually some kind of precedent to draw from that can teach us.
It feels like we are facing one of the those “unprecedented” times right now: the return to the office. At least in our lifetimes, we’ve never experienced the kind of global disruption of the workforce that we’ve seen over the past few years. And while we could go back to the Great Depression or sometime further for globally cataclysmic events, the unique circumstances of our modern problem creates a unique set of problems that we’re dealing with.
I sat down with Remote Leadership Institute co-founder Wayne Turmel to talk about some of the special dynamics of our current crisis and what we can do to navigate forward.
Culture requires context
Wayne points out that culture requires a context. “There are procedures and rules, written and unwritten, that are the foundation of any organization’s culture. We’ve had three years of college grads and other new hires who have been brought into the organization and they haven’t spent a day in the office. That context from a remote perspective is vastly different from the office culture and is missing some key pieces.”
Wayne points out communication as a prime example. The remote communication culture that we’ve been operating under for the past few years isn’t the same as what we have when we’re co-located. What’s more, the “veterans” will be expecting a return to the pre-pandemic culture, the one that they have a context for. How will the “newbies” learn this culture, and are we prepared for the inevitable turbulence that we’ll experience?
How to re-create your culture
The first part of the solution, Wayne says, is adapting our mentality. Leaders must bring a coach’s mentality. They will need to lead the way on teaching and coaching team members, young and old, in cultural norms. Some of those will be the “tried and true” items that predate the pandemic. Others will be newer and different policies and procedures.
For that reason, “Everyone needs a learners mentality,” Wayne says. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a new hire, a leader or front-line worker, you need to hold your expectations loosely and be willing to work with the rest of the team to establish a new culture. That’s not necessarily one that is based on the “good old days” nor is it one that pushes the envelope of change. It’s one that reflects the needs of the team and that will optimally benefit everyone going forward.
Value different perspectives
Creating this “hybrid” culture means listening to everyone’s perspective. Wayne points out that the veterans will undoubtedly bring a valuable history to the table. While we don’t want to remain rigidly attached to old procedures that don’t work any more, we also don’t want to start tearing down fences without knowing why they were built in the first place.
By the same token, the newer team members will bring something just as valuable: questions and new perspectives. One of the main dangers to any team, Wayne says, is the allure of the status quo. We can become numb to the need for change because of the comfort in “the way we’ve always done it.” These new team members haven’t done it that way. In fact, they’ve been working with a completely different context of what the status quo is. That outside perspective, if we’re open to it, can bring about some valuable changes that make things better for everybody.
Because we spend half our waking hours with our colleagues, relationships still matter. Forging those has been more difficulty while working remotely. For some of the veteran team members who already had relationships, that may not have been as big of a hurdle. They need to be mindful, Wayne says, that many of the newer team members haven’t even had the opportunity to connect personally with their colleagues.
And because of that, the team had been deprived of the glue that holds the culture together. Wayne emphasizes that leaders absolutely must be cognizant of that dynamic and work intentionally to facilitate connections.
So, even if your organization is decades (or more) old, you are likely facing circumstances right now that challenge the very foundation of your success. What you do will be the foundation for your future.
Learning together is an unquestioned team builder. We would like to invite you and your team to this year’s Virtual LeaderCon. Kevin Eikenberry will be hosting 30 of the world’s top leadership experts (including Wayne Turmel, who will be talking more about returning to the office). Check out the rest of the lineup and make your plans to be there.