I’ve heard from a number of business leaders and executives about their perspectives on life after COVID, especially work life in a post pandemic world. The most common message they share is that their teams are worn out, at all levels of the organization. Some leaders have guided their companies through their best year ever, finding that their business model was ideally suited to more than a year of disrupted work, recreation, travel or commerce habits.
Others, however, are simply doing their best to keep their companies or their workforces together, hoping for a fast turnaround and being able to switch from survival mode to a future-oriented approach.
Tired workers also can’t put in their best efforts — they’ve been stretching for over a year, balancing heightened demands at home and at work. Without a break in the pressure they’ve had to face both at work and at home (which might even be the same environment these days), employees might be running on empty. So how can organizational leaders support their teams and help re-energize them so they can be fully engaged and successful?
First, take stock of where you are and celebrate the successes. Stop for a minute to recognize the hard work and accomplishments you’ve seen from your team. Have employees been going above and beyond? Has your company met its targets, even if they had to be scaled back in response to the pandemic? Share how the company is doing and make sure you acknowledge the role your workers have had in meeting your goals. When you let your employees know that you appreciate them and all of their efforts, especially over the past 15 months, you’ll find it can have a significant impact on morale and even build momentum to keep moving forward.
Whether your workforce has been at home or you’re back in the office, consider some culture-building events to let those who are comfortable have some face time — and some down time. So much of a productive work environment relies on the relationships co-workers build together, and it’s been hard to maintain those since last March.
Second, discover and acknowledge the reality of where your people are at. Ideally this is already happening during regular team meetings and check-ins, but consider having feedback-gathering sessions with cross-functional teams or an anonymous survey to gather insights related to post-pandemic stress. You can’t know what needs or challenges your employees are facing if you don’t take the time to ask (and then really listen).
Virtual meeting fatigue is real, and you’ve probably seen the evidence of it in more workers turning their cameras off during meetings. Some employees faced their own struggles with COVID-19, whether through becoming sick themselves or through the illness and loss of family and friends. They may have had to balance their kids’ virtual education kids while keeping up with work, isolated and stuck at home without their usual outlets for socialization, exercise or entertainment. Although some people thrived during stay-at-home restrictions, it’s been exhausting for most of us, one way or another. As we move forward into the post-COVID future, make sure to pause, look back and take a breath (and allow your employees to do the same) before diving headfirst into your return-to-normal plans.
And third, speaking of plans, start making one — but hold it loosely. Since the pandemic initially disrupted life and work at my company (and everywhere across the globe), we’ve been in a perpetual state of flux, having to shift our goals and priorities as needed to match the environment we found ourselves in. Since that time, we’ve been communicating clearly with employees about our plans and the leadership team’s expectations.
I’ve chosen to be transparent about our company’s financial situation and new opportunities that we’ve discovered as well; our employees have responded to that communication and appreciate being treated equally. Adding confusion to a turbulent season would only add to the strain each worker is under already.
If over the past year you’ve more fully opened the lines of communication within your company, don’t revert to closed doors and closed-off communication as a return to normal operation comes into reach. Maintain the wins and momentum gained during the pandemic and incorporate them into your plans going forward.
I hope these strategies will help your organization’s transition to post-pandemic life be smoother and more productive. Lean into what made your team work well during the pandemic and give them opportunities to share, learn and grow together. Look for ways to get your employees excited about your company, especially if you’re starting to bring them back in person after over a year away from the office. Inspire confidence in your company and your leadership by celebrating together, meeting your workers where they are, and sharing your plan for an even brighter future in the post-pandemic world.