Adapting and evolving our workplaces through great communication and leadership

We’ve all seen our workplaces forced to rapidly adjust to the impacts of COVID-19. While this has been disruptive, there are many positives to draw upon as we accelerate into our new reality – if we adapt cleverly.

We know that leaders have a vital role to play in supporting their employees to adapt when faced with change.

Good leaders are already ‘friends with change’.

They know sustainable change only happens through their people, and that it’s important to embrace ambiguity (and at times, empathetically course-correct) to keep employees engaged.

This approach is as important now as it has ever been.

Here are three unique things we’re observing in our current environment.

1.  Working virtually and increased process automation have been triggered by COVID-19. Everyone agrees things won’t simply go back to the way they were. In the coming months and indeed years, we’ll see increased flexibility and the blending of home and office-based work.

In this new work environment, leaders will be challenged to interpret how engaged their teams are and how they interact, and identify new and different ways to offer support.

Additionally, efficiencies will be even more available through the use of new software and the automation of repetitive computer-based tasks, so trust and collaboration will show up differently within teams. Leaders who embrace new systems with a focus on empathy and cooperation will move through the change with their teams more swiftly and productively. Organisations that have delivered on the promise of supporting their employees have already deepened their reliability and bolstered their reputations.

2. Communication will impact the effectiveness and pace of workplace transitions during this pandemic and into the future. In our experience working with many organisations, we’ve learned that employee communication will only engage when it aligns with culture. How does your organisation make decisions? What signs and symbols exist in your organisation that tell people what is valued? What routines and rituals exist in how you get work done? What stories and myths are repeatedly told in your organisation that tell people how things work and how to be successful? Who holds the power in your organisation? Here’s a hint: it isn’t always the most senior person.

Having an intimate understanding of your current organisational culture is a critical place to start when developing and executing great communications. This understanding enables your employee communications to be relevant – to genuinely engage and create dialogue – and helps leaders remain close to how employees are coping and adapting to change.

Use a blend of communications channels with phased messages to ensure employees are not overwhelmed by an over-reliance on video conferencing. Be purposeful and empathetic in your communication so that employees remain hopeful, optimistic and resilient. Ensure communication is well-planned so that you can nimbly move between crisis mode and more future-orientated messages of ‘normalcy’. Leaders who actively bring employees into the conversation will secure trust, engagement and respect.

3. Transformations need to keep happening. While employees may be feeling fatigued and anxious about their personal changes through the pandemic, COVID-19 is not an excuse to put business changes on hold. Leaders must find new ways to engage with their teams over longer periods of time to manage the changes that are occurring. Everyone in the organisation – senior change sponsors, people managers, project teams and front-line employees – must understand their role in change and be able to execute it.

Authentic employee communication during transformation helps to set expectations of change. So it’s crucial that transformation teams understand their change program on two key levels: when and how changes are happening, and the predicted impact to employees.

The challenge for these teams is to then phase and sequence the changes to avoid particular teams or individuals experiencing multiple changes at once. Additionally, targeted communications that are creative and strategically synchronised to the transformation are a powerful ingredient to securing employee engagement with the groups being impacted.

What are you observing in your current working environment? How prepared is your industry? We’d love to chat!