Managers Need To Be Careful To Not Make Mistakes With Returning Team Members

Managers need to understand that team members have new needs
Managers need to understand that team members have new needs Image Credit: Steven Penton

Good news: the pandemic is (mostly) over. What this means for many managers is that we are all going to be returning to the office soon. Our teams are going to be coming back with us. This is going to bring up a new set of issues that managers are going to have to get good at dealing with. The old way of being a manager may be gone for good. Do you have what it is going to take in order to be a new manager?

The Rules Have Changed

There’s can be little doubt that how we work changed dramatically during the sudden, unexpected and extensive experiment in remote work brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many team members, working at home, became more efficient, productive and happier; others may have struggled and desperately missed office life. Now, as returning to the office becomes a more feasible thing, the temptation for many managers is to consider the past year and a half as an aberration – something that’s best left behind and forgotten. Or they may take some of their emergency pandemic practices and consider them a permanent fixture of the workplace. Bosses take both of these paths at their peril. If managers ignore some of the lessons remote work has taught them, then empty offices may remain the norm. However, this time it will be because resentful employees have moved on to other companies that better meet their new needs.

Don’t Treat Team Members Like Children

During the pandemic managers learned that management practices that centered on control are as antiquated as those from a century earlier when factory bosses sat in glass offices watching workers make blue widgets. When workers suddenly went remote because of Covid-19, bosses worried that their teams’ productivity would nosedive. Without the presence of managers and co-workers to keep them focused, the thinking was that workers would surely spend their time bingeing on Netflix or sightseeing and taking their dogs for long walks. Instead, managers soon realized that just like a lot of studies had shown remote work doesn’t pose a threat to productivity. It turns out that remote work actually makes us more productive.

It’s can be easy to chalk up this productivity as a mere function of more hours logged, and some blurred boundaries between work and home lives. However, buried in this belief is the assumption by managers that employees aren’t able to self-manage their time for their own best interests. This assumption is the infantilizing of your team members and can stifle their potential. Research has shown that many people thrive when they have autonomy over their work, their environment and flexibility in arranging their schedules. With less stressful commutes and more flexibility, most of your team members are more available to bring their A game to work.

Whether it’s for remote, in-person or hybrid workers, we must avoid the mistake of reinstating the control practices that were standard in the workplace for so long. If decisions about who works where and when come unilaterally from us, it will most certainly be met with a backlash. Employees have had a taste of freedom, and they won’t give it up easily. Of course, we need to understand that a certain level of structure and consistency is still crucial. This is especially true as we adapt to the new normal. What we want to avoid, though, is for the personal preferences and biases of managers alone to inform these decisions that are being made for our team. Instead, we need to make sure that there are centralized and equitable guidelines, which both managers and teams can work to interpret together.

Don’t Allow Tech Exhaustion To Set In

Managers have gotten accustomed to using technology in ways that seemed necessary during the prolonged shutdown. This can include scheduling video meetings back-to-back or on a moment’s notice. Those techniques worked in the short term, especially when people were stuck at home. However, the resulting tech exhaustion that they caused won’t be tolerable as things return to normal. Whether we are meeting in person or virtually, we need to be given an in-between period to decompress, digest information and prepare for the next meeting. And managers can’t expect that remote workers will continue to be available to them all the time, anytime. What’s more, those managers who fell in love with videoconferencing have to understand that while it was a savior during lockdown, they can risk overusing it in the new normal. Cognitive overload, headaches and even slurring words from members of your team because of the tech that they are using aren’t the fault of the tech. It’s because managers don’t know how to use the tech that they have. With the return to work, there are many scenarios in which videoconferencing can do more harm than good.

So what should managers do? Managers must cultivate a more-sophisticated awareness of which digital tools to use and when to use them in a hybrid world. Some tools, such as videoconferencing, can increase immediacy and intimacy, while other asynchronous tools, such as email, have been designed to formalize processes and policies. Meanwhile, we need to keep in mind that no digital tool can fully replace in-person interactions even though it may have seemed otherwise during lockdown. Managers who understand that such differences exist and become intentional in their selection will provide a model that team members can emulate. The result will be a healthier and more productive team for you. Otherwise, people’s tech exhaustion can sink into chronic fatigue, and that’s going to be your fault.

What All Of This Means For You

The world in which we live is changing. We have gone through a period of time in which all workers became remote workers. Now people are slowly starting to come back into the office to work. Managers need to understand what they are seeing: change. We need to be able to deal with this change. What we are going to have to do is to take the time to understand what the member of our team need from us.

The first thing that managers need to understand is that the rules have changed. The way that things used to be done before everyone went remote can no longer be the way that things are being done. Managers need to understand that remote workers were very productive. When they come back into the office, they are not going to want their managers to be telling them what to do. We need to understand this and treat our team members like adults. Now that we are back in the office, we don’t have to do things the way that we had to do them when everyone was working remotely. This means that a lot of the tech that had been a part of our lives can be put aside. Take the time to meet with people face-to-face and give them a chance to take a break from back-to-back video conferences.

As workers start to come back into the office, managers need to understand what they are dealing with: a new beginning. We have to understand that the members of our team have been changed by the events of the pandemic. We can not treat them the way that we used to treat them. If we can understand this and adjust how we interact with our team members, then we can probably get them to stay. If we don’t do a good job of this, then we’re going to be looking for new team members.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that managers should require their team members to come into the office every day?

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