For more than two years, topics such as hybrid and remote work, rapid change, and talent shortages have dominated leadership and HR conversations, and the coming year promises more of the same. Organizations are thinking about how to manage remote and hybrid work, the workforce is exhausted from constant change, and employees from entry-level to the C-suite are questioning how life and work should fit together.
The radical shifts in the workforce demand new ways of leading. As organizations look ahead to 2023, here are a few thoughts to help plan for the new year:
1. Show Employees Some Extra Attention
“Employers need to be sure they aren’t taking people for granted,” says Daniel Stewart, President. “They need to not just assume that the expectations that were already shared when somebody joined, or when they initially came onto the team, are the same conversation, are the same expectations that remain today. People may need a little more attention right now.”
Ultimately, companies and leaders need to address the three human needs every employee has: to feel liked, competent, and independent. That may mean engaging in “re-recruiting” efforts—starting a good dialogue over what the company can offer employees and what employees want from their work to ensure a good match.
2. Walk Into Change Initiatives Carefully
In the recent “Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2023” report from Gartner, 53% of HR leaders said organizational change was a top priority for them, but 45% of them recognized that their employees are experiencing change fatigue. In general, employees are struggling to continue accommodating changes; the 2016 Gartner Workforce Change Survey showed that 74% of employees were willing to change work behaviors to support organizational change, but only 38% said the same in 2022.
The focus on organizational design was clear for Nolan Godfrey, Regional Director and Executive Consultant, who recently offered a presentation on organizational design for HR VPs and leaders. “There was a line of about a hundred people waiting to get into the room because they were worried they would miss the session,” he says. “It had nothing to do with me. I’ve given other sessions, and people don’t line up for them. But I had people sitting on the floor along the wall. This highlights how big a topic is for all of us and that we’re all struggling and challenged right now.”
“A lot of people are still just trying to figure out what hybrid is right now,” says Kristin Derwinski, Executive Consultant and Coach. “Some organizations are losing people and restructuring departments to rethink the business and how it should be structured, all while knowing it’s hard to find talent.”
Organizational design or change may be urgent, but leaders should step into such initiatives cautiously, with a focus on change management. The SARA Curve can be a particularly useful tool for leaders helping employees navigate change.
3. Protect Employee Time
With the massive increase in remote and hybrid work, many companies are now struggling to define productivity. Some have implemented tracking tools, but a more common approach to ensuring productivity is to overwhelm employees with obligations that may not usually apply in an office setting. These obligations generate activity that satisfies managers but may also prevent genuine productivity by keeping employees from doing their real work. In fact, one recent analysis found that remote workers are still wasting over an hour per day in “productivity theater”—an activity designed to demonstrate that they are working during office hours.
One of the biggest culprits preventing employees from doing their work is meetings. A Microsoft analysis from spring 2022 found that meeting time had increased over 150% since February 2020. Employees report being double-booked for meetings more frequently as well.
This constant meeting overload interferes with the real work people need to do. “We’ve all been there,” says Tyra Bremer, Director, Business Development and Executive Consultant. “You start your day, you get into back-to-back meetings, now your inbox is crazy, now you can’t catch up, you miss deadlines, and it just creates this hamster wheel struggle.” She suggests setting “protected time for employees to actually do the things they need to do.” For some companies, that may be certain hours of the day that are flagged as “meeting-free” or “protected;” for others, that may mean only having meetings when the whole team is in the office on in-person days and allowing remote days to be meeting-free.
4. Redefine “Productivity”
As employees across all levels and functions continue to express exhaustion and fatigue, leaders can help by redefining productivity to focus less on activity and more on results.
“If you are planning your Saturday at the beach with your family, and you’re committed to not using your phone from eight to four, and you do that, then you’ve had a completely productive day because you accomplished your goal,” says Taura Prosek, Director, Business Development and Executive Coach. This idea can apply to work as well. “Productivity shouldn’t equal ‘busy,’” she says. “Productivity should be about results and value.”
Employers can help reset ideas around productivity by more clearly defining expectations and output their teams need to produce. If employees are meeting those expectations and output goals, then it shouldn’t matter when or how they accomplish them. The productivity is in the outcome, not the activity it takes to get there.
5. Keep Questioning Assumptions
Executives who question their underlying assumptions and keep honest, open dialogue going with employees can be a great asset to their organizations as they navigate changes in the next years. “Keep being humble and questioning the assumptions we’ve had about being successful for so many years because the workforce has radically changed,” says Peter Stewart, Managing Partner.
The next year promises new challenges but also new opportunities. Leaders who approach the year with humility, openness, and flexibility will set themselves and their teams up for success in the future of work.
- What is one policy you could implement that would help team members find more time for focused work?
- What is one assumption you are making about work right now that you need to revisit?
- Who on your team needs some extra attention to help reset and reengage in work?