Managing Through Transition: 5 Lessons from the Year of the Pandemic
By Maria Geokezas, VP of Client Services
It has been a strange year. Last year at this time, we were commuting into our office daily. Then, in an afternoon, it changed. We grabbed our laptops and extra screens from the office and began our WFH lives. We didn’t know how long it would last or how to manage through this transition. There was so much uncertainty and fear.
Self-Care for Work Teams
One year later, we have come out stronger and are well positioned for the future. I am beyond grateful that we find ourselves in this position. But, looking back, I realize this didn’t happen by accident. We were intentional about taking care of our people and ensuring our values and new WFH culture enabled a productive and healthy team. In order to do good work and serve our clients well, we knew we needed to take care of our team first.
5 Lessons for Managing Through Transition
As we emerge from the pandemic, we’ve taken a look back at what worked (and what didn’t work so well) in order to make this next transition smoother and less disruptive. Our efforts focused around five practices that we will use to ease the transition back to “normal times”. Whatever that brings!
Encourage proactive communication.
The most important lesson learned over the last year was to take time to process and communicate change as a team. This helped everyone feel supported, even though we were all working in separate locations. This also helped people feel more confident in their roles. Even though business was down, we allayed fears of potential downsizing which kept everyone focused on the work that mattered. Last, we conducted a survey to ask our teammates how they were feeling and what they needed to be more productive and feel supported. From the data we collected, we developed and executed a plan to bring our team’s suggestions to life (see lesson #4).
The second most important lesson learned is to actively work to make things more clear. During times of transition, many things fall outside our control. Recognizing that, we instead focused on refining our internal roles and processes to ensure we worked better together during the new WFH environment. We first reviewed job descriptions and defined the optimal skillset for each role. We then adjusted practices and policies that were built around having a physical office. Last we made sure we had the right tools in place to help people work efficiently and effectively remotely.
Vacations, weddings and family reunions were all put on hold last year. Even so, we recognized the importance of getting away from work. We encouraged team members to take time-off and disconnect evenings and weekend by recognizing publicly when team members took time off. We gave space and grace for people’s family life to sometimes interrupt their zoom meetings and workday schedules. On a regular basis we heard a student’s music lessons or gym class as background to our meetings. Greater flexibility to swap work time during the day for things like doctor’s appointments, school errands, even grocery shopping and hair appointments helped our team be more confident and productive.
Create other ways for employees to engage.
Based on our employee engagement survey (see lesson #1), we created several different team building opportunities to replace what we had been doing pre-COVID. Our All-Hands meetings moved from every other week to weekly. We setup a Friday Eve happy hour every Thursday to just hang out on Zoom. There’s a different host for each week and a theme which the host selects. We have set up specific channels on Slack to recreate the virtual watercooler effect – to share stupid dad jokes, recipes and sports/Hollywood gossip. Every month, we have a discussion group on a specific LinkedIn Learning video. We hosted a Netflix watch party and a cooking demo to encourage camaraderie and team building. We even published a cookbook together. In our line of business, when so much relies on having a cohesive high-functioning team, these social interactions are vital.
Last but not least, be kind, give others the benefit of the doubt. We’ve realized that everyone processes and reacts to change differently. As people managers, it’s most helpful to just simply be a sounding board. Don’t judge, just receive. It seems like a no brainer, during times of transition, a carrot is much more effective than a stick.
To honor this milestone of making it through the year, we have a week-long WFH Anniversary celebration planned. Each day this week, we have come together on Zoom to participate in different group activities. These mini-events are meant to be a fun break from our normal routine that allows us the space to reflect on what was and proactively create the culture, company and work relationships that we want for the future.
Please share strategies you’ve used or experienced that were helpful in leading teams through the WFH transition of the past year.