Experts agree the working world is still very much in a state of flux as covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out at various rates across the globe. That makes predicting exactly how work life will look, post-pandemic, impossible. However, there is widespread agreement on the strengths that will be required of managers, leaders, and businesses to succeed once we’re there. So, as the leader of a team, what does that mean for you and your built environment business?
It’s generally agreed that workers will expect a more flexible approach to where they’re required to work, and as a result, how they’re managed. Crucially, the conversation has shifted from being one that’s employer-led to one that is driven by empowered employees.
The employee-led conversation
In a June 2021 article, the New York Times said, “for the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand.” Pointing out that this is largely due to the erosion of employer power during the low-unemployment years leading up to the pandemic, the article (as with many others) was clear that the trend toward an employee focus would persist long after it.
This means that an entire generation of managers who grew into their roles in an era of abundant workers, must now learn how to operate amid labor scarcity.
We spoke with Clare Thompson, the head of people and culture at AEC business and project management software company, Total Synergy. Clare agreed. “I think this conversation has changed. It used to be employer-led. Because employees have now proven they can work from home, or anywhere else, it isn’t anymore.”
The challenge, most agree, is that people who lead teams must now undergo a fundamental shift in the style and methodologies they use to manage their people.
Technology touch-points for post-pandemic managers
Geographically distributed teams not only require more technology for effective management, but also a different engagement with that technology by managers.
“It’s the touch points,” says Clare. “Using technology to communicate properly with your employees is more critical now — you may have people in different time zones, you might be asynchronous versus synchronous. We have some great tools with things like Microsoft Teams, but it’s the discipline and appropriateness around how you use them.”
Focused through the lens of a new employee-driven workforce, a new hybrid working style (entirely remote, entirely onsite/in-office, or any combination thereof) has two broad implications for successful management:
1. You’ll need to engage with new business and project management tech, and do so in new ways
2. How well you achieve the above will be determined by how skillfully you employ that tech to support your team and their needs
What your employees want in the post-pandemic working world
Essentially, post-pandemic work life is going to require a much more bespoke approach to managing people. A management method that is tailored and more wholistic in terms of the needs of the individuals who work for you.
As the leader of a built environment team, you’ll need to be aware that your employees will have increased expectations of what you and your business offer in relation to 4 key areas:
Pre-covid management held to the idea that having somebody in front of you in the office proved that they were working. However, once we’re clear of the pandemic, the option of remote working will be a base-line expectation for employees. Analysis suggests “46% of the workforce is projected to be working hybrid in the near future”. That means changing how you manage them.
A lot of this new shift, says Clare, “is about changing your mindset to output-based management, as opposed to the old style of time-based management”.
Rather than requiring your staff’s attendance in-office between nine and five, for example, as manager you will need to agree upon X being delivered by the end of the week. You’ll then leave the management of the time required to achieve that, entirely up to your employee.
Harvard Business Review reported that “in more than 70% of manager-employee relationships, either the manager or the employee will be working remotely at least some of the time. This means that managers will have dramatically less visibility into the realities of their employees’ day-to-day and will begin to focus more on their outputs and less on the processes used to produce them.”
This flexibility represents a huge opportunity for businesses to widen their search for talent. The employment market has truly been globalised by remote work. However, Clare says, “that also means that we step into a space where there’s even more of a war for talent — people think that because the borders are closed talent pools are stuck within their own countries, but they’re not. From a talent perspective, the world’s opened up.”
As a result of that disintegration of physical employment boundaries, and the increased demand for workers, employers will need to ensure they’re attracting talent with management that includes a significant investment in employees’ development. This is another key expectation of the post-pandemic workforce.
As the New York Times article, “Workers Are Gaining Leverage Over Employees Right Before Our Eye” points out, that includes doing away with some of the traditional barriers to entry for potential staff members.
“Up and down the wage scale, companies are becoming more willing to pay a little more, to train workers, to take chances on people without traditional qualifications, and to show greater flexibility in where and how people work.”
The post-pandemic workforce will also have an increased need for a sense of community because of their geographic spread. That community will not only be about video-call tech, but also about the equality of access to documents and files. Cloud-based file management and collaboration software is the only way to grant that.
“You look at the way that we’re set up with SharePoint, at Total Synergy” says Clare, “if you have everything in one place then people can access it, for everything from onboarding documentation to daily admin, then there’s equality of access for all employees.”
Likewise, when teams are decentralised, you no longer have anecdotal conversations as you make a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Unless, of course, you try to facilitate new ways for that happen when people are remote. You have to use the technology that you have to check in, and to encourage others do the same with their colleagues.
Again, for managers, this comes back to an ability to engage with new technologies, in new ways, to develop a sense of community for their teams in a new working landscape.
One 2021 Gartner study says, “organisations must develop a human-centric model to drive performance in hybrid working environments”. It’s clear that the wholistic approach to managing your people’s lives, not just their work, requires a focus on empathy in general, and health and wellbeing.
Clare says, “As managers we have to have more empathy — there’s a larger shift towards people’s health and wellbeing and creating engagement and understanding with your employees when you’re not in a single workplace requires more effort.”
Harvard Business Review points out that asking managers to lead with empathy can be difficult and intimidating. “Many managers understand empathy conceptually but aren’t sure how to use it as a management tool: Are these questions too personal? How do I create a trusting relationship with my direct reports? Is caring acceptable at work? It goes against deeply ingrained assumptions that we should keep work and life separate. Managers need opportunities to practice — and, crucially, room to make mistakes — in order to learn to lead with empathy.”
In the new world work life, more than ever, managers will need the capacity to put themselves in their employee’s shoes and see what works best for them. It’s clear that the covid-19 pandemic meant that people integrated their work into the rest of their lives to an extent we’ve never seen before — and now we need to take care of the whole lives that make up our teams.
Clare says, “I think it’s about flexibility, building community, and actually still developing people … Then it’s just ensuring that you care enough”. Again, the rigor around how leaders are checking in with their teams comes back to process. Having the right mindset, technology, and implementation to take care of our people.
“I mean” says Clare, “if you don’t have a people-led business, you don’t have a profitable business. It’s that simple.”