Letting Go of the Status Quo: Rethinking Management

By: Andrew Sachs, CAPP

COVID-19 has not only accelerated the trend to more flexible schedules and virtual work, but is also pushing organizations to rethink the purpose of the office. And with that comes the necessity for us to evaluate our management practices and approaches. Too often, we do things because that is the way they have always been done. To manage effectively, we need to question old habits and reevaluate the status quo.

If we are going to make informed decisions, we need to consider many factors. Technology advances, customer habits, and diminished operational resources are just a few of the many changes rewiring the way we work. As the world emerges from the worst of the pandemic and begins to figure out the new normal, now is the time to take a moment to think about how we manage. The effect of our decisions today will no doubt become the status quo of tomorrow.

As the pace of change quickens, organizational culture is more critical to organizational success. As managers, we need to take a step back and think about the culture we wish to nourish within our organizations. We also have to be able to make an honest assessment of what the culture actually is within our areas of responsibilities and how that assessment jibes with the larger organization’s cultural goals.

Identifying culture is a nebulous activity akin to swimming the backstroke in a giant vat of Jell-O pudding. The best way to do this is describing the ethos you seek to create in active terms. For example, “Our corporate culture loves sharing, helping and lifting others. Our motto is, ‘Be human.’”

Another organization may say, “At our company, customer and employee success and satisfaction are the top two priorities.”

A third company may go in a very different direction: “Our company is dedicated to efficiency and effectiveness. We want to deliver an experience for our employees and customers that is a model of competency and productivity.”

All three examples are perfectly valid and describe three very different workplace philosophies. But what they share is the ability for everyone in the organization to internalize the objectives and apply them to their specific work requirements. If lifting others is the objective, then everyone in that organization will know to take the time to do just that. Alternately if productivity is the objective, employees may take very different tacks with the same tasks. Because the cultural descriptions are in active terms, they are easy to incorporate into day-to-day routines.

Many companies are experimenting with creating hybrid models for remote and in-office work. But as this becomes more common, be mindful that hybrid work may put more strain on how an office functions. Keeping remote workers in the loop must become a priority if we are to prevent a breakdown in our corporate cultures. A department with a strong shared culture will be much better at information sharing, even in a remote environment where sharing must be more intentional.

Countless studies have shown that work environments with a robust social connection are more productive than offices where efficiency is pushed at the cost of communal interactions.

While a hybrid model may be a very efficient approach to keeping people safe and maximizing space use, it can lead to an unexpected loss of overlaps and interconnections.
Sometimes just chatting about the latest game, demanding customer, or the addicting Netflix series allows the mind to process complex work issues in the background. Or perhaps a co-worker in a different department asks a question that sparks that “aha moment” to the problem with which you have been struggling. Finding an approach that encourages social interaction in a hybrid world is a time-management essential and something managers should encourage even as they feel the pressure to provide results to superiors.

Be wary of creating a subconscious pressure to show up at the office. Suppose executives and managers return full-time as soon as they are vaccinated. This can create the impression that workers need to be in the office to prove they are working despite conflicting encouragement to take advantage of remote work. Instead, encourage personal preference and model the behavior you want others to follow.

Some people may be itching to get back to the office to have space for deep focus away from family distractions. In contrast, others may benefit from the flexibility of remote time to balance work and family. If your employees and co-workers feel that they have the trust and freedom to do their work based on their individual needs, they will be far more productive.

Remember, managing people is difficult. The workplace is filled with people from diverse backgrounds, work styles, and in different life stages. Some people need hands-on encouragement and firm deadlines, while others need space to get their work done in private. Those approaches are not necessarily incompatible. We all need face-to-face interaction but in different doses. The key is to listen so that we can learn from our co-workers and how they operate. Outlining a clearly defined culture and modeling the behavior we want our co-workers will go a long way to set a productive work environment while encouraging healthy social interactions.