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Back in the office: a leader’s role in rebuilding a culture of confidence

By Michelle Gibbings CMgr FIML

When champagne corks were popping to ring in the New Year, many hoped that 2021 would farewell uncertainty and unpredictability. COVID-19’s long tail has dashed that hope, and employees and employers are grappling with establishing a new normal as workplace expectations have shifted.

A survey of Chief Economists globally highlighted this challenge.  

When asked the question, “In your view, which of the following pandemic-induced/reinforced developments will have the longest-lasting impacts?”,  participants in the World Economic Forum’s Chief Economist Survey (2021) concluded that it is remote work that will have the most significant impact. Remote working was deemed more relevant than reinforced historical inequalities, growing market power of tech giants, the more substantial role of governments and parallel supply chains and deglobalisation.

The World Economic Forum noted that while the long term impact of remote work on workplaces and productivity is still unclear, early evidence suggests that employees worked longer hours and were more productive at home (on average). 

A UK study by Citrix found approximately 75% of employees value working remotely so much they would take a put cut in return for a flexible job. Pitcher Partners, and Bastion Reputation Management and Bastian Insights report also highlighted the gap between employee and employer expectations about the workplace’s future. 

Companies are assessing and adapting. Atlassian has said employees only need to come into the office four times a year. Tech companies including Twitter, Dropbox, Amazon and HubSpot have embraced the work from anywhere mantra for either all or parts of their workforce.

Across the board, many organisations are now seeking a hybrid approach to best balance the varying needs and create a healthy and thriving culture.

Good culture is deliberate

Organisational culture is essentially the collective patterns of behaviour and is commonly described as ‘the way we do things around here’. It influences how people think and behave.

Behaviour patterns were disrupted in the past 12 months, with people working from home, workloads shifting, team members leaving and a range of factors external to the workplace impacting how and where people work.

Times of disruption are an excellent opportunity to reflect and reset. Take the time to consider your team’s culture. What’s working well, and what can work better?  What do you need to shift to more effectively bring out your and your team’s best?

Michelle Gibbings CMgr FIML talks about a balanced approach for going back to the office.
Michelle Gibbings CMgr FIML

Teamwork always matters

While these times are challenging, what’s needed to create great teams hasn’t changed. It’s just elevated the criticality of connection and engagement. Teams achieve more when they have a common goal and clarity on how they work together. 

The leader will usually know what each team member is doing and how they contribute to the whole. However, often team members don’t have the same level of understanding. This ambiguity breeds disengagement and distrust. It also means that team members can’t leverage each other’s skills as effectively.  Creating clarity on the who, what, why, when and how is critical.

Focus on what motivates

A 2010 Harvard study found that a lack of progress is one of the biggest de-motivators in the workplace.  However, when the employees thought they were making headway or received support that helped them overcome obstacles, their emotions were the most positive, and their drive to succeed was at its peak. 

People want to feel they are making progress on work that matters and that their leader ‘has their back’.  When that happens, it builds their commitment to their work and in elevates their confidence.

The best leaders get amongst it and understand what it is like to be on the front-line serving customers or working on the shop floor.  Regularly check in with your team and listen to them.  Be genuinely interested in their ideas and challenges.  When you do this, you’ll be far better placed to make wiser decisions.

Leading from the front can’t be done from the comfort of the corner office (or even the open-plan desk). So as the workplace evolves through 2021, take the time to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Lead the change you are seeking to make in your team and inspire their confidence and commitment.


Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, Chartered Manager and the author of three books. Her latest book is ‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’.

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