People in leadership roles face a unique set of challenges and opportunities in our (soon-to-be) post-pandemic reality. How can organizations adapt to a workforce changed by COVID? Two leadership coaches—Maria Gerea and Sharon Sperry—gathered on Zoom for a fireside chat to discuss post-pandemic leadership principles with Good Words CEO Caitlin Cronkhite.
Good Words has flexible work in its DNA. The company’s team has been remote from the beginning, and “Flexible Work” is codified into the company’s values. But for Caity, the conversation about how to adapt our post-pandemic workplaces is about much more than remote, on-site, or hybrid. It’s about building better workplaces for everyone.
In this talk, Maria, Sharon, and Caity discuss five interconnected principles that have guided Caity’s approach that leaders can leverage to build back better.
Principle #1—Choose to Be Intentional
Maria offers this explanation of intentionality: “When we talk about intentionality, [we start] with the end in mind and [build] towards that goal. Knowing what the direction is can’t come only from the leader. It has to come from the whole team.”
Caity points out that the unexpected force of the pandemic threw everyone into a reactive leadership style. She asks, “Do you as leaders want to just be responding to a crisis right now? Or do you want to be intentionally designing what this transition back to work is going to look like both for your employees, your workers, and for yourself?”
Principle #2—Expand Your Understanding of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
For this principle, Caity holds a lens to her own life growing up in a rural community in Indiana. She shares how the lack of opportunities in her home town inspired her priorities as a leader, and how it’s shaped the team at Good Words. “One of the most fascinating things to me in running a company that has flexible work policies is that we’ve been able to drastically expand what diversity looks like.”
She describes the range of diverse experiences her team members bring to the table. “We have people who work all over the world. We have people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. We have employees who have disabilities or medical issues who wouldn’t otherwise be able to commute to or work in a traditional office setting. We have […] moms and caregivers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in the workforce at all.”
By implementing more flexible work policies, companies can become welcoming environments for workers who contribute a vast range of backgrounds and experiences.
Principle #3—Create a Space of Trust and Psychological Safety
Maria describes creating workplaces that reward vulnerability. In psychologically safe environments, people feel like they can take risks, contribute ideas, and ask questions without feeling judged. “When we create a space of belonging, people feel comfortable sharing their voice and perspective. Creating this level of trust and comfort spurs innovation.”
Caity addresses the valid anxiety leaders feel about moving to a hybrid model or remote work post-pandemic, including the challenges of building rapport and company culture. Her advice: “If you want to start building rapport and culture with your teams in this new normal (or at any time), invite them to help you with this transition.”
Maria illuminates the communication gap between leaders and their workers: “We see articles saying that 56% of leaders have not asked their teams or their employees what they want [as they transition back to work post-pandemic].”
Caity shares her own experience at Good Words. “In my own work at Good Words, we have really worked hard to implement this: I invite my team to help me with challenging problems.”
Principle #4—Create a Sustainable Working Environment
Sharon emphasizes that fostering these relationships with employees can help to create lasting, meaningful changes that positively impact everyone in the organization. “It’s so much more sustainable when a leader invites their team to help them solve problems. It creates something that’s ongoing, lasting, and meaningful for the long term.”
Maria mentions research data: “We know that people want the best of both worlds. We know there’s data that shows that 73% of people want to continue to have remote flexibility. On the other hand, 67% want to have more opportunities […] for in-person connection and collaboration. So we hope that we’re not going to get stuck in this dichotomy of either/or, but we can create something that can marry the best of both worlds.”
Caity describes policies that have proven most sustainable for Good Words. “For us, sustainability has looked like a remote work model. It makes it so our employees can work sustainably in their own lives. They don’t have to move. They don’t have to commute. They can reclaim that time and energy and give it back to other things, whether that’s their family, community, or even just having fun. They’re using the flexibility we’ve been able to give them to create these amazing and enriching lives.”
Principle #5—Try Something New
Maria introduces #5 as the principle that leverages all the other principles: “Don’t be afraid to try something and make a mistake.”
“We don’t have to get it right all at once,” Caity offers. “With this idea of experimentation, you can try something. You can ask your team to humor you and see if it works. If it doesn’t, get some feedback, figure out what didn’t work about it, [and] try something else.
“The last year was a tragic year. Six hundred thousand people in the U.S. alone died from COVID. Understandably, people are really starting to question how work fits into their lives when [they’re] realizing how much more important some other things are. Your workers are challenging the status quo. So it’s time for managers and leaders to do the same.”
These are just the highlights from a rich, hour-long conversation. For a deeper dive into each of the post-pandemic leadership principles, watch the full conversation, Leadership Principles for the Post-Pandemic Workplace with Maria Gerea, Sharon Sperry, and Caity Cronkhite.