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How To Demonstrate Exceptional Pandemic-Informed Leadership

   

If business was to be compared to nature, it’s safe to say that business leadership is in quite the chrysalis stage. It used to be that Americans believed that it was passable to find a job with moderately fair pay and good benefits. Now, employees are much harder to find as many are venturing off to start businesses, finding keen ways to multiply money and holding out for the right opportunities.

Business leaders are more challenged than ever to prove their competence by assuring employees that they have logical systems and procedures that prioritize their health and safety. We sat down with Chief Human Resources Officer of Bridgewater Associates (Sarah Fass), member of the Global Facilities Team at Spotify (Jen Teague), Senior Manager of Employee Relations at Spectrum REACH (Lara Hemrick), and contemporary thought-leader for returning to the office at WW (Anna Paskow) to learn from their experience and adopt some strategies for creating flexible, inclusive and equitable workspaces. They shared what returning to the office can look like, factors that are most significant to consider in their decision making, building a culture that employees need, and the future of business. 

You may be leading a team of hundreds or maybe you’ve just hired your first assistant. Whether you are a business owner or looking to climb the corporate ladder in your industry, learn from four of Luminary’s most insightful corporate partners who share their insights on how to structure your business so that people want to work for you even when the pandemic is long over.

 

Returning to the office: Choose a Model

There is no manual for how to lead in a pandemic. There is no right way to do this, but there is a safe and equitable way to return to the office. All of our panelists echoed one another in saying that the ultimate model for returning to the office is still in review as they respond to the news and CDC recommendations concerning the Delta Variant of COVID-19. 

Some businesses like Spotify are allowing employees to continue working from home, but leaders both at Spotify and across the four partnerships are still eager to take advantage of the benefits of being in-person. While some businesses can remain productive with a fully remote model, Sara Fass from Bridgewater Associates reminded us that allotting time to gather in-person for collaboration, culture-building, community and overall togetherness is integral to an exceptional work experience. 

In fact, Bridgewater Associates represents the many businesses that employed essential workers. Part of the return to office for Bridgewater Associates involves a continued adherence to CDC guidelines for essential workers until September of 2021. After which, adherence to new information about the Delta Variant will influence what returning to the office should look like. 

Spectrum REACH is currently using the fairly well-known hybrid model, which involves a combination of time spent in a central work location and time spent working from home and WW is reimagining the “office space” and planning for reopening with a developing global philosophy called “Work from Wherever.” This means that while employees have had the choice to re-enter a collaborative office space since mid-July, working from wherever you are is permissible as long as expected duties are fulfilled. During our panel discussion, WW’s Anna Paskow stated that, “work is what you do, not when, where and how.” 

 

Exceptional Leadership: Consider your priorities 

Each of our panelists appear to be open as to what the return to office could potentially look like. Though current procedures differ, one thing was consistently true for all when it came to the long term plan and that was: nothing has been set in stone.

It was like getting the unique opportunity to sit in on a board meeting to see just how bosses arrive at decisions that impact entire companies. In fact, members and other partners with Luminary are in the same position as they consider what’s next for the companies they work for and lead. We asked our panelists what types of factors they consider as they make preliminary and long term decisions that are sure to greatly impact their employees and the overall business structures that they oversee. 

The top common factors to consider included:

  • The importance of flexibility
  • Rethinking office structure and space
  • Prioritizing employee health and safety
  • Employee sentiment and feedback

As each of these factors feed, one into the other, it makes sense that they are all essential in demonstrating pandemic-informed leadership. COVID-19 completely dismantled life and business as we knew it with social distancing, mask mandates, all the talk about vaccinations and working from home (which looks different for everyone). Our panelists emphasized that in order to truly prioritize employee health and safety, each of them had to make peace with the task of remaining flexible. Rethinking office structure and space has to come first before we can logically and effectively prioritize employee health and safety. Furthermore, many employees are also parents, caregivers, and holders of responsibilities which will inevitably impact their work. 

Decisions that are being made have to be more thoughtful than ever before in order to keep up with the quickly changing job market that exists today. 

In addition to these four major factors to consider, Sara Fass shares that inclusion is a highly considered factor at Bridgewater Associates. “Being together is an important part of what we do'', she shared, and the same can be said for other corporations, large and small. Lara Hemrick added to that sentiment, stating that “being in-person is critical to the culture” at Spectrum REACH. Furthermore, Anna Paskow contributed the fact that as leaders, there is the responsibility to listen to what employees say and then observe what they are actually doing. 

Our question for the panelists: What are the employees saying? How do you know?

 

Pandemic-Informed: Increase accessibility and employee feedback 

We took notes for this question as our panelists each had incredible strategies for collecting employee feedback and creating channels for communication across their teams and network. 

All of the companies represented on our panels have made regular use of surveys and regularly scheduled cross-departmental meetings where representatives from each department including HR, Facilities, Security, and Executive Leadership can come together, hear objectives and give feedback. 

Sarah Fass shared that Bridgewater Associates make use of a Dot System to give each other instant feedback in an open forum and WW’s CEO creates fun-themed meetings for employees to come together to ask questions and be updated on the future of work with the organization. 

The biggest issue with feedback in most modern workspaces is figuring out what to do with it. We were enthralled to learn from Lara Hemrick that Spectrum REACH has developed a standardized protocol playbook which serves as a living, breathing document continually informed by the needs of the company and its employees.

 

Embrace change

Managers from the top to the front-line are feeling the pressure and responsibility to think of a solution to every possible problem that a post-pandemic world can present. We learned from our panelists that a feat so large is simply impractical. 

There is no one size fits all for the workplace and what we learned most from our panelist is the importance of listening, being flexible and open to needful adjustments in company policies and structure. The biggest change? Anna Paskow stated that, “We're moving from an office-centric culture to [one that is] human-centric… [and we are having to embrace] a state of flux. You simply cannot prepare for everything that's going to be thrown your way.”

When we asked what policy and structural changes might be here to stay, Sarah Fass said what perhaps we all had been thinking (and relieved to hear) which was, “Five days in the office is a dinosaur [outdated].” Jen Teague followed up with the question that drives change at Spotify saying, “The workplace is so much more than just the building. What are the creative things that we can do to make sure that people feel like they work at Spotify when they're in their studio apartment in Manhattan?”

These are the types of questions that are being asked in pandemic-informed leadership. 

What questions do you have?



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