At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, there was a lot of talk about silver linings when it came to how we work — a sense that some fundamental assumptions were being challenged and replaced by increased flexibility and more individualised experiences. So what actually happened?
We’ve identified 15 key trends through our work with our clients; from data collected by our clients and through our wider network that we’d love to share with you today. Along the way, you’ll also find plenty of concrete tips, tricks and food for thought — because it’s not just being aware of these trends that matters, it’s how you act on them — where relevant for your organisation and team, of course.
A little disclaimer: this data comes from tech startups and scaleups (given those are the kinds of companies we work with). Therefore, these are trends we’ve observed within that context, amongst these types of challenger brands and what are called progressive companies. If you work in a bigger company, you will doubtless be seeing some of the below, but equally, some might not resonate.
In reading about these trends, as a leader, we’d invite you to ask yourself the following questions:
More remote working has meant that osmotic communication (the accidental overhearing of background information that may later end up being important — particularly to build context for future decisions) has almost become a thing of the past. Businesses returning to the office or implementing a hybrid structure still need to think about ways to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need, when they need it. This is so important to avoid information silos or hierarchies (in particular with a hybrid way of working, leaders need to ensure that team members who work from home don’t become second-class citizens).
Think about: documenting more of what you do. Using tools like Notion or Threads will avoid duplication of work, ensure that new joiners can acquire context quickly and give your team the ability to make decisions autonomously.
This is natural, given we are no longer in an office (I don’t think we realise how much we actually learned in that way before). This does not mean that it just has to be that way! We just need to establish far more proactive and dedicated learning time than before.
Think about: how to adapt your onboarding process; giving your team dedicated time for learning; increasing your learning budget; creating more peer led sessions to share knowledge.
We’re noticing that companies who are planning to remain remote-first — and exploring what this looks like for them — are looking to the most successful remote companies for inspiration. Something that they’ve noticed is that those businesses tend to hire people who are more senior, with more experience, at an earlier stage. This makes sense given that remote work tends to be more autonomous and those who are more experienced tend to rely less on day to day interactions and on-the-job training. But if this is the case, what happens to people who are earlier in their career? The latest statistics show that youth unemployment has been trending upwards during the pandemic. This is concerning — not only societally, but also because lack of investment in early-career talent now = a talent drought down the line.
Think about: setting clear expectations around coaching and mentoring people earlier in their career for your leaders and giving them the time and space to do so; whether you need a super-experienced hire or can give talented people the opportunity to step up; providing opportunities for cross-training for people earlier in their career where you can; providing training for new hires on what to expect when working remotely if they are just starting their career.
Buying into the company’s vision “the why” is even more important as we work remotely. If we have less connection with team members, then we absolutely need connection to what the business is trying to achieve and why they exist. Ditto, a clearer vision means clearer priorities — important when we are working more autonomously. A clear vision and mission has a direct link to creating a higher trust environment where results are valued over input. Leaders have also realised that simply trying to replicate office culture remotely doesn’t work. Without the beer and ping pong to rely on, leaders have needed to get more specific and intentional on what really makes their company unique. This is essential for being able to attract talent, align on norms that help your team work well together; set expectations and SO much more. In the next few months, we also predict that companies who have fundamentally changed the way they work (e.g. gone from being mostly office based to remote-first) will be revisiting their values to reflect this change.
Think about: talking to your team to get a sense of what they value about working in your organisation. Once you’ve defined what’s important to you, your team and your businesses, document it in a culture deck and embed those principles within everything you do.
Whilst some of this is directed at calling out illegal actions by employers, increasingly people are highlighting the disparity between a company’s stated values and the expectations they have been set and people’s actual, everyday experience. Whilst there are always different perspectives and opinions , recent events at Coinbase, Basecamp and Brewdog have made clear that people are feeling more able to speak publicly about toxic leadership and blow the whistle when employers cause them harm. ‘Growth at all costs’ is no longer, if it ever was, justifiable (see also Deliveroo’s less-than-successful IPO, which was attributed at least in part to concerns over workers rights.)
Think about: how you, as a leader, are living your stated values, daily; ensuring that you create feedback loops to regularly hear from your team about their experiences of work. Make sure that your actions and behaviour are aligned with your words!
Humans are (to differing degrees, of course) fundamentally social beings. Working from home and the reorganisation of the workplace to make sure that there is distance between people is hampering social connection and, in turn, negatively affecting our mental and physical health. This is particularly the case for those in marginalised groups or who were already living with a mental health condition.
Think about: different ways of fostering meaningful social connections during onboarding, for example having buddies with a defined role and the ability to do things like expense virtual welcome lunches; creating more group learning opportunities; spending 5 minutes at the beginning of meetings checking in with an icebreaker question or small talk; introducing personal ‘Readme’s’ or ‘Me Manuals’ to help your team get to know each other better; using tools like Donut and Gather Round to help different people across the organisation connect with one another socially.
This is a good thing. Founders and leaders need to lead by example and get comfortable sharing some of their own ups and downs with their teams.
Think about: being open and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Doing so will demonstrate concretely that it’s ok for those in your team to do the same and receive support; ask for feedback on tangible changes you can make to improve wellbeing that go beyond benefits — introducing mental health first aiders training and platforms like Spill or private medical insurance with good mental health support only goes so far if your culture is contributing to burnout. Encourage your team to take time off to reset even if we can’t holiday in the traditional sense. Educate yourself and fellow leaders around mental health and common signs to look out for which indicate a decline in wellbeing; ensure 1:1’s are prioritised.
Whilst this period has been tough, it’s also proved that flexible working can have benefits for pretty much everyone (not just parents or carers as has long been incorrectly assumed). Now that we’ve seen the benefits of spending more time with family, being able to manage chronic pain or disability better, doing a spot of lunchtime yoga, or starting the day a bit later when we’re more productive, we will not accept less. Individuals’ priorities have fundamentally shifted and employers who don’t recognise this will hemorrhage talent if they try and revert to the way things were. In fact, recent research shows that over half of employees globally would quit their jobs if not offered flexible working post-pandemic.
Think about: asking your team what benefits they’ve experienced from working more flexibly. As things start to open up, what would they like to see continue? Set an example as a leader by being open with your team about how things have changed for you too.
Aside from whole industries that have pretty much hibernated, it seems that mobility of people from job to job, company to company has not decreased. Great team members are still finding great roles in companies.
Think about: making sure your employee value proposition is clear and compelling; answer candidate questions like how frequently they will be expected to come to the office before they even ask them; show how you’ve adapted through the pandemic and what support you’ve offered to your team; ask candidates about their preferred working style during interviews to show you care about making work work for everyone.
This is (naturally) a drum we’ve been beating for a long time, but we’re seeing more businesses really starting to think about People Strategy alongside Product Development and Revenue Strategies.
Think about: just that! This requires expertise — if you don’t have it internally, invite it in.
There has been growing recognition that coaching can be more ‘democratic’ and more employers are choosing to offer it to more than just founders or leadership teams.
Think about: exploring whether a coaching offering could fit with your budget and asking your team if it’s a benefit they would appreciate.
Although it’s a bit early to have this borne out by data, anecdotally, it seems that we’re seeing higher churn from people who joined businesses during the pandemic than those before.
Think about: not just the functional aspects of onboarding, but the experiential elements too (check out our remote onboarding playbook here for more tips!) to ensure that your new starter is excited, engaged and clear on what they’ll be working on. You could also think about organising multiple new starters to join on the same day to help foster connection.
Have a peek here to explore some of the different approaches that are emerging. There is also a lot of worry + talk about how to make it really effective. It’s going to take a while for us to learn what works and what doesn’t — and it’s important that we share with our teams that this is. In fact, it’s a work in progress so invite continuous feedback on how things are working, or not working so that you can evolve your practices to work for your business. Each variation of hybrid will have pro’s and con’s — so as a leader, thinking about what you could encounter and how you can mitigate from the outset is really important.
Think about: engaging your team in discussions around how they think hybrid should work — both pre-implementation and post so you understand what could be better. Think about what type of culture you’re designing for. How does work get done? What work is best in person and what can be done asynchronously.
Resilience, in general, has been a buzzword for 2020/ 2021 — that ability to just get up every morning and carry on (and, just as importantly, acknowledging when you actually really need to take a break before you reach breaking point). However, one thing we’ve observed over the last year is the importance of cultivating team resilience. There will be times when each and every member of your team feels energised and raring to go, and times when they need to lean out a bit or focus energy elsewhere. As a leader, encouraging people to lean in when they’re full of energy and practice self-compassion and self-care when they’re not is one of the most powerful things you can do. We need to have each other’s backs — and when we do, it fosters psychological safety and trust in spades! It also enables teams to work better together which ultimately means that not only will people feel better but the company performs better too.
Think about: ensuring you create opportunities for your team to just share where they’re at. One of the things we started doing towards the beginning of the pandemic at Unleashed is what we call ‘morning hellos’ — a 30 minute catch up for whoever is around to just check in and connect. This has really helped us feel closer in so many ways, but in particular it just helps us notice when one of us needs a bit more support. In addition, we update the team at the end of each day with our R-A-G status to let everyone know how we feel and why. This also builds connection and enables each of us to support each other if need be or to celebrate wins together (just as importantly).
So there you have it — 15 shifts we’ve seen over the last 18 months and how you could think about tackling them if any of these resonate with you in relation to your business…
There are two huge threads in all of the above:
It is no longer optional to act with intention when creating culture, onboarding new hires and opening up learning opportunities. This is especially true for startups who can’t afford to just hire more senior people. Much more focus needs to be placed on being intentional with all of the things that set everyone up for success — but particular focus needs to be placed on supporting those earlier in their careers.
It is also not optional for leaders to understand their team’s individual circumstances and support them (indeed, the best leaders have always done this) — it is a must. If leaders can understand each member of their team and their needs, supporting them to do their best work becomes easier. There is no one that doesn’t want their team members to perform!
At the beginning of this piece, we invited you, to keep in mind 3 things:
We hope this piece enables you to reflect on the above and has left you brimming with ideas for you to start talking to your teams about.
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