As organisations are making the transition from ‘working from home’ to ‘working from offices’, there are a lot of considerations to be made, for the employees in particular. Although there have been positive reports of a vaccine underway, we are still a long way from living in a COVID-free world. In such cases, there is one role in particular which will be of significance, that of the line managers.
It is not difficult to understand why. While going back to work from the office, employees are bound to seek answers to innumerable questions. They will require a lot of reassurance and guidance. The line managers are uniquely positioned to handle their queries and deliver the information they seek. More than the HR manager, a line manager knows his or her team members the best and is best suited to deliver the assurance and guidance that they need in these times.
This brings us to the question as to why employees will need any guidance or reassurance at all in the transition back to the office.
“Because of the bond that has been created in the past few months, employees will look towards the line managers more as coaches and mentors.”
There are a couple of reasons for this. At the forefront, mental health takes the stage. Our mental health is not determined by psychological soundness alone, but by our physical and social conditions as well. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on all three fronts. After months of asking employees to stay at home, it is natural for them to be concerned about taking the metro to work or leaving their kids at home. While it is true that returning to office will bring back a sense of purpose and structure to all people’s lives, the discussions around mental health are on the rise. This is the reason why companies have been insistent on providing 24/7 counselling facilities to their employees.
Moreover, those with pre-existing mental health conditions, who may have found a reprieve in the past few months, are going to find it more challenging than the rest to return to office. This is over and above the anxiety that venturing out and travelling in these times already brings.
Next, the workplace has changed. Just the way the pandemic led to the change in place of work, it also changed the nature of workplace dynamics for the people. Relationships between employees are not the same anymore. Remote working has led to a change in the dynamics of office relationships. Relationships with those who were once close and available in times of need, may have either broken down or further strengthened depending on the duration of those relations. It will suffice to say, workplace cohesion has taken a hit.
Third, there is a lot of apprehension about job security at the moment. In the past five months, there have been countless layoffs and furloughs and talks about the urgency of learning and upskilling have been doing the rounds. Amongst those who remain, many may be apprehensive about the kind of learning opportunities they need to pursue and seek out guidance on the kind of skill sets they need to inculcate to remain relevant in the near future. In many cases, because of restructuring efforts, roles and responsibilities have also changed for individuals
“In our case, we look at the line managers as the hub, as leaders and as the owner of the family. They know their employees the best and have a very strong and crucial role to play.”
Currently, there is a lot of uncertainty around when normalcy is going to return. During such times, constant communication and assurance are going to be key — just as they have been in the past five months — to ensure that workplaces remain cohesive and employees are able to focus on productivity. This is where line managers are uniquely positioned to provide all of the above. Now, more than ever, their role is essential to ensure that workplaces continue to function smoothly and employees remain happy.
Why are line managers best suited for this role?
The answer is more natural than obvious. In any situation, the line managers are the first point of contact for the employees. They are the ones who know their team members the best. Shailesh Singh, director and CPO, Max Life Insurance, says, “In our case, we look at the line managers as the hub, as leaders and as the owner of the family. They know their employees the best and have a very strong and crucial role to play.”
It is not a sudden call to duty for the line managers either. Being the first line of defense for employee safety and wellbeing, line managers have been under renewed pressure — to supervise their teams and deliver on their own responsibilities at the same time — ever since remote working became the norm. The unpredictable difficulties in navigating remote work meant that the onus rested more on the line managers to help their team members ease into it.
“Because of the bond that has been created, employees will look towards the line managers more as coaches and mentors, just like it has been for the past few months,” says Prasad Kulkarni, VP-Global HR, Accelya Group. “Going back to the office, this will increase as organisations also train their managers to be more supportive to their employees,” he points out.
In a way, the pandemic has made frontline managers even more capable of being up to the task of handling their employees. Due to the perpetuating anxiety and stress brought about by the pandemic — for both on-ground and remote workers — line managers have had no choice but to take a greater interest in the lives of the teammates and help them navigate through the uncertainties. Organisations have been promoting the same as well by encouraging managers to take care of their teammates like family.
As a result, a bond has been formed between the managers and the employees, which was not there earlier. Families on either side have come to know each other and there is a greater willingness to help others in their times of need. In a way, a personal bond has been created and managers have come to regard their team members as the second family at work. This is only going to increase once organisations start moving back to the office.
Therefore, like it or not, line managers are going to be the new heroes at the workplace. Employees will turn to them for everything, whether it is wellbeing, health or personal development. Line managers will be more like coaches or mentors to employees hereon.