Years ago, I built a 24-foot-long table in my backyard as a gathering place for thoughtful dialogue with the eclectic group of friends, acquaintances, and associates my wife and I have. As our post-Covid hosting has creaked back to life, one topic continually elbows its way into the conversation: what will ‘office life’ look like now?
I do not envy the business and HR teams charged with answering that question in a way that makes everyone happy. Opinions I hear first hand, and those I read about, are all over the map, but plotting a pathway forward may come from one of the most valuable lessons we learned over the past 15 months.
When closures first struck, every business leader jumped into action. Solutions born from pure survival often iterated into something surprisingly functional, if not effective. At times, iterations were even more efficient than the ‘old’ way of working. Those who adapted the fastest and best, experienced legitimate productivity gains.
James Allen, a partner at international consultancy, Bain & Co, recently shared research conclusions that suggest ways to maintain an edge in a post-pandemic world. Extensive conversations with CEOs and other executives revealed two types of success stories during the pandemic:
1) Getting the hell out of the way so your people can do their jobs, and
2) Acting like the agile entrepreneurs we are supposed to be to maintain an edge.
Tenable solutions did not usually happen overnight. Particularly in those early days, a new strategy or plan was created almost daily. For those who were part of the team designing and implementing those experiments, it seemed that just when they thought they had something workable figured out, the rug was pulled from under them. For those at the receiving end of all those ‘adjustments’, it often felt like whiplash.
Those early solutions had short horizons — “we just need to get through these next few weeks.” Eventually, gradually, painfully, we all resigned ourselves to something much more indefinite. And here we are!
As I think back to my crisis coaching calls during those days, I remember a four-part refrain I shared with one client after the other:
1) There is no playbook for this.
2) What new thing do you need to create now?
3) Don’t beat yourself up for not getting it right the first time; and,
Unfairly, many folks did beat themselves up; this is pretty much what we all did.
Resilience. Adaptability. Invention. Prototyping. Iterating. Improving. These life-saving principles have led workplaces through the pandemic in ways we could not have imagined.
Our modern economy has never been in a pandemic before — we had no choice but to redesign.
Our modern economy has never rebounded from a pandemic before.
This realisation could be the wake-up call we need to continue leaning into our ability to reinvent and innovate.
What will ‘office life’ look like…now? I don’t know. And if I were to give you some free coaching, I’d look you in the eye and ask, “Do you? I mean, really?”
When this topic comes up around my long table, the responses are diverse, and opinions mainly express how we would like ‘office life’ to look. The self-described introvert now cannot imagine being a team player if he isn’t cultivating trust in a face-to-face office. The hyper-energetic extrovert now cannot fathom relinquishing the massive productivity gains she has experienced through working from home.
So how do you navigate that as a leader or HR professional trying to herd the proverbial cats?
Ironically, the same stylised wisdom that has helped us through the worst of the pandemic may also be a powerful coaching style at our fingertips for the future— Resilience. Adaptability. Invention. Prototyping. Iterating. Improving.
Maybe what the folks at Bain & Co. uncovered was spot on. We need to stay out of the way so our people can do their jobs, and we need to keep acting like the agile entrepreneurs we are supposed to be. And somehow resist the temptation to reach for dusty relics on yesterday’s style.
In short, this is all about leadership, isn’t it? More of a ‘how’ than a ‘what’. How would you respond if I were to ask you, ‘What kind of leader do you look for to guide you into, through or out of uncharted territory?’
Would you go for someone who suggests they know exactly what to do, or someone who empathically rolls up their sleeves and works tirelessly until they get it right?
The folks around my table and my clients are pretty smart. They claim to have found liberation, productivity, job satisfaction and renewed life by following companies that embraced the unfamiliar during these past months.
With steely intensity, they will look one square in the eye and tell anyone who claims they have it all figured out that they are full of something other than wisdom.
Maybe we can imagine tomorrow’s workplace. Perhaps it’s more like today’s workplace than yesterday’s.
Resilience. Adaptability. Invention. Prototyping. Iterating. Improving.
Experience coaching to become the leader who leads the way out of the pandemic gracefully today with ICF credential coach!
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.
In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai and ICF Pune.
The author, Dan Parodi is an executive coach based in Silicon Valley, California. He brings more than 30 years of experience as a serial entrepreneur, investor and social innovator to his practice, drawing on radical highs and lows as a ‘been there’ framework for client empathy. His coaching is holistic and focused on helping clients live the best version of themselves—professionally and personally.