As much of the business world transitions from work from home to some version of hybrid or full work from the office scenario, leaders face the difficulty of addressing new expectations from their team members and other changes from what was considered “normal” before the pandemic hit with full force. In this episode, I’m looking at a mindset shift that can help you navigate these changes more successfully.
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Hi. This is Guy Harris. Welcome to Talk Like a Leader. This week's episode is titled Longing for the Past Versus Looking to the Future. We are late in the pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic. You know, I'm not a public health expert.
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I'm not able to declare the end of the pandemic. I can just say that what I observe is that many businesses are moving in the direction of operating without a lot of the pandemic induced, pandemic driven restrictions that we had for the better part of two years. And early in the pandemic period, something like 40% of people
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were able to transition from working in an office or physical location type setting to working remotely, working from home, working via computer, whatever you want to call it. And that 40% number doesn't include every type of business that was affected by pandemic shutdowns.
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Some businesses shut down entirely. Not only did they not come to an office or a physical location, they didn't work at all. So the 40% number, to the best of my understanding, applies only to those people who work remotely, which means that an even bigger number of people were affected by some kind of shutdown restriction or otherwise
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limited in their ability to work or location that could work. Basically, that says a lot of people. Now, I don't think this is news to anyone as everybody lived through this together. The issue, though, is that as we come to the end of that period and, you know, I'm not a public health expert, I am not going
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to declare the end of the pandemic, not my place, not my expertise. I am going to say that what I observed to be happening in the economy in general and businesses in general is that we're moving towards the end of that period.
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I don't know if we're actually at the end of it or just moving that direction. We're moving that direction. More and more people are working in their offices. More and more people are coming back to places that they weren't able to go to during the height of the pandemic.
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The number of people that are strictly working from home is reducing. We're seeing changes to where there was maybe hybrid work environments. All kinds of things have resulted from the pandemic period that are a little different from pre-pandemic.
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And we're moving in the direction where daily life resembles pre-pandemic a bit more than it did, say, in April of 2020. All that to say that what tends to happen or what I'm hearing happen in some of my interactions with leaders and workshops and in coaching conversations, is this thread of thought that basically says, when are we
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going to get back to normal? Or when is it going to be like it was before the pandemic? When will my team start operating like it did before the pandemic? So there's this backward focused looking at how we were two years ago compared to how we are now.
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And a bit of a longing to return to that kind of dynamic. And it varies a great deal for the specific situation you find yourself in. So I can't get to specifics of a specific situation necessarily. I'm addressing a pattern I see in a lot of supervisors, particularly front line supervisors, who are dealing with teams that basically
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just don't function the way they did two years ago. There are differences in interaction between teammates that are differences in level of the phrase I've heard used as commitment to work or enthusiasm for work. All kinds of differences today compared to two or a little over two years ago at this point, because of the changes that happened
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rapidly at first and then gradually we had more and more changes as restrictions lifted or changed or shift period of two years, where there have been lots and lots of changes that impact a number of things about people's work life, personal life, expectations, so many things.
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And it gets exhausting for leaders. You know, I get it. It gets exhausting. And hoping for relief is a completely normal emotional response to the situation. And that hoping for relief leads to the question when will it get back to where we were?
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When will it get back to, quote, normal? And I think we have to confront that. The short answer, the real answer is never. It's not going to go back to like it was two years ago. It can't. There have been simply too many changes, too many differences today that were not present two years ago or two and
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a half years ago that drive a lot of the dynamics we see in the workplace and how people interact and what people's expectations are. These things have changed permanently. And you can't go back to where you were. You know, there are people who were single who are now married.
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There are people who are married who are now not married. There are people who had no children and now have children. There are people who had children living at home who now do not have children living at home.
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There are people who had healthy parents that are now caring for their parents. There are people who had never worked from home before who have now done that and had that experience. There are people who were once uncomfortable with video calls and webinar platforms and meeting platforms and now their video call masters and very comfortable on Zoom
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and Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting and all the various different platforms we can use for remote meetings. The list actually goes on bigger than that, just pointing out a few things that direct us to recognize that people's expectations about what the work contract looks like has changed.
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What is or is not possible in terms of doing work has changed. Expectations around that have changed people's life experiences have changed their home environment has changed. The nature and quality of their work, relationships have changed. And the combination of all these changes, frankly, makes it impossible to just presto change.
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You go back to the way it used to be. It's just not going to happen. It cannot happen. The world in general, your business, employee expectations, customer expectations, people's lives, things that happen outside work, all of it has changed.
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The challenge is that as we move from shutdown, which forces people to work remotely to more openness that allows the opportunity for either hybrid or work in the office or work in the physical location type situations. It puts all of these changes on the table almost simultaneously, and it becomes a daunting task to navigate it, which means
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that we look back in the past to what we view very favorably because one we're separated from it in time. And two, there's a little bit of a tendency to look at the past, the rose colored glasses. And three, it seems to have felt better at the time, or we remember it better.
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You know, much like as a parent and grandparent, it's easy to look back longingly at the days of when my kids were pre-teens and think, "Wow, it sure will be nice if we go back to that kind of relationship now that my kids are in their twenties and lives are more complicated."
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And you know, the truth is, when I was in the pre-teen years, there were struggles and frustrations then, too. It's just easy over time to start to forget those and maybe romanticize the past of it. It's a human nature tendency.
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As my friend and colleague Kevin Eikenberry says, "The status quo requires no leadership." And the point behind that is, as leaders, it is not our job to maintain the status quo. It is not our job to keep things the same.
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It is actually our job to lead into point towards help our teams move into the future. And the reality is that technology will continue to change. Our life situations will change. Our experiences will change. Business needs will change.
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Business environment will change. Legal requirements will change. It will continue to be so. And our hope lies in focusing on where we're going rather than longing for what was in the past. So we want to look to the future not long for the past, so that we can lead our teams in a successful way, not striving to
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recreate what was. But instead to create a better future. And if you find yourself longing for and hoping for the team the way it was before the pandemic, I get it. It's normal. It's human nature. I would encourage you, though, that rather than try to recreate the past and wish that it would come back, spend more time
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envisioning and driving for a better future, thinking about how you can take what you have and improve it in the future rather than can take what you have and drive it back to the past. If you do that, your team will perform better.
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You will feel more optimistic and energized and you will feel more hopeful about what you need to do as a leader. So if you can look to the future rather than long for the past, you can Talk Like a Leader.
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This has been the Talk Like a Leader Podcast. You can listen to this show every week wherever you get your podcasts. If you haven't, be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. I'm Guy Harris and thanks for listening.