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CRE Opinion

COVID-19 Requires New Ways of Working and Leading

Jackson-Shaw's Michele Wheeler says leaders should take a “people-first” approach to engage teams—both the remote environment and those transitioning back to the workplace.

Work-life balance has been a common phrase since the 1980s, and its meaning has many interpretations. Mostly, it represents a balance of professional, personal, and family lives, which, for many, has always been a struggle.

Certainly, as a result of COVID-19, challenges have increased with employees needing to juggle remote working with logistical issues, such as homeschooling, childcare, recreation, exercise, and adequate workspace.

Michele-Wheeler-Photo
Michele Wheeler

Also, many employees are working longer hours now than before. Why? There is no excuse not to. Before COVID-19, it was easier to unplug at the end of a workday. People had dinner plans, appointments, entertainment options, professional obligations, and other commitments. Longer hours can take a toll on well-being.

Positivity and resilience should take center stage. I believe leaders who use adversity to find new and creative ways to achieve goals are more successful, more often.

Indeed, teams now participate in Zoom happy hours and birthday parties, share email threads full of funny memes and pictures, and use Slack for fun and learning. We are seeing judgment-free fashion choices, hearing children in the background on calls, enjoying regular “bring your pet to the screen” days, and cutting down on commutes.

Leaders should take a “people-first” approach to engage, connect, and empower teams. And this applies to both the remote environment and for those transitioning back to the workplace.

  • Create a dynamic culture. Keeping employees involved and motivated during a crisis is tough. Articulate a clear, yet flexible, roadmap for your business objectives and reiterate your core values to make sure everyone is moving in the same direction.
  • Provide transparent communication. During times of uncertainty, it is even more critical to create a culture of transparency. While leaders are not expected to have all the answers, staff is looking to leaders to provide guidance and confidence. In turn, this will drive trust and buy-in.
  • Foster mental and physical well-being. With this new way of working and the evolving media coverage of COVID-19, members of your team may be anxious and overwhelmed. Staff appreciates leaders who share their feelings, express genuine care for others, and listen purposefully. Hence, this will help team members speak up if they have concerns about a colleague’s mental and physical wellness.
  • Nurture performance. Sudden shifts in day-to-day routines can disrupt execution. Measure productivity, not time. What matters is how much people have accomplished by the end of the day, not how many hours they have worked. Ensure staff has the support, flexibility, and tools to do their jobs in these extraordinary times.

COVID-19 requires a shift to new and different responses. In this world of high-velocity change, we must continuously review our priorities, think outside the box, and develop faster reflexes. Few of us will accomplish optimum work-life balance and ideal leadership. But, with practice, we can get a little closer to trying to have it all.

Michele Wheeler is President and Chief Operating Officer for Jackson-Shaw.

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