In recent years, companies have dealt with their values, given themselves a mission statement and perhaps even introduced a detailed code of conduct. Such a code of conduct not only promised and documented legally compliant behaviour, but also signalled reliability on an ethical foundation both internally and externally.
In addition to the way in which customers, suppliers and partners are to be treated, these plans often also regulate the behaviour of employees among themselves. Management principles are defined and explained. Introductory measures such as employee events and management trainings follow sensibly. Afterwards, “revitalisation” measures can be found, e.g. when management and communication behaviour is anchored in target agreements and surveys on effectiveness are carried out every two years.
But what happens with all the good ideas and measures if the reality of life and work changes suddenly and permanently? The values may still be valid and correct, but can they still be experienced?
Covid-19 has made the practice of the company particularly vulnerable, because both private and professional life are subject to massive changes. The reduced, personal impulses do not leave the home office employees unaffected. The partly forced operative calm leads to (re-) reflection (What is really important to me?) and can even result in reorientation (Do I still want this in the future?). The view of the company and the way to deal with colleagues and superiors also changes. This happens partly consciously, partly unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally.
Many managers are not prepared to lead at a distance.
In practice, many companies and managers are not prepared to work spontaneously at a distance, because many have not been able to gather experience, at least not with today´s intensity. Even intact manager-employee relationships can be substantially damaged by the fact that mutual expectations of the assignment and in particular the working hours at the decentralised workplace are unclear or working time are confused with availability.
Before Corona, the colleague who was still in the office was available for work regardless of the time. The compensation for this took place – perhaps even unspokenly – to general satisfaction. But in the home office, it is not so easy to signal “availability or absence”. After all, the supervisor is still in need of services outside core hours. If the employee is now unavailable – possibly several times – this can shake the previous, deep trust in the employees commitment and willingness to perform. This requires structure and discipline, but also goodwill and appreciation.
This can make far-reaching adjustments necessary: The means that have so far carried the corporate culture without problems were mainly based on presence. The management was able to exemplify comprehensive communication and encounter at eye level. But now it is somewhat invisible if a good example is set. The intranet and the monthly printed newsletters no longer have the same effect without confirmation. Nor do the posters in the lift.
Now alternatives must be found quickly. The decisive leadership qualities are the credible conveyance of trust, but also clear objectives and a corresponding focus on results. Presence, even availability, takes a back seat.
The means for successful leadership in a distant environment include the use of new communication technologies and their intensive application. In concrete terms, personal contact has to happen more frequently and must include appreciation and respect for the employee’s situation. In terms of content, in addition to a “smart” objective, the corresponding strategic classification and result control is also necessary for the success of the company.
We are not talking about companies or their size, but about employees and their needs. These exist in small and large companies, in industry and medium-sized businesses, in mechanical engineering and pharmaceutical companies, but also in law firms, tax consultancy offices and consultancies. These problems must be tackled and solved individually. It may even be that “tensions” that have already arisen must be resolved. Independent and impartial external advice can be helpful in this respect. Managers can be accompanied and developed through coaching and mentoring, so that a new way of working together and a company-specific version of New Work can be established.