As the pandemic’s grip loosens on companies and the economy, how companies operate is changing rapidly. With this, how leaders manage employees and think about leadership skills has changed as well.

During the recent CO— Roadmap for Rebuilding event, small business experts and owners spoke about how they adapted during the pandemic, some of the biggest leadership skills they’ve learned and how they’re thinking about managing employees in the post-pandemic future.

Jeanette Mulvey, editor-in-chief of CO—, led the discussion with small business owners and leadership experts. The panelists included Annie Eaton, CEO of Futurus; Tiffany Houser, founder and CEO of Evolve; Jennifer Jenkins, president of JJPR Agency; and Melissa Jezior, CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting.

Here are some of the best takeaways from the conversation.

How business leaders adapted during the pandemic

Houser said she had noticed many leaders, including at her own company, used the pandemic to take a step back and assess what was working and how to better connect to employees.

“When the pandemic happened last year, a lot of leaders were quick to jump into a strategy mode,” Houser said. “But what really worked was pausing because the pandemic gave us a lot of time and [allowed us to take a look] at how we're showing up as a leader. It let us look at our leadership and communication style. The leaders coming into the halfway point of 2021 that we see thriving took the time to pause, take a look at their leadership style, connect with values, vision and what really matters, and then [connect] with each person on their team to create from that space rather than strategy.”

Learn to give your employees ‘space and grace’

Jenkins notes one of her biggest learnings since she started her agency is that employees need to be given space sometimes. This is especially important as most of her employees are parents.

“When I began the agency 11 years ago, one of the reasons I did that was so I was not having to choose between family and career,” Jenkins said. “And as we were going through all of the shifts with COVID and the pandemic in quarantine, what became very evident was that our team members were not only leading accounts and helping our clients through crisis, but they were in crisis themselves, as they were trying to teach their children at home and be moms. One of the biggest things that I found was that giving them more space and grace and checking in with them [helped us get through this],” she said, adding on that knowing that there are times when people need space has changed her long-term leadership style and has been a teaching lesson for everyone involved.

When the pandemic happened last year, a lot of leaders were quick to jump into a strategy mode. But what really worked was pausing because the pandemic gave us a lot of time and [allowed us to take a look] at how we're showing up as a leader.

Tiffany Houser, founder and CEO, Evolve

Understand how culture impacts your company

Jezior stressed that culture plays an essential role in your company. She outlined two specific things to remember:

  1. Culture drives business performance. Jezior notes that culture drives employee behavior and that having no in-person interactions (with remote or hybrid work models) can be detrimental to some company cultures. Make sure you evaluate this when deciding what work model makes the most sense for your company.
  2. Culture needs constant attention. In the wake of the pandemic, companies should examine how culture held up, what worked and think about what you want to keep as you transition to the “new normal.”

How to lead in a hybrid work model

Many companies are now adopting hybrid work approaches so people can work from home some of the time. For example, Eaton said her company had adopted a hybrid model where employees have the option to work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These optional work-from-home days are also days where meetings are not scheduled to let people focus.

“Because of the collaborative work we do, we wanted to have everyone in the office on certain days and then everyone flexible on certain days,” Eaton said. “It's been working great, and we have also shifted the way we do meetings so the majority of group meetings take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. … The Art Department and the development departments have been producing exceptionally well on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I think part of that is due to less meetings and part of it is due to just true focus days.”

Remember you’re not alone

Houser stressed that while leadership can sometimes feel lonely, try to lean on your coworkers sometimes to share responsibility.

“We are not alone, and leadership is about all of us; it’s not about a title,” Houser said. “Our coaches and teachers and parents used to say, ‘There's no “I” in team.’ And that is the same mindset to step into when creating your team and developing a new team. … Know the responsibility and weight and pressure is not all about me. The team [should be] highly supportive, and it does not mean one leading from the top; it’s all of us leading together.”

Try to spot and prevent burnout

One growing problem that leaders should be looking for is burned-out employees. Jezior said new data from her firm shows that 53% of the U.S. workforce is suffering from burnout and that it’s important to be looking for this in your employees.

“Be cognizant and pay attention to your employees and their body language,” Jezior said. “Have their habits or their reactions to things shifted? Have they just changed where they don't seem as enthusiastic about what they're working on? Those are all things that can be indications that they may be feeling burnt out. … You should really sit down, have the discussion and say, ‘Hey, are you doing okay?’ … One of the things that can help combat burnout is control. And the more control we can give employees in terms of how they get their work done, where they get the work done and when they get their work done really helps to combat some of that burnout.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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