Will getting back to work make you belong?

From Beijing to Los Angeles, workers are returning to their offices. Is your employer ready to make you feel belonged?

This reminded me of an interview I did with Professor Stephen Heppell, a global expert on education over a decade ago. What he told me resonates now more than ever before: “In the morning when a child walks into a classroom, he should feel a sense of belonging. In simple terms, this defines the world of “us-ness,” the most important part in creating an inviting environment.”

Are you ready to return to work expecting a feeling of “us-ness” from your employer? An environment of collegiality, of friendliness and shared strength. Or, will it just be legal disclaimers, hand washing policies, enforced social distancing and the old way of working?

The last few weeks have tested traditional models of leadership. The way we work has been disrupted in just weeks, and business models of several industries no longer exist. Leaders are grappling with uncertainty, supply chains have gone haywire and the future of work is now.

Old, hierarchical models of leadership are giving way to greater collaboration, empathy, trust and agile ways of doing work.

Workers who return may not find former colleagues. Some may work just three days a week from their offices and do virtual work the remaining two days. Others may fully migrate to working from home. The new model will be agile, nimble, and team-based with digitisation playing a central role.

More businesses are going to be purpose-driven led by caring, thoughtful leaders who will think more about the lives of their team members.

“You need a bottom up leader because there is going to be so much change and you are not going to know the answer. You have to tap the collective genius of others in your organization,” said Gary Burnison, Chief Executive Officer at Korn Ferry, an international management consulting firm, headlining a webinar on “Future-proofing your leaders.”

This is exactly what Professor Heppell told me a decade ago: “The old models don’t work, the hierarchical models are long dead. We have to develop a model of mutuality and collegiality and this is an affordable model.”

Sadly, it required a pandemic for us to wake up to a new era of leadership and employee engagement.

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