Being an effective leader in a professional workforce isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Juggling the demands of productivity and employee engagement with compassion can be a struggle on the best days, and doing so as the world emerges from a pandemic may feel especially difficult. 

Over the past two years, trust and credibility in leadership remain critical, but fragile variables in the workplace, leaving business leaders and employers with an unprecedented challenge. With drastic changes in markets, communication, and working styles, the workforce has shifted into a nearly unrecognizable shape. As a significant portion of the workforce transitions to remote and hybrid work models, our old efficiency models just won’t work anymore. 

To navigate the new waters of post-pandemic professionalism, leaders must embrace certain management elements with more zeal and agility than ever before; this hinges on a blend of empathy and innovation. Business leaders are poised to take advantage of a rather unexpected opportunity. As a massive shift takes place, we’ve received a chance to reassess our business strategies and change workplace culture and operation for the better.

Why Empathy Matters

It’s important to note that, even though we frequently refer to our time of being as “post-pandemic,” we’re hardly out of the woods just yet. Frequent surges in new cases and ongoing loss and frustration continue to rear their ugly heads and remind us that we’re still landlocked in this battle. 

Parents are still struggling to find childcare and support infected loved ones – all amidst a backdrop of fluctuating pandemic regulations. As a result, much of the fear and anxiety that accompanied the onset of COVID is still present. The best way to combat mental strain and take care of your team members is to create a space or feeling of safety. For those who work in person, physical safety and comfort are of utmost importance. However, it’s also critical to provide a sense of psychological safety. Invest in developing a culture that acknowledges the mental and emotional pressures of post-pandemic work and allows room for it. Encourage employees to share honestly and openly, not only about their work grievances, but also about their concerns outside of the boardroom. 

In teams that work remotely or as a hybrid outfit, leaders have some responsibility to help their team members reconstruct the essential boundaries between work and home life. For many employees, time spent working from home over the past two years led to a blurring of those lines. 

An unhealthy work-life balance can quickly lead to poor performance or burnout, and leaders have a noticeable influence on their team’s ability to establish a healthy harmony. This may look like adjustments to compensation to ease the burden of inflation — or funding a $1 million employee COVID-19 relief fund like Mercury Systems CEO Mark Aslett (who, by the way, has been named the highest-rated CEO throughout the pandemic).

By putting their people first and prioritizing mental wellbeing, team leaders can create a culture where employees feel respected, valued, and supported.

Inviting Innovation

Harmony is critical within a well-functioning workspace, and that doesn’t change when teams work remotely. What does change is the way problem solving, collaboration, and communication change. 

With massive changes in communication, leaders may find themselves at a loss for words when they’re trying to unite or motivate their crew. Instead of going through the motions and making decisions based on experience, today’s leaders have to be more creative and innovative in their problem-solving approach, all under heightened scrutiny. 

The structure of a workday and the team within it is significantly different from what we’d grown accustomed to pre-pandemic. This means that the structure of meetings and projects is different (we all know each other by our Zoom backgrounds by now), but the way we’re conducting business is also different.

Product shortages, labor shortages, and logistical nightmares have upended SOPs in a way we couldn’t have predicted. Innovative leaders find ways to guide their teams through these changes and waves of uncertainty. Whether you’re reworking your team structure or transforming your brand, it’s crucial to recognize and embrace the redirected journey to mutual success.

One of the best ways to think outside the box is to involve those who aren’t in it. It’s okay to admit that you don’t always have an immediate solution and turn to your team to spark experimentation and critical thinking. Consider leaning on experienced team members to weigh in on decisions, strategies, and policies; this is a great way to nurture new ideas and create solutions in a more cohesive, engaged workplace culture.  

Stronger Futures From Afar

Leaders in a post-pandemic workforce have to show innovation not only in the way they conduct business, but also in the way they organize their teams. It’s no secret that it’s most difficult to build camaraderie and teamwork among remote employees, so when some or all of your employees dial in from home, team building can be hard — and truly effective leadership can be even harder. 

Regardless of the physical distance between us, professionals in the workforce have a real opportunity to reshape the way we work. Our pre-pandemic hustle-culture had millions of people on the fast track to burnout and dissatisfaction. Despite the grief, hardship, and loss that we’ve experienced over the past two years, we’ve received a chance to learn and innovate.

If our leaders can effectively embrace and embody their team’s needs, we’re poised to begin a revolution. We can change the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we live. Connection, support, empathy, and innovation are our keys to a more functional, compassionate workplace—one that yields highly productive, satisfied, and engaged employees. 

By thinking creatively, respecting their people, and embracing changing tools and technology, leaders can spearhead the next era of the professional workplace and transform it into a virtual or physical space that leads their teams into a brighter and more positive future.