In the TD world, we have had lots of conversations about how the pandemic has accelerated the move toward remote work and virtual learning. But it appears that our response to the virus, combined with the social justice movement, has accelerated another trend.
Before these latest disruptions, companies were already becoming more concerned with employee well-being. We were going beyond physical health and productivity to emotional and mental health, social connectivity, financial education, sense of purpose and fulfillment, and more. World events have accelerated that movement and the need to for it. Like any other leader, we need to listen, listen differently, and listen more. And as talent development professionals, we need to help others to do the same.
This is a time for us to listen differently. We must broaden our focus from just the work being done to the person doing it, from “What are you doing?” to “How are you doing?” The workplace didn’t just move from the office to the home. It changed. People are facing a (potentially new) set of issues about their health, safety, and livelihoods. We need to understand what is affecting them.
We will have to listen more than once. It will take time for people to trust that you are listening. And the concerns they carry with them will not go away after a single conversation. We can be deliberate about reaching out to individuals more often, pulling teams together, and making more connections with people who live and now work alone. We can institute a virtual open-door policy by setting virtual open office hours and randomly reaching out to those who don’t drop by. In that same way, we can create occasions for more spontaneous connections among team members by creating virtual water coolers and setting aside time for cohorts to connect.
As TD professionals, we also have an opportunity to help others to listen more and differently. We can provide coaching, tools, and training on how to have difficult conversations, about how to listen, and when and how to act. We can (continue to) teach about empathy, inclusion, and a host of other skills critical for successful managers. Those skills may never be more important than they are right now.
We can prepare others on how they can best handle difficult situations that are beyond their training and about how to connect troubled employees to resources that can help them. And we can help them to understand that it is OK to be imperfect or feel overwhelmed.
This is the era of the whole person. Work life is not separated from the rest of life. Concerns about health and safety, social injustice, family, and friends aren’t checked at the office door. For the foreseeable future, many of us won’t even enter the office door. We are working with the whole, complex, amazing person. And to understand who that is, we’ll have to listen.