4 things you can’t ignore in the “next normal” workplace

After nearly a year and a half of adapting to our “new normal” workplace, leaders are facing the question of what the “next normal” will look like, and how to lead through that reality.

The answer? It continues to evolve. Leading through this time in history requires cultivating organizational cultures rooted in resiliency and openness to change. At Daily Harvest, there are four core lessons we have learned:

  1. Lead with your values. Be consistent and authentic.
  2. Co-create with your team. Give choices and flexibility where you can.
  3. Be intentional about your ways of working to control burnout. 
  4. Don’t leave PTO to chance. Operationalize it. 

Lead with your values. Be consistent and authentic.

No matter what your approach to the next normal is — going back to the physical workplace, hybrid, or fully distributed — what matters most is that your team members know what you stand for. Your people want to know that you are using consistent criteria for decision-making and that those criteria come from a deep-rooted values system.

In a world that is constantly changing, not only talking about, but making real decisions based on core values is the difference between providing “cool work perks” and creating a truly fulfilling and authentic culture. Share values regularly in meetings and publish them internally. Reference them across all internal touchpoints with your team. Include them in your recruiting conversations so that people know what they are signing up for from the very beginning. 

Co-create with your team. Give choices and flexibility where you can.

Just like we co-create with our customers (making food with the people who eat it!), we co-create our culture and norms with our team members. So, when it came time to think about returning to the office, we asked our people what they wanted to do. Through one-on-one check-ins, pulse surveys, focus groups, and open questions in our All Hands meetings, we learned that a hybrid model would work best for us. 

Starting in October, our team members can choose to work in the office three days or more per week with a dedicated desk, or to be full-time remote with hot-desking available on a reservable basis (dependent upon COVID vaccination status and CDC guidelines). In moments of extreme change or uncertainty, people want to feel a sense of control over their future. Give them choices. 

Be intentional about your ways of working to control burnout. 

Early in the pandemic, just like everyone else, we fell into the mode of remote “team hangs,” happy hours, and virtually anything (pun intended) to try to replicate in-office fun. We booked back-to-back meetings in an attempt to recreate those quick touch-bases and one-on-ones, and to find spaces for the brilliant, collective problem-solving energy that was just not naturally part of the virtual meeting reality.

If you can do it, follow in the footsteps of Bumble and others who are investing in company-wide, week-long breaks, and use it as a moment to re-assess how you are working. At Daily Harvest, in lieu of our annual company retreat this year, we are doing a full week of no Zoom, no Slack, no expectations to respond. Following this week, we are eliminating all recurring meeting cadences. That’s right. All of them. Why? Because we trust that the important ones will pop back onto calendars, and the ones that no longer serve us won’t. 

Make it known when you are testing a new way of doing things, let people know how long you want to try it for, and ask for ongoing feedback. We have found that just simply saying “we are trying this, we don’t know if it will work, but we want you to help us figure it out” goes a long, long way. 

Don’t leave PTO to chance. Operationalize it. 

Even with unlimited PTO policies, the feeling of obligation to check Slack or email remains a temptation in this remote world. Leaders have to be more intentional than ever in setting their teams up to actually recharge. 

Operationalize what PTO means. Ensure that everyone feels accountable to documenting a clear out-of-office plan so that others are actually equipped to help out. Invest in cross-training to ensure that you aren’t leaving the burden of business continuity on just one person (who then never gets to enjoy their PTO).

We don’t know what the future holds. but if your team members trust that you will ask for their input and make values-aligned decisions, they’ll feel more confident in navigating this uncertainty together. Give them the power of choice, continue challenging your ways of working, and set people up to actually take advantage of time off, uninterrupted. 

Allegra Keith is the VP, Head of Strategic Planning, Talent + Culture at Daily Harvest.