Laptop and other office stuff like pens, tap, notebooks on a desk.
Thursday, May 13, 2021

We asked our faculty experts your most pressing questions as we reimagine the post-pandemic workplace.

As we transition out of the pandemic, not everything will return to “normal.” What are some effective ways of managing change and uncertainty in our organization?

The key to managing this transition is to consider both agility and resilience.

On one hand, organizations need to adopt a growth mindset and encourage risk-taking and continued innovation. If you look at data from the 2009 financial crisis, you’ll find companies that invested in innovation during that crisis outperformed peers during the recovery. During the pandemic, customer and employee needs have changed. All of this opens up new opportunities for organizations if they can view uncertainty as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

We should think of change like an improv actor and say “Yes and”; accept what’s being offered in the environment and innovate in order to succeed. Some practical ways organizations can be more agile is through the use of small, cross-functional teams to bring experts together to solve complex problems. Crowdsourcing ideas from employees enables them to have a voice about needed organizational changes.

On the other hand, organizations who embrace agility will also face failures. Clearly, they cannot fail too much or for too long. The topple rate of organizations, defined as the likelihood an organization loses its position as an industry leader, has more than doubled over the past 40 years. This points to the need for resilience, or the ability to adjust easily to misfortune.

If we go back to the example of the improv actor, they risk failure in order to create. In so doing, they fail fast, with confidence, and incrementally. Practically speaking from an organization’s standpoint, that means ensuring there are stop gaps like project milestones to identify challenges quickly and make adjustments accordingly. This also means organizations need to build up the resiliency of their employees so that they view change with optimism and have the confidence to push forward when they meet setbacks.

Jennifer D. Nahrgang, Palmer Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship

It was challenging to hold my team together during remote work, yet my organization may continue to allow it after the pandemic. What are the best ways to keep my team connected and engaged if they aren’t in the office together?

Remember that although the pandemic has presented many people with their first opportunity working in or managing a team remotely, working in virtual teams has been standard practice for decades. The key is understanding the same processes that lead to good teamwork in person become even more important when personnel are dispersed remotely. So how to do this?

First, think about whether your team has anyone who is paying attention to the social dynamics of the team. Often labeled as those with emotional intelligence, they can help alleviate conflict, manage stress, and build confidence and excitement in the team. 

Second, recognize the importance of building trust to facilitate good teamwork. Drop your suspicion that people are slacking off. It’s a safe bet that many are drowning in some personal way and need a hand up rather than a put-down. Check in with individuals to see how they are doing and if they need help. Celebrate even small progress so everyone knows how each person is contributing to the team’s success. 

Third, don’t discount the importance of simple social niceties—like office chit chat—that are easy to lose with remote team members. Small talk and trivial conversations about the weather, culture, or weekend plans might be viewed as wastes of time. But these interactions should be viewed more as small, up-front investments in relationship-building that pay big, long-run dividends in terms of team camaraderie and productivity.

One final idea I find intriguing for remote teams, especially those dispersed across multiple time zones: share the scheduling pain. That means rotating through meeting times so that everyone has a few convenient meetings, and a few late nights or early mornings. It sends a message that members in different time zones are equally valued instead of only those located closer to the home office. It shows everyone is part of a larger, unified team. 

Eean Crawford, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship and Henry B. Tippie Research Fellow

The pandemic has led a number of people to completely rethink their personal career goals, and we’re concerned about retention in the long term. Are there proven methods for reducing turnover and keeping top talent?

Tight labor markets and skill shortages are a key concern for all employers. Below are some evidence-based actions organizations can take to help retain their top talent:

  1. Assess and increase employee job satisfaction. Low job satisfaction is one of the strongest predictors of voluntary turnover. Organizations should regularly assess employee satisfaction and take steps to increase it. Examples include giving employees say in how they perform their work and providing competitive pay and benefits. Effective and supportive supervision also is a key factor, so selecting and developing high-quality leaders is critical.
  2. Increase commitment to the organization. Employees who are more committed to an organization are more likely to stay. Organizations can increase commitment by providing opportunities for training and development, promoting from within, and fostering connections among employees.
  3. Help employees maintain work-life balance. Work-life conflict is one of the main drivers of turnover. Employers can help by ensuring employee workloads are reasonable, offering flexible work schedules, and implementing rules that minimize correspondence outside of normal work hours.
  4. Monitor “pre-quitting” behaviors. When employees start to think about leaving, these thoughts often turn into action. Research has identified “pre-quitting” behaviors employees who are thinking about leaving display, such as being hesitant to commit to long-term timelines. Managers can be on the lookout for these behaviors and intervene when an employee may be thinking about leaving.

Because employees stay with or leave organizations for myriad reasons, there is not a silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution. Although some turnover is avoidable (e.g., due to inadequate supervision), some forms are unavoidable (e.g., relocating due to a spouse’s new job), and some level of turnover is healthy for employees and organizations.

Chad H. Van Iddekinge, Henry B. Tippie Research Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship

Women left the workforce in great numbers because of pressures put on them by the pandemic. What structures need to change to bring them back?

What the pandemic did was expose just how fragile women’s gains in the workforce have actually been. Women’s labor force participation is down precipitously, to levels we haven’t seen in decades. It is really important that we understand the depth of the crisis for women in this country, particularly for Black, Indigenous, and other women of color. It truly is a crisis. 

But it’s also an opportunity. Many of us who study these issues and consult with companies about them have said for years that we need a combination of public policy and organizational culture changes to help improve women’s workforce outcomes. Specifically, we need paid leave. Many companies cannot afford this, and the unpaid leave that is currently mandated by the federal government in FMLA is not applicable to millions of women. States like Massachusetts and California, and now New York, have figured out ways to provide paid leave for family and medical reasons that have worked well. Likewise, public policy around the supply of childcare providers and helping families afford quality childcare options can help women return to the workforce or pursue entrepreneurial ventures that will spur the economy. Advocating for these shared policies can help small businesses compete with larger firms who already offer these benefits.

COVID-19 has spurred a lot of innovation in how to get work done. This is the moment to embrace the positive organizational culture changes brought on by the pandemic. Finding ways to provide autonomy to workers regarding their schedules can benefit women particularly but all workers in a wide range of industries, even those where remote work is not a feasible option. Likewise, thinking more creatively about what attributes make excellent leaders can allow more women to climb the career ladder. When the casualties of the pandemic-related exodus of women return to work, don’t assume their skills are out of date. Make a conscious effort to reintegrate them into their old careers.

Beth Livingston, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship

#DYK: Women’s U.S. workforce participation rate as of January 2021 IS 57%, the lowest it’s been since 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

A version of this article will be included in the forthcoming issue of Tippie Magazine. Alumni are invited to update their contact information with the college to be placed on the mailing list for future print editions.