As we found ways to leverage technology to engage with our colleagues, clients, friends, and family, we learned to live in the moment. We were more mindful of people, and we became better observers and active listeners
254 days after the COVID-19 lockdown was clamped, I got ready to go to the office once again. I put on my favorite navy-blue suit and my lucky tie and felt a bit nostalgic. Similar to an old song -- a suit, a tie, even a pair of shoes -- can bring back vivid memories.
I decided to pedal my way on my 'classic Indian bicycle' to our flagship office tower (Randstad Tower) in Bangalore. The ritual of getting ready for work had taken on a new meaning during this extended WFH period. In pre-Covid days, putting on the suit every morning for me was akin to putting on armour, it was my transition from "off" to "on", ready to bring my best to the mission of the day.
When I arrived at our office tower, I parked my bicycle and took some extra time to gaze up at the Randstad logo at the entrance. It was a surreal moment and a gentle reminder to push pause, to observe -- to be in the moment. I climbed the steps as the security guards stood tall and proud, and smiled. "It's great to see you. How have you been!?".
I realised that this common question in passing which I had been asked countless times in the past now had real meaning -- this time it was from the heart. I was genuinely interested in how they were doing. Meeting my team face-to-face, seeing their smiles, making small talk with them, feeling their excitement. As I made my way upstairs to my office, I couldn't help but smile. It was good to be back.
It was with a purpose-filled vision that our organisation came into being, and as I parked my bicycle and gazed up at the Randstad logo at the entrance, I experienced a new energy surging through me. Working through the lockdown period had taught me some invaluable lessons, and I looked forward to embedding them in architecting our #new ways of work.
Reimagining team cohesion
One of the most important lessons I experienced was that the best of life unfolds in the present. Prior to the lockdown, I had established a cadence of travelling the four corners of India, and meeting colleagues and clients every week. Yet, during the lockdown, I found that I was busier than ever, moving at the same speed - but this time in a virtual world.
As we found ways to leverage technology to engage with our colleagues, clients, friends, and family, we learned to live in the moment. We were more mindful of people, and we became better observers and active listeners. We found ourselves having some great conversations, the kind of conversations we would have never had if it weren't for this new way of working. We plan to continuously create such team rapport - whether working from home or from the office. This will result in people feeling more valued and more involved in the organisation's success.
A new culture of collaboration to safeguard employee well-being
Like many other organisations, we demonstrated tremendous creativity, ingenuity, and agility in 'virtualising' the employee lifecycle - hiring, on-boarding, engagement, learning and development, coaching, and more.
The truth about employees' mental well-being is that as social beings, being together matters. As humans, we need to connect with something tangible and real. We want to step out of our desks and engage with our colleagues to build emotional connections. We are therefore building positive psychic equity in a hybrid work environment, where both in-person and virtual engagement will coexist with ease - and where the office will be a place for communication, collaboration, and celebration.
A mantra for purpose - 'Do well, and do good'
As I mingled among my smiling and enthusiastic colleagues in the office that day, I felt grateful that I could finally show my empathy in person. When leaders are caught in an unprecedented and unpredictable crisis, such as COVID-19, it is natural to feel that they need to choose between taking charge of the situation and demonstrating empathy and compassion.
Over the years, I have learnt that it is not an 'OR', but an 'AND' situation between outcome and purpose. Get the greater purpose right and convey it authentically to your people - and the outcomes will naturally follow.
The lockdown gave us the opportunity to move into different ways of thinking and integrating our North Star to the positive impact we could make in this world.
I believe that leaders need to go beyond building high-performing teams - they need to be compassionate leaders. Compassion in leaders elevates their empathy and enables them to act to inspire, motivate and support their teams. This crisis guided me to up my compassion quotient, and we hope to pass on this learning to all our employees.
We've all found ways to leverage technology to engage with our colleagues, clients, friends, and family. In the process, we found ourselves discovering new things about the people in our lives who we thought we already knew well. At the click of the "join" button, we were inside their homes. I learnt about the paintings on their walls, the stories behind the photos and other treasures on the table, and the books on the shelves.
Technology is very much part of this journey into the future, but it's there to empower rather than bypass or replace people.
Purpose - a powerful 'North Star'
The lockdown and the many months of work from home, which followed, have reminded me of what's truly important as a leader. Visiting the empty office offered me the chance to push pause, to not only appreciate the small stuff but to cherish it.
As I sat at my desk and gazed out the window, I recalled the importance of purpose. I realised that back in the days before COVID-19, I spent far too much time and energy on the "what" and the "how".
This has been a wake-up call and a valuable lesson that will stay with me forever, a reminder of the importance of empathy and compassion. This time to think and reflect on my journey prompted me to start working on my second book. Crisis brings opportunity.
In good times and bad, it's a purpose that guides us through the fog. Purpose is our lighthouse, our north star, it helps us to hold firm. Never has the "why" been so important for leaders than right here, right now.
(The author is MD and CEO, Randstad India.)