It’s time to design a new, post-pandemic normal for your creative team — one that will transform the way they work as a team. You’re weighing your options now. Will you return to the office? Stay remote? Pivot to a hybrid model (like the majority of companies are doing) to allow for some remote work while still providing the physical anchor of an in-person environment?
There’s no shortage of advice on the best ways to balance in-office and at-home work. We’ve offered some of our own for battling creative team burnout in the post-pandemic world and feel the hybrid model is a great way to go. But before you can really delve into creating a workable structure for your teams, it might first be time for some self-reflection as a leader.
Your leadership mindset could be the number one obstacle preventing you from equipping your creative teams for long-term success. On the other hand, the right mindset can help you attract greater talent to your organization, free your teams to do their best work, and improve your creative outputs and outcomes.
So if you as a creative team leader want to meet your business objectives while also giving your teams the flexibility they’ve come to expect, you might need to start by looking at this challenge – and opportunity – from a new, human-centered perspective.
A Human-Centered Mindset Prioritizes Trust, Not Control
In his “Big Reset Playbook,” corporate human resources expert Josh Bersin describes this new ethos as a human-centered mindset. The first, crucial step in embracing this new paradigm and setting up your teams to thrive is to let go of old methods of control.
Here’s an example. Historically, how did you manage an employee who was constantly late for work, regularly called in sick to take care of an ailing child, or couldn’t be found in their office after 4 pm? Did you write that employee up? Give them a warning? Eventually let them go?
What if that team member also consistently met their deadlines, submitted excellent work, and thought carefully out how their outputs met desired strategic outcomes? Would they still be considered a problem employee based on their HR infractions?
The old way of managing employees involved high levels of structure and control. Even companies offering fun perks like nap pods, snack bars, and game rooms did so in order to make the in-office work environment more appealing. The unwritten expectation was that employees needed to be in the office, preferably putting in more time than the minimum 40 hours per week.
Many of us are well aware that the pandemic stripped away these arbitrary means of supervision and illuminated just how meaningless they were. Yet even now, there is evidence that leaders are clinging to a control-based mindset. According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, “leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call.”
Creatives Earned (and Now Demand) Increased Trust
Here’s your wake up call. If you don’t embrace a human-centered mindset and the flexible work options that go with it, you may not be able to retain and attract the talent you need to support and grow your brand.
Our 2021 Creative Management Report revealed 57% of creative teams were more productive than in previous years as a result of working remotely. Furthermore, last year creatives:
- Managed larger workloads with fewer resources
- Met stakeholders’ demands for faster delivery
- Became more organized and strategic with a higher focus on outcomes, not just outputs
- Expanded their skill sets
- Learned new technologies and workflows to help them collaborate in a newly-remote environment
- Kept up with all of this while managing a variety of personal and family-related stressors brought on by the pandemic
In short, creatives proved to be trustworthy and highly capable while working remotely as a result of COVID-19. And in return, they expect to continue to work in flexible ways that allow them to integrate and balance their professional and personal lives.
In fact, 39% of adults said they would rather quit their job than give up the ability to work remotely. Another 63% of marketing team members are planning a job move soon. Most of those job-seekers are prioritizing a flexible work status.
If you want to remain viable in an increasingly competitive hiring market, offering flexible work options in a trusting environment is key.
Trust Transforms Control Into Autonomy
A human-centered leadership mindset understands that productivity is not about how many hours creatives are in the office or sitting at their desk. Rather, the focus is on whether employees are delivering on their promise to your company. Therefore, your goal should be to empower and liberate your team members to do their best work.
Managers oversee the details of how employees do their work. But leaders set well-defined expectations, communicate those expectations clearly, and offer the support employees need to reach their objectives in their own way. This ultimately serves to transfer project ownership from leader to employee.
To set expectations and foster autonomy, ask yourself:
- What are the outcomes I expect from my creative team?
- Do I need to invest in additional resources or tools to help them achieve those outcomes?
- Should I provide additional access to information or other leaders to provide context to do their jobs well?
- How can I remove bottlenecks and empower my teams to make as many independent decisions as possible?
- What metrics will I use to measure outcomes and hold my creative team accountable?
Use the answers to the above questions to set expectations and communicate what accountability will look like. Then trust your teams will rise to the challenge and reach your shared goals.
A Human-Centered Mindset is Growth-Oriented
Adopting a human-centered mindset involves being trusting and flexible. But it also means being firmly committed to a growth mindset that challenges employees to continue pushing themselves higher and further in the pursuit of excellence.
It’s all about striking the right balance. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to determine the right mix of freedom and challenge your creatives will need. A strong feedback loop will help you get this balance right.
Schedule regular check-ins and reviews with creatives in order to provide consistent, constructive feedback. Make these meetings a safe place for your team members to share how they are managing their workloads, what is working for them, and what they need in order to do their jobs more effectively. In return, offer your perspective on what’s working well and your observations and constructive feedback about any patterns that may be holding them back from achieving their full potential. And together, talk through ways in which you will continue to strive toward better outcomes and performance.
It’s Time to Reset Your Mindset
As we emerge from the pandemic, you have a rare opportunity to reevaluate and design the future you want for your company, yourself, and your teams. This is the time to reset everything — your expectations, how you work, your infrastructure, how you lead, and how you measure success and productivity.
Letting go of the old ways of managing in order to harness the flexibility of remote and hybrid work options will open new doors for you as a leader. But to be ready for it, you need to prepare to lead, not manage.
Ditch that old control-based mindset and adopt a new outlook that will ultimately yield better results. Doing so will free your teams to do meaningful, fulfilling work in an environment that challenges them to grow, learn, and produce ever-better creative outcomes.