Welcome Back: New Workplace Realities and the Evolved Manager

the future of workplace management

After the year we’ve all had, those words "welcome back" are great to hear. With vaccination rates increasing, and masks starting to come off, we’re all venturing into public spaces more often, and that includes workspaces – but what impact has this last year had on the office and how will those impacts challenge traditional managerial leadership? Today, we are joined by Brian Kropp, Group Vice President and Chief of HR Research at Gartner, in the hopes that he might prep us for the future of workplace management and explore how COVID-19 has changed the way we manage. Here, he explains:

  • How the pandemic accelerated workplace changes;
  • Why management styles are changing;
  • What skills are critical for becoming a more evolved manager; and
  • The role of empathy in the workplace!


If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 


Accelerated Changes In The Workplace

  • The pandemic didn’t just create a new reality for work, it accelerated changes that were already coming. 
    • Many practices that we thought might begin 2025 actually began in 2020.
  • While the obvious accelerations are things like the implementation of hybrid and remote work, as well as the digital transformation that is associated with that, the future of workplace management also changed in how we interact with and treat employees. 
    • Employees should be treated in a humane and understanding manner, which has certainly arisen in practice throughout the pandemic.
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A Shift In Management Style

  • The biggest shift Mr. Kropp noticed was the relationship between leadership and employees.
    • Remote & hybrid work allows others to take a step in someone else’s shoes to see the struggles and challenges they face each and every day.
    • Physical health has always been important and can be seen, but it also became easier to see mental and emotional health struggles people face.
  • The future of workplace management lies in understanding that the people that work for a company are human beings that just happen to work for this company, not just employees or workers. 
  • Gartner conducted a survey on the evolving role of management and the future of workplace management that attempted to answer a very important question - how does the shift to hybrid and remote work affect the relationship between employees and their organization?
  • Initially, it was believed that the survey would reveal that the best managers would be the ones who were able to handle the technological changes brought about by the shift to remote work, but what Gartner found was the opposite. 
    • The managers that are going to be doing the best job of managing employees in a remote world and in a hybrid world are ones that are capable of showing empathy.
    • By having a sense of empathy, these managers are able to come up with better solutions, improve performance and retention, and create a better overall employee experience. 
  • The survey also found a variety of other things that will affect the future of workplace management.
    • Great managers will set a group of philosophies - as opposed to a specific set of policies - regarding what the future of work will look like at their company.
    • As workplaces reopen, great managers will be very clear about what the role of that physical workplace will be and why it is important to be there.
      • These efforts are often placing an emphasis on the social and emotional aspects of being in a physical workspace rather than specific productivity-related metrics. 

What It Means To Be A Manager Today

  • Mr. Kropp co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review that outlines three trends that surfaced in the Gartner survey that are challenging traditional managerial roles.
    • Changing Technology
      • When you think back on managerial tasks 10-15 years ago, there was a large amount of paperwork involved. 
      • Today, HR and management departments have since drastically increased their use of technology.
      • The future of workplace management lies with growing and improving technology, which today can achieve 60%-65% of tasks done by hand in the past, streamlining the management process.
    • The Rise of Remote Work
      • Managers will no longer be able to manage via personal observations.
      • Managers must transition from an input monitoring-based approach to an output trust-based approach.
    • Employee Expectations
      • Employees today expect very different things from management than they did even just a few years ago.
      • Employees no longer expect their managers to be the one to teach them how to do certain tasks - they are more likely to learn from their peers and coworkers.
      • Most managers do not actually know exactly how to do the job of their employees as they stand today. 
      • Managers are no longer seen as “someone who can help me do my job” and are now more along the lines of “someone who can help me solve problems, connect with others, and provide support to me.”
  • All three of these aspects of management are big contributors to the future of workplace management and what it means to be a manager today.

How Do Managers Adapt?

  • Unfortunately, many managers will not be able to make the transition from what it used to mean to manage to the future of workplace management.
    • These managers may not have the skillset or capabilities to make the transition.
      • Moving from older ways of accomplishing tasks to utilizing technology to its full potential could be a struggle for some managers.
    • Some managers may also lack the mindset to make the transition.
      • These people likely do not enjoy connecting with employees on an emotional level that can sometimes align with a guidance counselor more so than a manager.
  • Moving forward, we might actually need fewer managers, overall. 
    • With so many tasks being delegated out to others or technology, there is less of a need for numerous managers.
  • Managers need to build their empathy skills.
    • Even training programs for managers will need to transition into something that almost resembles training for a social worker.
    • Managers are no longer task managers or bosses, they are problem solvers and support systems for employees. 
  • Managers will also need to become connectors.
    • Managers will not always have all of the answers, so they need to be skilled at connecting people to others who can help solve problems and foster innovation. 
    • This goes for emotional and mental support as well and those connections include both internal and external resources.
  • Finally, managers must develop a sense of trust.
    • There needs to be a level of trust between managers and employees to know that the tasks that need to get done, will get done.
    • Trust should be paramount compared to monitoring physical work getting done.

Technology’s Role In The Future Of Workplace Management

  • The use of technology will obviously dwindle as we emerge from pandemic style remote work where every interaction has been via technology, but it will still play a big role moving forward. 
  • The next generation of technology is designed for remote and hybrid work in mind, rather than being designed for one-off interactions.
  • We will continue to use technology often, but it will be a different feeling to use that technology.
  • We will begin to see less technology trying to recreate social experiences. 
    • As an employee working hybridly or remotely, it is harder to create those strong social connections to coworkers, which in turn makes it easier to quit that company or manager. 
    • Managers should focus on how they can foster genuine friendships and social interactions between employees via technology along with in-person events.

Emphasis On Empathy

  • Empathy is going to be the most important skill for the future of workplace management, and it is imperative that our managers understand this and work to develop that sense of empathy.
  • The first step is simply building awareness about the importance of empathy with exercises and examples that showcase the effect empathy can have on a workplace.
  • Managers should also be placed in situations where they need to show empathy to truly connect with an employee.
    • This is especially important because managers should know how to show empathy without crossing any lines when talking about topics that occur outside of the workplace.

Avoiding Overwhelming Your Managers

  • The best way to support managers through all of these new practices is to find other resources where employees can go to get help so that everything does not fall on your managers. 
  • Good examples of resources that can take some responsibility off of managers are:
    • A company intranet/wiki
    • For onboarding, place the responsibility on the new employee by creating an onboarding program that allows that employee to meet people and understand their role by themselves or with the help of many people, not just their manager.

Are We Improving The Future Of The Workplace?

  • Overall, we are moving in the right direction, but we must be careful.
  • With the implementation of remote and hybrid work, the landscape will likely be very uneven.Some people will have the flexibility to work hybridly or remotely while others do not, and is that fair?
  • Managers can sometimes be biased regarding different work situations.
    • For example, there is an innate bias that employees who work from the office are more productive than those who work from home, even though there is no data to support that claim.
  • Companies are going to need to have patience in order to truly support a positive future of workplace management.

Gartner

  • Gartner works with executives for companies all over the world to identify what the best strategies that companies should pursue to improve the performance of their workforce, organization, supply chain operations, etc. 
  • Mr. Kropp’s team focuses on many of the talent-related issues that go into those strategies.
  • He also leads the content experiences for the ReImagineHR Conference. This year, it will take place in San Diego in November. 
    • The conference has been going on for eight or nine years, and this year’s conference will be the largest gathering of senior HR executives anywhere in 2021.

Brian Kropp Background

  • BS and MA in Economics from Clemson University
  • Ph.D. in Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
  • Mr. Kropp now serves as Group Vice President and Chief of HR Research at Gartner.

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About the Author Jacqueline Gregory

As a creative, persuasive communications professional with extensive experience guiding projects from concept through completion Jacqui has produced custom communications for some of the world's best known brands. Producing ProjectHR has been one of her favorite ways to engage and delight HR and Labor Relations professionals!

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