Blog Post

How 2020 Accelerated Bringing Humanity to Business Leadership

Cornerstone Editors

"I, like most people on this planet, have found [2020] to be an extremely taxing year," Cornerstone’s Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer Heidi Spirgi shared with HR thought leader Laurie Ruettimann on a recent episode of the Punk Rock HR podcast.

Spirgi and Ruettimann connected over video chat (so 2020) for Ruettimann’s popular HR industry-focused podcast to discuss how a year of intense change continues to put pressure on HR and on people leaders to rethink everything.

The two shared some tips, including:

Leaders Need to Be Authentic and Vulnerable

Spirgi pointed out that while the inherent stress and uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic is virtually universal, it’s also extremely individualized. Every person who has been impacted by COVID-19 has their own unique experience with the virus—and everyone’s life has been in some way altered because of it.

And that includes changes to work life. According to Spirgi, leaders must be among the first to acknowledge that lines between employees’ personal and professional lives are blurring, things are tough for everyone and everything is different than it was even months ago. Constant change of 2020 has accelerated the need for adaptive leadership, which requires leaders to cultivate self-awareness, express vulnerability and empathy and to listen and respond to the needs of their people.

"Leaders need to tell the entire organization and their teams that they, too, are suffering—that they, too, are struggling," said Spirgi. "It’s important for them to share that their world is incredibly messy; just like their employees."

Ruettimann agreed and noted that leaders are among the people still getting used to remote working and connecting with direct reports, clients, customers and other colleagues in new, or potentially exhausting ways.

Don’t Let Zoom Fatigue Rule Your Work Life

Spirgi shared with Ruettimann that even though she’s worked remotely for the last 15 years, 2020 proved (over and over, again) that Zoom fatigue is real. The constant pressure to jump on a video chat can impact employee engagement and productivity. Ruettimann added that things are different signing on to Zoom (or the video conferencing platform of your choice) in the physical sense, too—with some logging on from a couch or kitchen table instead of a boardroom or office nook.

In order to combat employee fatigue and burnout, Spirgi recommends leadership teams encourage alternatives to video, including: going for walks during non-video calls, turning cameras off when not presenting and generally feeling comfortable declining a coworker meeting invitation—unless it's crucial to the outcome of a project or task. Blocking your calendar for life outside of work is important. And that goes for leaders, too.

"Pre-Covid, pre-remote working, we did make [turning your camera on] mandatory during Zoom meetings because those meetings were fewer and farther between," said Spirgi. "Being able to see people you work with is an important way to engage remotely—but the rate at which we hop on Zoom these days requires new rules."

Keep Making Everyday Work Life More Human

Over the course of 2020, millions of people were also challenged with how to balance work life and home life: whether that meant typing with one hand while holding a toddler, conducting two Zoom meetings at once without crashing the WiFi and finding new ways to break up a day with activities like walks or meditation.

In the process, Spirgi and Ruettimann noted, employees introduced coworkers (intentionally or not) to their personal lives. And as a result, people normalized incorporating very human elements into the work day, from exercising to cooking to walking the dog or putting a child down for a nap.

This integration of humanity into business leadership is a positive development forged during a turbulent year. But, according to Spirgi, there’s plenty more work to be done among HR and business leaders in order to thoughtfully reverse engineer the best elements of remote work and bring them back to offices if/or when they reopen.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership or talent management heading into 2021, Spirgi said it’s clear "people just need to trust and connect and understand each other—and have visibility into the human side of us; not just the work side."

To learn more about Heidi and Laurie’s conversation on how leaders can help make the work experience more human, check out the full podcast conversation on PunkRock HR.

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