As we greet 2023, we must remember that it’s the “child” of 2020-’22: this year is the culmination of the highly volatile three years behind it, and those three years pretty much have changed everything when it comes to leadership:

  • Learning how to lead in a remote work environment.
  • Helping essential team members stay as safe as possible while working.
  • Dealing with employees leaving seemingly en masse for positions they considered better.
  • Replacing those departing team members (which turned out to be harder than it had been in years).
  • Managing extremely high expectations of new arrivals (as well as those who remained) regarding their work-life balance and pay/benefits.

It’s been, in short, a lot.

The significant increase in workforce flexibility, including its fluidity, means employee expectations could well hit the wall of employer needs. The likely result? A considerable tension point when it comes to the employee experience versus a company’s business constraints.

First, a few statistics:

  • About 5 percent of the workforce worked remotely in 2019. That jumped to more than 60 percent in May 2020 and, for the past year, has stayed around 30 percent.
  • Employees love the ability to work from home so much that job seekers, on average, said they would take a 14 percent pay cut if they could work remotely. 
  • In July, the National Bureau of Economic Research published the results of a poll conducted of hundreds of senior executives. When asked if they had increased remote work to “keep employees happy and to moderate wage growth pressures,” 38% said yes. In addition, half of those who work in insurance, finance, real estate, and professional services said they had done so.
    • Important note: 41% said they planned to continue this in 2023 to keep employees happy, etc.
  • Yet leadership as a whole tends to want – is pushing for – team members to return to the office at least a few days a week.

Yet working in an office also has many benefits for employees

Employees want learning and growth opportunities, yet these can be much harder to provide in a remote work situation. After all, while a considerable amount of learning can – and does – take place in online courses, etc., much learning happens in ad hoc settings among one’s peers and managers. 

The “on-the-spot” learning that comes from observing, speaking to peers and managers in a hallway, etc., is incredibly valuable yet very difficult to recreate without a curriculum deliberately engineered for remote learning.

Thus, the tension between leaders and those they lead.

Yet this needn’t be impassable. Both leaders and team members want the same thing: to produce good work. To grow. To make friends (or at least enjoy camaraderie on the job).

As we move through 2023, let us remember that while the pandemic changed so much, much remains. As this year becomes the demarcation between the before and whatever comes after, we as leaders are here to guide our teams through to the other side, ensuring that the bond between employees and leadership becomes ever more resilient.