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A few years ago, most of us leaders had certain ideas about how an office and team should work: Namely, that we as a team should be together in an office, working 8- to 12-hour+ days every Monday through Friday and weekends as well, broken up only by the standard two weeks of vacation and occasional holiday or sick day. In my company and many others, there wasn’t a lot of flexibility to do it differently — this is what we knew and grew up thinking was correct. It’s how we conformed to the ideals of other leaders and mentors before us. But then the world shifted, and suddenly, remote work was our only viable option. Once lockdowns were lifted, we were still initially encouraged to keep our distance, and schools remained online, which meant parents needed to generally still be home, too.
Eventually, though, schools reopened and we started gathering again. And for many of us, it’s made sense to bring our work teams back together again, too. I have. And it feels great to have that dynamic energy return. But — I’m proud to say — it’s different now.
Covid helped us all wake up. It helped me wake up. We learned that our previous level of inflexibility was unnecessary.
How I transformed our culture
During the pandemic, I had to lean into some trust — that my previously all-in-person team could be remote, and we could still produce amazing work and get everything done with the same quality our clients expect from us. And guess what? With the right structure and expectations set, we absolutely did. And in learning to trust more and make the changes I had to, I gave myself permission to make further changes. As we returned to the office, and I started to take stock of things, I realized that I had evolved — and I could bring our culture forward instead of just reverting to the old normal.
And now, I’m seriously ready to move on from Covid and also from tired excuses, barriers, fears and limitations that stop us from doing business how we want to. So, now I ask, what do I want? And what do my employees need?
I realized I wanted to build in more time for rest and recharge — to sometimes go slow to then be able to go faster. I also knew my team, now a mix of in-office and fully remote employees, would benefit from continued flexibility around where they worked and when. And I’d learned that with a solid structure and clear expectations and goals, people did well with the space to make more decisions for themselves.
So, in 2022, we made some big changes. We rolled out unlimited vacation and PTO days. We instituted daylight savings hours, where we all take a break around 3:30 p.m. to either drive home while it’s still light out and finish out the day from the comfort of home, or for those working remotely, pause and pick up their kids from school, take the dog for a walk or move and stretch before coming back refreshed. During summer, we now have shorter working hours on Fridays and also keep work light between Christmas and New Year’s. We’ve also started planning quarterly gatherings to connect and get to know each other better outside of work.
Besides making a positive impact on my team members’ daily lives, these changes encourage me as a leader to take time off that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. And I’ve proven to myself I can do it — without everything burning to the ground.
Now as we move into 2023, I am making more shifts to build deeper productivity, foster the growth of my team and further evolve as the leader I want to be. After seeing how well things went over the past year, we are adding another benefit in addition to unlimited PTO: Two defined weeks off when we shut down the office, one in the summer and one in the winter, both at times that are naturally slower around seasonal holidays.
Making these changes requires planning and organization, but it’s worth it — for my team and for myself as a leader. As I’ve slowed down myself, I’ve been able to get my own oxygen mask firmly in place. I’ve learned I don’t always need to go 100 mph. In fact, slowing down can be incredibly helpful. It’s the perfect time to look around, challenge our long-held perspectives and grow. It’s the perfect time to build more intentionally, from the inside out.
How you can transform your culture
Being willing to change my perspective as a leader and build culture in new ways has been an incredible gift to myself and my company. If you want to step into a cultural rebirth of your own in 2023, I encourage you to do it. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Honor the team culture that feels right to you — don’t be afraid to center around your personal goals as a leader and lead according to your own North Star, instead of what you may have been “taught” in the past. You aren’t beholden to any old-school way of doing things.
Take it slow, make changes when it feels right, and retract when it doesn’t. Accept that trial and error will happen; changes often won’t be perfect at the first rollout. It’s OK to recalibrate, as you continually move toward what’s best for your company and team.
Don’t think of these changes as handouts to appease your team or to keep up with other leaders. While you might be ready to make some changes, each should be instituted when you feel the time is right, rather than acting from a sense of pressure. Otherwise, you could easily feel resentful if your team doesn’t show the gratitude you might have expected.
Give your team the responsibility to uphold the culture and grow it. They have a very big part in making sure what you are instituting works, too. For example, give them transparency around who is taking a vacation and who isn’t. Having an open PTO policy that allows peer oversight helps those who take a little more be aware and those who don’t take enough self-manage.
Recognize the role your energy plays in your company’s culture. Lead by example. Do the personal work to figure out what helps you bring your passion to your company every day —then do more of that. Be the mentor you maybe never had as you lean into your own strengths. This will show up in the cultural framework you create for your team to uphold.
We don’t need a new year to change—but it’s as good a time as any.