As we start to ease out of lockdown one thing is clear for many businesses and it’s leaders, our immediate future is going to look different from our past. Whether that is in the way we work, the services we provide, where we are based or who our customers will be.

Industries are changing with it. Cambridge University, for example, recently confirmed that for the 2020/2021 academic year all lectures will be delivered online to help comply with social distancing, and other learning establishments are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks and months.

As leaders, our strategy on how we communicate with our people, whether at an overall business level or individual conversations and team meetings, has certainly changed in the last three months with a surge in use of apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

It is likely that as we find our new normal and ease out of lockdown some of these strategies will become part of our muscle memory. Sometimes driven by necessity and the inability to draw our people together on mass due to social distancing, or simply because we have found they are logistically the best way of us delivering news, information, training or coaching sessions.

Home working is currently being driven by public health reasons, but there are obvious tangible benefits for both a business and its people if it continues post lockdown. The factors that underpin engagement levels at work haven’t changed and flexibility is often a key consideration in how an employee feels about their role. The ability to balance our work and personal lives is a key driver of our happiness levels.

Home working requires us to get into a slightly different headspace as leaders. The two biggest barriers that have prevented home working in the past have been technology and trust. With the technology now allowing us to log in and work from anywhere with an internet connection we need to tackle the trust factor.

There are two key considerations we need to bear in mind:

It’s what we do, not how long we spend doing it

In 2019 a study by the CIPD found that 83% of people undertaking a survey into working patterns had seen evidence of “presenteeism”in their company, where people are either working unnecessarily long hours or coming to work when they aren’t feeling well.

At the start of the pandemic I was contacted by a leader who said 'how can I check my team are all doing their 37.5 hours a week?'. In short, you can’t and you don’t need to. By setting effective goals and agreeing the desired output from our people each day/week/month we can relax and trust our people to work the hours they need to in order to achieve success. But it is on us as leaders to set these goals with our teams.

If you are setting goals that will take your teams 5 hours a week to perform, then it is likely they will only spend 5 hours doing them.

Trust works both ways

It takes time to build trust in any relationship. Empowerment is often an over-used and misrepresented word but in this case by setting the desired goals and then trusting your teams to work the hours they need to in order to achieve them, we will change the neural pathway of leadership that exists and break down the barrier of trust that was getting in the way of truly flexible working. We will truly have empowerment.

By giving our people and our teams the space, tools and support they need to make this work – we really will be changing the working patterns of the future.