While the early days of COVID-19 were marked by uncertainty and demanded fast adaptability, it also brought about positive changes in the workplace. Chief among them were trust and vulnerability. The sudden demands of remote work, like childcare duties and caring for loved ones, necessitated a level of transparency with managers and colleagues like never before. The collective experience of being thrown into such a foreign experience brought us together, fostering honest communication and allowing for vulnerability in a way that had never been seen before. 

The Big Shift
Here we are, nearly three years since the pandemic started, and I find myself wondering: how have trust and vulnerability in the workplace changed since those early pandemic days? In truth, I believe we’ve lapsed from where we once were. People used to feel comfortable being honest about how they were feeling, whether from frustration about adopting new tools and processes, to feeling demotivated by overwhelming changes in the world. That kind of honesty created a sense of closeness necessary for getting through the times. The culture of compassion we enjoyed and the ability to communicate our needs have diminished now that we’re seemingly back to business as usual. “I trust you’re going to get the work done” marked the type of environment we had created; but as we’re moving back toward a more rigid structure of the 9-5 and anxieties around hybrid work and current events rise, we’re taking big strides backward.  So, how do we return to those healthy communication habits we once had with each other?  We get back to the basics. 

Revisiting Good Communication Habits
If you’re not already, it’s crucial you get comfortable with communicating your needs. Consider what you need and what you need to get what you need. There are a few best practices you can employ here to help you ask for what you need with confidence. Always communicate your needs ahead of time so your team can make any necessary arrangements on their end to accommodate your request. Whether that entails asking for flexible working hours for you to meet your or your family’s schedules, or letting your team know you have a hard stop to your day, success starts with proactivity and clear communication.  

The Role of Vulnerability in Good Communication
Consider how you can build trust in your professional relationships. Knowing it provides the foundation for so much else, honoring and acknowledging some amount of vulnerability is an important part of getting back to a trusting workplace. Creating and maintaining healthy work-appropriate vulnerability starts with honesty. If you’re a manager, consider having periodic check-ins with your employees about more than just work to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their needs. Leaders set the example by stating what their needs are, so others are empowered to ask for what they need in return. So, the next time you need to log off a little early or won’t be in the office for XYZ personal reasons, see communicating that as an opportunity to set an example for your teams.   

Best Practices for Problem-Solving
It’s important for leaders to reflect on what has caused culture shifts away from a more accommodating workplace. Are you seeing drops in performance, productivity, or revenue? If so, consider how you can address those issues on an individual basis. Be hyper-specific about problem-solving by addressing breakdowns in process, misaligned expectations, or matters of poor communication instead of allowing common workplace issues like those to create sweeping culture changes internally. 

We’ve all seen the positive impact that a more flexible and trusting office culture can have on individuals’ job satisfaction, team productivity, and the overall health of the company. I’m confident a realignment toward that is fully possible, but only if employees and leaders alike continue to be honest and vulnerable with each other. These are the building blocks for creating a satisfying – and productivework culture. 

Marsha Berkson

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Marsha Berkson (WHP San Diego 3) is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach & Leadership Coach.