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The pandemic changed employees: Can managers adapt?

By Lynne Curry

“The employees who return to the office after a year of remote work aren’t the employees their bosses remember” says a June 12 Wall Street Journal article.1 Remote work changed how employees want to work. Employees that tasted independence don’t want to give it up. Employees who felt betrayed lost trust in employers.

What do managers and employers need to understand?

Shift from managing to coaching:

Even pre-pandemic, most employees preferred managers who outlined “here’s where we’re going and why” and set clear expectations and goals to those who micro-managed. “After a year of working in solitude,” notes the WSJ article, employees “expect more control over how, when and where their work gets done and to have greater autonomy relative to their managers and organizations.”1

This challenges managers who don’t know how to coach but instead supervise as if employees function better under a manager’s thumb. If you’re a manager who needs to change your ways, consider what you gain when you replace direct managerial oversight with a coaching relationship with your employees. Employees who view their manager as a coach feel they and the coach are on the same team and share the same goals. While employees occasionally bristle when a manager says, “try that another way,” when coaches say, “do that differently,” players listen carefully and follows the coach’s counsel.

What makes an employee relate to the managers they report to as coaches? The coaching relationship begins with respect and mutual expectations and is fueled by trust and communication. Manager coaches connect more deeply with employee by serving as mentors, role models, and advisors, helping employees learn the mindset, skills, and strategies they need to excel.2

If you’re a manager bringing employees back from remote work, reconnect with each of them by asking, “How does it feel to be back? What did you learn while away that you want to bring back to your work onsite?”

Continue coaching with performance-enhancing questions such as “What skills or capabilities do you need to feel more successful in your current assignments?” Work with and not against your employees’ desire for independence by focusing them on accountable self-assessment with questions such as: “In what areas are you pleased with your work quality?” “What can you do better or differently to get even stronger results?” and “If you were your own manager, what would you ask yourself to work on or do better?”


The betrayal felt by furloughed and laid off employees lingers, particularly with employers who continue to expect employees to “take the hit,” when the pain seems lopsided.

Said one person who called me last week, “During the pandemic, I worked seventy plus hours a week, placing my and my family’s health at risk. Yesterday, I got an email from my employer. ‘Thanks for your dedication. Please understand how much value you. Regretfully, we can’t afford to increase anyone’s salaries and we need to cut benefits.’

“I quit that day. I’ve already secured a job with a new employer. I don’t trust my new employer to have my best interests at heart any more than my last employer did, but I couldn’t stay with an employer who took so much and planned to take more to ‘return their organization to its former profitability.’ Did my former employer think we wouldn’t get a copy of their communication to their shareholders?”

This employee isn’t alone. Emails from furloughed and laid off employees now rehired by managers who seemed personally untouched by the financial hit lower-ranked employees absorbed now return to job sites to work for managers who knew the exact date the furloughs and layoffs were to occur, but never gave the employees advance warning. Can these managers regain employee trust?  Yes, if they treat their employees as valuable in actions as well as words.

1 How Working From Home Has Changed Employees – WSJ