Three Ways to Keep the Playing Field Level as Work Continues to Change

Posted 10.13.2020

One of the things I’ve heard a lot from leaders during the pandemic is that it has leveled the playing field for the people on their teams. When most everyone is working from home, mastery of face time around the office becomes much less of a factor. Power wardrobes and other appearance-based factors have become a lot less important as casual Fridays at the office have become casual Mondays through Fridays over Zoom. Barking dogs in the background and kids and other family members walking through the frame in the Zoom window are one of the few certainties we have so far about what the new normal could look like.

In short, the shift to working from home during the pandemic has humanized the workplace in a way that team building offsites never could. At the same time, it’s devalued the sizzle of appearances and raised the value of the steak of getting stuff done. It’s leveled the playing field for those that weren’t as skilled at or just didn’t play the appearances game. In the process, it’s enabled them to contribute more because substance now matters more than style.

As leaders begin to consider if, how and when to go back to the office, maintaining the advantages that come with a more level playing field should be front and center in their thought process. It’s not just a question of “When do we go back to the office?” It’s more of a series of questions like:

  • Who goes back to the office?
  • How often do they go there?
  • What are they doing there when they do?
  • When does it make more sense for people to work from home long-term?
  • For those who are based at home, how do we keep them engaged and in the flow with the people who are based primarily at the office?

These are some of the questions addressed in a recent article in the Financial Times called How to Make the Hybrid Workforce Model Work. Of course, answers will vary from organization to organization and leader to leader. That said, I’d offer three leadership principles to consider as you think about how to keep the playing field level in your organization as work continues to change:

Familiarity Matters More Than Proximity – One thing the pandemic has made clear is that proximity should matter less when determining which opportunities are assigned to which people. Leaders need to prioritize and encourage assignments and opportunities based on their familiarity with the quality of people’s work rather than the physical proximity of the people doing the work. That means leaders will need to cast a broader net and invest more time learning about what’s going on across the organization. It also means that the people doing the quality work need to speak for that work by putting it in a context that’s relevant and useful to others.

Synchronicity Can Be Asynchronous – The pandemic has put an even brighter light on how technology enables us to work across time zones and around personal needs and pursuits. We don’t all have to always be working on something at the same time to get things done. You can be in sync in asynchronous ways. We can’t just default back to “We all work in the same place at the same time,” simply because that’s the way we used to do it. We’ve proven this year that we can do it differently and be at least as effective if not more so than we were pre-pandemic.

Clarity of Purpose Enables Self-Direction – The more level playing field of the pandemic has made it clear that talented, high-performing people working from home can be more self-directed than they were perhaps allowed to be at the office. If you’re a leader who thinks that’s a good thing and want it to continue as work models evolve, you’ll need to double down on clarity of purpose. Providing answers to basic but critical questions like “What are we trying to do?”, “Why are we trying to do it?”, and “When do we need it?” clarifies team and organizational purpose.  When purpose is clear, talented people can be more self-directed.

These three principles just begin to scratch the surface of how leaders can leverage some of the more level playing field benefits that are emerging during the pandemic. What are you seeing in your organization? What other principles would you add to the level playing field list? If you’re reading this post on LinkedIn, leave a comment. If you’re reading this on the Eblin Group blog, let me know your thoughts by emailing me at

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