As light starts to appear at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, questions are being asked about what the workplace will look like moving forward. Back to the office every day? Working entirely from home? A combination of the two?

Businesses will choose different approaches, and how employees feel about the potential for increased flexibility – or lack of it – will vary considerably. This means that for any future workplace model, staff will need to be supported to be successful for companies to maintain employee engagement in 2021.

Company culture and effective leadership, therefore, will be key as these are the principal drivers of employee engagement – which in turn will engender high-performing and successful teams.

Successful leaders will build relationships with staff and support them in the new workplace. Less successful leaders will try to build their own stock and promote themselves. The irony is that the former will build their stock and promote themselves organically while the latter would get the authentic results they are trying to contrive by being good leaders.

So, how should leaders lead?

Firstly, it makes sense that individuals who are balanced, compassionate, and have strong communication skills support their teams and maintain and improve staff engagement – therefore facilitating high performance.

Secondly, as physical meetings can no longer be taken for granted, it may be more difficult for managers to spot who is finding remote work a problem or who is genuinely struggling with motivation. It makes sense then that employees who feel trusted and supported are more likely to be candid and open about their engagement, thus opening up the route to possible solutions.

Interestingly, office politics and hidden agendas may lose their powers of distraction as working from home could differentiate more easily between those whose tangible results highlight their productivity and those who make a lot of noise but don’t actually achieve much. Realistic target-setting and deliverable deadlines are arguably more important than they were pre-Covid because employees maintaining their productivity, despite working from home, is an entirely justifiable expectation for managers to have. Therefore, initiatives designed to maintain staff engagement are important: the increased flexibility offered to employees during the day is likely to be seen as a bonus, but inadequate tech that causes friction and disrupts productivity is undoubtedly a problem. Clearly then, initiatives designed to help employees adapt to their company’s new-normal should aim to lessen friction and any concomitant stress and disengagement.

Of course, staff engagement initiatives have to be genuine to have the desired effect – which comes back to trust. Lip service and lack of authenticity from above are soon exposed and are likely to exacerbate pre-Covid dissatisfaction and heighten frustration.

Companies cannot demand or require staff engagement, rather it has to be nurtured through strong, sincere leadership.