Career Expert: Embrace the ‘New Normal’ So Your Teams Can Thrive

Old-school companies that love workers sitting in their offices, quietly working from their assigned seats, checking in constantly and never working remotely? Heads up: Linda Taliaferro says you need to change and get with the new times.

As businesses of all sizes slowly prepare for the lift of the stay-at-home order, employees are starting to prepare for physically returning to the workplace. And that’s fine, Taliaferro says. But it is time for some flexibility and compassion alongside that kind of workplace.

Instead, Taliaferro says she is advising her employer, her teams and her clients from her side hustle to embrace what’s coming. Coronavirus has people looking to stay home and continue to work in a way that’s both productive and acceptable. And the sooner employers get on board with that better normal, the better.

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Taliaferro has worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies, including her current role as Vice President of Global Quality for Troy-based mobility supplier Meritor. At Meritor, Taliaferro is responsible for quality oversight at 28 sites in 18 countries on five continents.

Throughout her career, Taliaferro learned first-hand the challenges of climbing the corporate ladder and how various hindrances can prevent good people from reaching their full potential. She also has seen people, especially people of color, deal with various obstacles and question what was holding them back.

As a result, Taliaferro’s mission and passion are to flip the script so that more well-deserved people are seated at the table. Her passion for helping people get a seat at the table propelled her to create The TEE, The Extra Effort. The TEE has allowed Taliaferro to help educate more than 1,000 established and emerging professionals and get them where they want to go at work.

Her latest mission because of the coronavirus is to help people adapt to the new workplace, learning about how organizations must change and workplace cultures must shift in the aftermath of the pandemic. The biggest stretch will be for old-school corporations, Taliaferro said, where people must learn to work differently than they ever have before.

Coronavirus may have hit in 2020, but its impacts will go into 2021, 2022 and beyond, Taliaferro believes.

“To be frank, this was long overdue,” Taliaferro said. “We have different generations coming into the workforce, and they’re asking questions. My daughter, who is in law school, often talks to me about why (businesses believe) people should be in the office from 9 to 5.”

As a manager, Taliaferro said she had to learn how to be flexible to keep her younger employees inspired and recharged. In the age of coronavirus, old-school companies are going to have to think the same way: How can you engage your employees? How do you provide a team environment if people are working remotely? How do you keep talent?

Shifting focus
For example, Taliaferro is holding Thursday “global chats” for her team at Meritor, and she plans to continue to do that even when or if they get back into a traditional office setting. Being flexible and intentional is a key part of that conversation.

“That shift is happening,” Taliaferro said. “There is an appetite now for a conversation around flexible workplace where people don’t have to be in the office to be productive. But (companies) are going to have to have an open mind and a new way of thinking. Just because you work remotely doesn’t mean you are less productive. In fact, in some cases, people are being more productive now that they’re at home full time.”

Another important factor: Businesses need to make sure their employees who work from home or have flexible workforces give their workers the technology they need. That means greater infrastructure if they’re in the office or access to tools like Zoom for everyday meetings. People want to be connected, and a team that has the tools they need are collaborative as well as happy at work, Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro also recommends bosses and mangers take this opportunity to “walk the talk,” she said. Workers want to see management leading from example – so that means that CEOs and managers must embrace these new workplace norms.

“Is this an uncertain time? Yes. But will we be able to get through it with strength and perseverance? Yes,” Taliaferro said. “But you have to get to the other side as a team. You need to show your team what that looks like by walking it out. You have to use Zoom. You can sit in on those morning coffees and 5 p.m. virtual happy hours. Embrace that. Truly engage and connect.”

Be intentional
Doing Facebook Lives and Teams meetings with your employees shows a leader’s ability to shift and adapt, Taliaferro said. She believes in that one word – shift – so much that she is calling it her word of the year.

Finally, Taliaferro wants people to understand that coronavirus hasn’t changed their goals. People who want to move up in the world or become CEO? You can still do that, she said. You just have to be more creative.

“Being remote does not equal no career growth,” Taliaferro said. “Put in the effort. Reach out. Connect to a mentor. These types of qualities (to adapt) show your readiness to be a leader. … Can you do it the same way you would have a year ago? No. But you can still interview for a job and try it.”

The bottom line, Taliaferro says, is that life has changed. But being intentional, having a focus and being flexible has not.

“This pandemic is massive. But if it hadn’t happened, something else would have. Your career path will always challenge you,” Taliaferro said. “We have to be able to run straight into those challenges. Once we understand them, we need to do the shift necessary and still move forward. … You can’t shrink. Ten percent of success is what happens to you; 90 percent is how you deal with it.”