What does the workplace look like after post-pandemic?
This is the question that’s top of mind as organizations look to the future “after” COVID-19. For most organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic was incredibly disruptive for business. It pushed many far outside of their comfort zones in ways never experienced before – remote work being one of them. As states begin to re-open thanks to the distribution of vaccines, HR professionals and business leaders are finding that Pandora’s Box has been opened, and there may be no closing it now.
Leaders have heard everything, including:
- “We are best when we are all together in the office.”
- “I’m most productive and work better from home.”
- “Collaboration and communication suffer when we are remote.”
- “I like the flexibility of having the option to work remotely.”
If one thing is certain, it’s that there is no one size fits all as organizations look to the future post-pandemic.
In any situation, it’s not uncommon that the perspectives of employees and leaders to generate new conversations, and in some cases, conflict. As employers look to determine next steps, it is important to take an objective look at the needs of the business.
Keep in mind, there may not be one “right way” for the business entirely. What is a reasonable hybrid or remote model for one department may not be reasonable for another. Is it feasible or fair to offer a hybrid option for one department and not for another? To find the answer that’s right for each organization, there are some key considerations to review:
The Impact of Remote Work
Every business will have its own perspective, challenges, and needs. To address their own needs, RJE Business Interiors partnered with DORIS, a workplace research firm, to gain insights on remote work in five different categories: Creativity, Innovation, Strategy, Collaboration, and Productivity. The findings in each category tell a story.
The study found that Innovation and Creativity formed the foundation of the organization. Contributing to both of these are Collaboration and Communication, both of which are significantly impacted by remote work. An in-person environment naturally supports both. The study details “impromptu encounters”, such as encounters in common areas, breakrooms, hallways – those “shout over the cubicle” interactions – further encourage collaboration. Impromptu collaboration in a remote or hybrid environment is more challenging.
Secondly, RJE/DORIS found that Strategy and Collaboration required more effort in a remote or hybrid work environment. Collaboration requires accessibility. Impromptu conversations now needed to be scheduled (irony intended). That said, technology has evolved that can support this when used intentionally. Some companies are now scheduling meetings for brainstorming alone, eliminating the set agenda in order to let the creativity flow. Instead of the cubical, hallway, or breakroom, encounters have shifted to email, instant messaging platforms, or phone calls. This has required the workforce to adapt their way of working and thinking to ensure collaboration and communication happen.
Lastly, the study looked at Productivity. Many employees reported that they found that they were more productive working from home. Employees felt they had more control over how they spent their time, had fewer interruptions, and therefore, could get more done when working remotely.
Remote, Hybrid, or In-Person? How to Decide?
So, where does this leave today’s employers? Since no one size may fit all, now is a key opportunity to review the needs of the business to determine the right course of action. That being said, leaders are almost sure to receive some pushback from folks who disagree, no matter the decision.
If the determination is to return to the office post-pandemic, Gallup recommends creating a workforce value proposition. This tactic promotes the positive impact an in-person environment has on engagement, culture, and the overall work experience. It offers alternative reasoning than “work requirements”, which can be seen as “because I said so.”
If an organization decides a hybrid work model is the right path, consider this:
- A schedule indicating who is in-person and who is remote on a given day can help avoid frustrations.
- Implement common in-office days for all staff. This creates an opportunity to schedule meetings, collaborate, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Consistent communication must be a priority. Set a regular schedule and protocol for sharing information. Whether a group email, a common communication tool, or a regular team huddle, it is essential that everyone is working off the same playbook with the latest information. Tools such as Slack, Teams, or Google Meets can serve to overcome these hurdles – as long as everyone is using the same tool for the same purpose.
Organizations that follow a path of a 100% remote workforce will need to look for a blend to ensure Communication and Collaboration are at the highest level to support the needs of the business.
Whichever model is chosen, it’s important that expectations are clearly communicated to employees. Be intentional in preserving your organization’s culture that defines you as a company. Gallup recommends have honest discussions on how the hybrid and work-from-home models impact the culture to proactively take steps to address any concerns.
Lastly, as the transition begins, strive to maintain consistent workloads from before the return to allow you to gauge any changes in productivity. When changes occur, be sure to have a discussion about the cause for the change before resorting to discipline.
As disruptive as the pandemic has been on the work environment, the next steps in getting back to “normal” post-pandemic promise to be equally defining. How organizations navigate this transition may define business for years to come.
Special thanks to Cathleen Snyder, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, for contributing to this edition of our Emerging Issues in HR!
Is your organization ready to return to the office? Let strategic HR help guide your organization as you navigate re-opening, communicate with your employees, address vaccination questions, and more. Contact us today to learn how we can help you meet the needs of your team post-pandemic.