In the blink of an eye, millions of us switched to remote work. And many leaders have been surprised at how well it has worked. While some companies did not miss a beat, others took some time to adjust. Agility, flexibility, digitization and employee well-being quickly became key words at digital management meetings. Before most of us had ever heard of COVID-19, several workplace trends were becoming more prevalent including flexible scheduling, working from home, a focus on employee well-being, and innovative career development strategies. The pandemic immediately pushed many of our companies to adapt some of these practices, particularly working from home. Despite the lack of time to plan such massive change, the vast majority of these arrangements have worked well. Of course, there have been tweaks along the way and many of us missed seeing people in person, but for the most part, participating businesses found working from home, for many job categories, to be effective. And multiple reports from McKinsey, Accenture and the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) make it clear that most employees would now prefer to work from home at least some of the time.
Everyone experienced the pandemic differently, but it made all of us think about our lives, goals, family and careers. Employees are now coming to work as their “new selves” with updated perspectives about some of their values and ambitions. This makes the art of leadership tougher, but more opportunities have emerged to listen deeply and create more engaged employees who are passionately committed to the success of the company.
Characteristics of an Ideal post Covid-19 Workplace
While specifics may vary dependent upon industry, job category, customer needs and availability of talent, listed below are some key factors that most organizations should consider as they move to their ‘new normal”
Purpose and Culture
Quite a few companies have revised their vision, strategies, financial forecasts, environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies and product offerings during the pandemic. These are important components of culture, which are of great interest to potential recruits and existing employees. Company culture also includes how day to day work is accomplished, the atmosphere of the workplace, level of concern about employee well-being, community citizenship, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) progress. During this transitionary period, leaders have an opportunity to re-inspire the workforce, build confidence in the company and make employees proud to work there. Now is a great time to discuss your purpose and culture, whether or not much has changed, with all stakeholders, including employees.
Location of Work
The traditional eight to five office workday is not yet dead, but it is on life support. Before asking everyone to resume their former schedules, leadership teams should think carefully about which jobs can be done effectively on a full or partial remote basis. Decisions should be made based on objective business criteria, available technology and performance metrics. As mentioned earlier, many companies are seeking to capture the benefits of two worlds by creating hybrid arrangements where some days are “in office” required and the rest are work from home opportunities. To make hybrid or fully remote arrangements work for the long term, companies should consider implementing some policies relating to distractions (childcare, elder care or general noise), individual and team performance requirements, communications, delegating remote projects, and remote work schedules. Make sure to remind everyone that all work location and scheduling arrangements are subject to change based on business needs and performance.
As with most important initiatives, leadership endorsement and active support is critical to success. Creating a fair and effective hybrid work system will be critical to attracting, retaining and engaging much needed talent in many organizations. For this reason, leaders should consider adapting schedules similar to the ones staff members are working. If you offer hybrid work schedules, but disadvantage those who use them, leadership credibility will suffer, and employees will be disenchanted. Companies should offer leadership training for the new work environment. Delegating work, monitoring performance, communications, and developing relationships remotely need to be rethought for maximum effectiveness. Delegating tasks with specific outcomes and completion dates becomes even more important. Communication processes, formal and informal, should be spelled out to avoid confusion. Time should be allocated for informal check-ins on well-being, career development and general discussion
Work Process Review
Policies and procedures need to be reviewed for compatibility with working remotely. Electronic workflow and cloud document storage go a long way to creating seamless processes, regardless of work location.
The pandemic has caused a lot of change in our society, some of which is temporary, and some is here to stay. Remote work for many jobs is likely to be much more common than it was before COVID-19 disrupted our world. People who want to work remotely can often figure out how to make it work effectively. The organizations that embrace this change, experiment, innovate and develop best practices to make virtual or hybrid workforces thrive will be well positioned to be winners in the intensifying war for talent.