By Eldad Rom (Ph.D.)
VP Organizational Development, Team8
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic forcing millions of workers around the world to work remotely, managers and employees have had the unique opportunity to self-reflect and to reconsider the ways in which we work. The emotional impact of changed workplace routines on people should not be underestimated, and it seems that there is no coming back to how things were before.
Flexible working where the individual has much more autonomy over their working pattern will become an increasingly integral part of the future of work, and managers better be ready for it. An evolution from fixed working patterns to highly flexible work arrangements is a journey already being undertaken by many employers, who are trying to create a new working model combining work from home and work in the office, with the emphasis on meeting individual needs.
WFH May Have Worked, But Face-to-Face Meetings Still Matter
In the early days of the crisis, many founders and executives found themselves busy with “keeping the lights on”, getting employees set up to work remotely and securely from home, and encouraging teams while dealing with a lot of confusion. Subsequently, the productivity fading challenges sprung up. Managers started implementing regular stand-up meetings, one-on-one meetings, and planning sessions through video conferences to preserve and increase productivity.
On the whole, we have seen that people can work from home without majorly disrupting productivity. In fact, in some cases, working from home even increased productivity. However, there are several disadvantages to working ONLY from home. These include decreased collaboration between departments and teams, leading to deterioration in relationships and lower motivation and emotional engagement of people. Working from home is a huge social challenge: no chit-chat, no small talk, no water cooler conversations. WhatsApp messages, online meetings, and emails are all straight to the point, which can contribute to a feeling of social isolation. Another potential consequence of this situation is a lack of innovation.
Planning for The Future
“Twenty-five to thirty percent of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021”, according to a Forbes article quoting Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics. Worldwide, the situation remains unstable: in some places, employees are being called back to the office, while in other places people are still working from home. In other areas, people who were called back to the office are being sent back home due to second wave fears of the virus. It is a very sensitive moment, and it is crucial for executives to be adaptable to the changing needs of employees. Against this backdrop, and in order to overcome the obstacles to team-building that result from working remotely, managers should try to encourage employees to come back to the workplace, only when and if the health regulations allow for it.
To this end, managers need to consider each employee’s individual circumstance — those who cannot physically come to work due to health/commute/family issues and those who can but prefer to stay home. I would encourage employers to conduct specific activities or events that will make people who can, want to come back. This could include setting time for in-person brainstorming sessions and team-building experiences — even a lunch can go a long way. For many, returning to the office will give a sense of “normalcy” again — albeit a new norm.
Employees over the last four months have had the chance to really call into question the paradigm of how and why we work the way we work. And for good reason. Large enterprises (look no further than Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Barclays), are all promising permanent work from home positions now as a result of cost-cutting needs as well as health concerns — further proof that there is productivity to be found in remote work. The allure of working from home will undoubtedly be a strong bargaining chip to recruit and retain top talent in the marketplace.
Companies who can balance the fine line of enabling their employees to both work from home and encourage a strong work environment in the office, will be offering a great value asset for staff.
On the other hand, companies that aren’t agile and won’t follow this hybrid strategy will lose talent and money.
The bottom line is that managers need to prioritize flexibility in order to get the best results from people and adapt to a new model of employment merging the top benefits of working from home with the benefits of working in the office. They need to be able to accommodate the varied wishes of their workforce, ranging from people content to hold a full-time fixed job through to individuals wanting full control of their own work pattern. This means that, among other things, they are required to build the capabilities and the right skills to manage a multi-site team. Those that adapt will survive.
Certified psychologist applying practical & concrete solutions for startup founders to achieve organizational excellence.