No doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic was the most sudden, dramatic upheaval that corporations faced in decades. In an instant, employees were shuttered from the office to their homes, new solutions were deployed, and remote work became widely accepted. Those changes evolved into a “New Normal,” one supporting hybrid work engagements. So now businesses need to establish best practices for this model.
Indeed, working conditions today look very different from a few years ago. When the pandemic hit, corporations were forced to quickly loosen up long standing restrictions, enable employees to work from home, revamp the workday, and redefine collaboration. Quite a lot of absorb in a corporate nanosecond. The reality is such alterations were done in a sudden, haphazard fashion in many cases, and enterprises can benefit by examining what sound processes are in place and what needs to be retooled.
The Dividing line Between Work and Home Disappears
The first implication is that the boundary between work/personal physical space disappeared. As the pandemic hit, the living room became the office.
Moving forward, the traditional central office is becoming a relic because leaders recognize that providing employees with workplace flexibility benefits both parties. Employees gained more control over their professional and personal lives and embraced the change. In fact, nearly 40% of workers would consider quitting if their bosses made them return to the office full time.
The company sees increases in employee productivity and job satisfaction as well as a lowering of their office real estate expenses. Many organizations have been moving out of their large industrial parks into smaller spaces. New office designs are being implemented that focus on shared desks, more collaboration space, fewer conventional office cubicles, and smaller conference rooms. New systems are being implemented for scheduling office time, reserving workspaces, and managing visitors.
One more effect is the traditional 9-5 workday is going the way of the dodo. Employees do not have to drive into or out of the office to go to work. They simply walk down the hallway and turn on their computers at any time that they want and begin answering their emails. Leaders need to recognize that deadlines are more fluid and move from time based (a focus on when work is done) to results-based outcomes (an emphasis on what gets done).
The Human Touch
Corporate communications significantly morphs in this new environment. Organizations shift away from face-to-face to virtual connections. Consequently, businesses lose informal water cooler talk conversations. In fact, the average collaboration time for full-time work-from-home employees dropped 37% .
The office is not a production line with individuals operating as robots and following supervisors’ instructions. It is a dynamic human creation fueled in large part by emotions sparked by the building of co-worker relationships.
The quantity and quality of work performed by individuals depends directly upon the trust, respect, and empathy they have for their co-workers. These emotions are typically established through common work experiences, common interests (on and off the job), and simply spending time in each other’s presence. An important but often not widely discussed aspect of returning to office is determining how such emotions can be created, fostered, and maintained with fewer person to person interactions.
Staff will have to develop new personnel/personal skills and technical capabilities to meet that goal. Executives must find ways to incorporate team building exercises that inject such exchanges into virtual and hybrid staff interactions. Informal talk times, online water cooler discussions, and small and large group sharing are possible substitutes.
Employees also need to develop new skills for getting work done virtually. Companies must in training and develop best practices for popular collaboration solutions, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Enterprises may need to upgrade the speeds of their enterprise networks and central computer. They also become more involved in managing employees’ home networks, which come in all shapes, sizes, and speeds.
In addition, workers have a wide range of devices (workstations, laptops, tablets, and smartphones running not only company applications but often the worker’s personal favorites. As a result, organizations must put new security checks in place to ensure that company data was not compromised. Many enterprises now lack such expertise and may need help from third party specialists to make the transition. In sum, the technology team will have more added to their plates and need more financial and manpower support.
Bridge the Digital Divide
As workplaces switched to remote work during the pandemic, the digital divide between American communities geographically became more apparent. The lack of reliable high-speed internet access revealed inequalities in the opportunity to work remote effectively. For other workers, the cost of high-speed internet was as much of a barrier as not having access at all.
Companies need to help employees bridge the gap. They can underwrite the cost of upgrading at-home Internet services for their employees living in digital deserts. Business leaders who support a variety of work environment logistics often have a stronger chance of loyalty and retention.
Hybrid work has quickly become the New Normal. Businesses made many significant changes out of necessity and now need to reevaluate their business processes, keeping those that work and tuning those that don’t.
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