Employers thought employees would want to come back to their offices, where they had easy access to equipment, coworkers and managers. They were wrong. COVID-19 untethered us from our traditional workplaces, and many employees don’t want to return.
Employees enjoyed the flexibility and freedom, sometimes from micro-managing supervisors, they had when working from home. They discovered they could better balance home and work when they didn’t have to commute or leave home for eight hours daily. When the C-suite consulting firm McKinsey & Company surveyed more than 5,000 employees, it reported three-quarters of them want to work from home two or more days per week, with more than half of them wanting to work from home at least three days a week.
Given this disconnect, if employers want to build a future-ready organization, they need to chart a new playbook for how work happens in a way that achieves both employer and employee needs.
This requires addressing key questions:
- Who gets to work from home? Who doesn’t?
- What work can be performed virtually; what needs in-person interaction?
- How can we make our meetings truly productive, given that many suffer from Zoom fatigue?
- Do teams need to physically gather when launching projects?
- Do those who primarily work from home deserve the same perks given to employee who work in the offices five days a week?
- How do we mend the disconnect many employees feel from their employers?
This requires a mindset shift for leaders. Here’s what I’ve told my clients.
Don’t assume your end goal is to reestablish the workplace as it was prior to the pandemic. You need to reestablish your “why,” “what” and “how.” According to research, employees that derive meaning from their work are 140% more engaged and three times more likely to stay with their organization.
Partner with your employees to gain buy-in. Engage in regular workplace development and strategic planning sessions. Ask your employees what they miss about how things were done pre-pandemic and what they could do without. Involving your employees gives them a sense of purpose and face time with senior leaders. Listening to employees heads off morale issues. Employees aren’t loyal to employers who aren’t loyal to them.
Create a company platform where everyone can access key information so you can allow employees more flexibility in working from remote locations for at least part of the workweek. According to a poll of more than 5,000 LinkedIn members, flexibility is the fastest-rising priority in the U.S.
Provide your managers training on how to monitor the productivity of and develop trust and connection with employees who work at different locations.
Redesign your office space and schedules to enable team collaboration and connection.
Challenge your assumptions concerning what works when teams need to achieve common goals even when employees don’t work in the same physical space. According to collaboration experts Christoph Riedl and Anita Woolley, the most effective and innovative teams didn’t communicate every hour but spent hours or days working solo and the communicated in bursts.
Rebuild connection in the workplace by creating opportunities for personal sharing and praise. Use meetings to achieve connectivity and cohesion and a shared sense of organizational values.
Employees need to trust that their employer cares about their health and safety. How do you plan to monitor vaccinations, masking, and physical distancing? If your workspace is housed in a crowded building, have you given thought to staggering arrival times to ensure elevators aren’t congested?
Does this mean starting from scratch concerning how things are done? To an extent, it does. At the same time, most employees have given a great amount of thought to what they don’t want to return to and what would keep engaged and productive. Ask them.