Corporate offices may never return to a business-as-usual scenario, but most workplaces have given their employees permission to return to the office at least part time. After over a year of working in pajamas, taking Zoom meetings from a bedroom or basement, and eliminating work commutes entirely, readjusting to office life will take some time and patience. But we will get to a new normal, one that takes into consideration the different realities and needs of employees, provided we take the right steps during this transition phase.
A study conducted by the Harvard Business School found that 80% of remote workers have no desire to return to the office five days a week. While work-from-home experiences have varied, about 33% of the workers surveyed felt that their work performance improved while working from home. Of course, this doesn’t mean staff don’t ever want to come back to their office or building. About 27% of workers said that they would prefer to work from home indefinitely, but 61% are craving a hybrid workplace model.
There are pros and cons to working from the office, and as many of us found out, there are pros and cons to working from home. Lack of space, coworking with family, noisy neighbours, and pet distractions are a few of those drawbacks. It seems only logical that employees get the opportunity to enjoy the pros of both work environments.
Hybrid work models have the potential to serve companies well. But managers are encouraged to consider what’s working and what needs improvement as our work realities change yet again.
1. Don’t assume everything will pick up where it left off pre-pandemic
Management cannot expect their teams to operate the same way they worked before. Some people may still be fearful about coming in at all. Others have developed a new appreciation for meaningful interactions and may feel that it is unproductive to have weekly group meetings just for the sake of being in the same place together.
Try to audit and evaluate hybrid meetings, new workflows, and old rituals, so that good processes are optimized and bad ones are not repeated. If you oversee a large team or would find it challenging to touch bases with everyone, you can invite staff to complete a survey to gauge how your team members are doing and feeling. Create some open-ended questions and give staff the option to remain anonymous so that they can honestly explain how they feel.
2. Be honest about return-to-work expectations
Some companies are uncomfortable with implementing a long-term hybrid workplace model. And that’s okay. But, if management doesn’t have plans to offer employees greater flexibility, they need to be honest and open about it. Be warned, the decision may cause a few employees to start looking for other jobs, but it’s better to be transparent than give your team false information.
Not only that, but companies should think about what will happen if the hybrid model starts to create some unanticipated issues. For example, team managers may find it extra stressful trying to coordinate and manage hybrid meetings where some members are in a room together while others dial in on Zoom. It’s tough to ensure each person gets an opportunity to speak when half of the participants are sharing one screen. There could be a growing sentiment that remote work is a chronic logistical pain. Management should discuss how these new challenges will be handled, and how they will balance the needs of the company as a whole with those of individual team members.
3. Create an in-person work environment that people want to be a part of
One of the primary reasons why open concept offices became so prevalent is because these designs were supposed to encourage collaborative teamwork. But the removal of walls and doors didn’t always result in better teamwork. In fact, those offices sometimes felt cramped, loud and unproductive. If staff needed uninterrupted time to focus (which they always do), distractions became costly. When that’s the case, businesses end up spending more without getting the corresponding benefits.
Not everyone’s excited to return to an office where they can hear their co-worker’s phone conversations or where they don’t have access to a quiet, private space. More importantly, hardly any employee would be comfortable returning to an office that doesn’t offer them some physical space from other team members. Companies are advised to implement some sort of desk booking or hotelling system if they haven’t already done so.
Using an integrated workplace management system (IWMS), staff can book an available desk online, which ensures the office is never too crowded. Some spaces may even offer a quiet meeting room to individual employees since there is less demand for space. Plus, having an online system makes things easy for employees, which is one way to encourage them to come back in a couple of days each week.
People need to feel safe before they will commit to coming into the office. Make sure hand sanitizer is available, let your team know about how often the office is cleaned, and be clear about any rules staff must follow when they do decide to book a desk or workspace.
4. Make sure all workers still feel like part of the team
If your company has adopted a hybrid work model, it’s important to make sure remote workers aren’t feeling left out. In-person work is great because team members can get together on a whim and have a quick brainstorm session before lunch. But, they’re not accustomed to stopping the session to dial someone in. Without a bit of guidance, the in-office team may simply proceed without the remote team members and say they’ll fill them in later (and that may not even happen).
The Great Resignation is real, and if staff feel like they’re being taking for granted, overlooked or overworked without proper acknowledgment, they will start looking elsewhere.
Teams should do their best to embrace asynchronous collaboration. They can all work on the same project, but it can be done over the course of an afternoon. Does this create some delays for people who need a task completed as soon as possible? Yes. But they can work to adjust assignment and due dates so that they still get results while giving their team adequate time to perform.
Companies may also want to look for team-building activities that can be done in smaller groups, or outside. This way, everyone, and not just those who are in the office, can participate. After-hours activities may work best for some companies, while having a late work lunch as a team may be better for others.
Humans like to see things. It helps us confirm what we believe is true. Unfortunately, this can hurt employees who are working hard, but aren’t working from the office. We as a workforce need to relearn some things about collaborative working, work processes, and productivity now that offices are open again. It will take some getting used to, but change often leads to something better. Let’s be better, happier workers.