Will office life ever be the same again?
All signs seem to indicate “no”.
As the COVID pandemic continues to ease with widespread vaccinations and over a year of socially distant, mostly-quarantined lifestyles, many leaders are wondering just exactly how to approach office and work structure moving forward.
According to a recent study by Great Place to Work, only about 16% of workers were working remotely pre-pandemic. Now? About 89% of professional services employees are working remotely. The same study also found that 80% of executives found that their staff was either just as productive or more productive working from home than from the office. While the future is not without challenges, those numbers are hard to ignore.
What is the best path forward? How do employers ensure productivity, client service excellence, and happy staff? While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some things every business and firm leader should keep in mind:
1. Understand the History of Office Work
The office (as we knew it) started as a place of production by “knowledge workers”. Over time, the office evolved to have hard-wired technology to continue that production. With wireless internet and the proliferation of cloud-based business solutions over the last decade or so, the office as it once existed is no longer necessary. It doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary at all - just that it needs some reimagining.
2. Accept That One Size Will Not Fit All
Typically, sweeping policy changes come with a “no exceptions” attitude, but we’re somewhere different now. As business and firm leaders assess the “next normal”, it’s important to remember that each employee and each role likely have different preferences and requirements for productivity. And that’s okay.
3. Have Some Honest Conversations
Ask questions, really listen, and be open to permanent change. Create an environment where there is open discussion of concerns and questions. Leadership needs to be ready to listen and implement change that is reflective of the needs of staff, while maintaining high levels of client service. It’s impossible to please everyone, but a reasonable attempt to adapt in ways that keep staff happy, engaged, and productive should be the goal.
4. Keep Talking About Caregivers
Balancing work and caretaking is one the most difficult challenges of the modern workforce. During the pandemic, people experienced new levels of flexibility that enabled them to be more present while still managing professional obligations. That balance is a huge motivator for employees and a discussion that needs to continue indefinitely.
5. It’s All About Balance
Most surveys show that generally, employees prefer the flexibility to balance some in-person time with mostly remote work. Allowing staff to find that balance reasonably, without a ton of rigidity, is most desirable.
6. Don’t Risk Reverting
It’s easy to consider just “going back to business as usual”, since it’s what we all know best and have the most experience with. But to revert completely is to do so at your company’s peril. Studies have shown the risk for employee turnover is staggering; there are too many companies and firms willing to provide flexibility. Stay competitive as an employer to retain and attract top talent.
7. Embrace Opportunity
Broader hiring prospects, more progressive technology, and happier employees are some of the benefits of a flexible workplace. Change is tough, but the benefits are hard (and foolish) to ignore.
8. Reconsider Culture
Culture is still key, but what do staff really want? A family-like office atmosphere, or time with their actual family and an employer who values and respects them? The connections over coffee and casual conversation in the halls don’t have to be lost, but employers need to find new ways to create those interactions. (See number 9)
9. Keep an Office, Rethink Its Use
Scrap the office function and environment as you know it; no longer filled with cubicles with heads-down workers plugging away on their own all day, the “new” office becomes a place designed for meetings and collaboration. The “new” office becomes the hub for “social working”: a place for collaborating, creating and connecting. Remote work becomes a time for production, planning, and process. Your staff stays connected and engaged, but retains their ability to work with flexibility and without distraction when it makes sense.
10. Be Fluid
If organizations have learned anything this past year, it’s that we all need to be flexible and embrace change as needed. Don’t be afraid to try some things and pivot if you need to. Keep the dialogue open, with staff and clients, and adapt when it’s apparent change is needed.
What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.