COVID-19 has profoundly changed not only how we perform work but how we think about work. Pre-COVID, work was primarily undertaken in an office during the same work hours. Dispersed teams were largely the domain of global companies with operations in multiple locations around the world.
But then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, we were all forced to work from home (WFH), changing not only where we worked, but also when. COVID rapidly accelerated the movement to more flexible work arrangements, specifically around space and time. While many, if not most, organizations had accommodations in place for staff to manage at-home personal events requiring a physical presence (e.g., deliveries or repairs), COVID pushed WFH beyond these one-offs.
As a result, many organizations (us included) discovered that increasing flexibility didn’t decrease productivity – in fact for many of our team members, it actually offered unforeseen benefits. And we’re not alone. After a year of remote work, one Harvard Business School survey found that 81% of employees did not want to return full time to the office ever again.
As 2022 begins, companies are still grappling with what work arrangements will be the most effective going forward. Top of mind is this – what do we want to return to, what do we want to never do again and how do we find a balance that works?
Everyone endured stresses and strains during COVID, but before rushing into pronouncing a new normal, organizations should deeply think about the culture they wish to foster and outcomes they wish to deliver. Just as working full-time in the office may not be the way going forward, being fully WFH may not be optimal either.
There are questions to be asked and answered. Here are a few that I’m thinking about:
Are there activities that can best be performed with a colocated group?
Team members can likely tell you the kinds of tasks that work better when everyone (or at least most people) can be face to face in the office, rather than looking at each other through computer screens.
Does WFH deliver the concentrated focus time to get creative work completed?
Many of our team members have said that they appreciate the lack of distractions in their home office environment. Others may still feel they can focus better at their office workstation, especially if their WFH setup is not ideal.
How can an enduring culture be built in a partially, primarily or fully remote environment?
It’s worth considering how to support communication and connection both within teams and between teams, as these scenarios can require different strategies.
What is lost when work moves to strictly output mode with little attention paid to social aspects?
When asking this question, it’s helpful to think about how team members’ perspectives may differ depending on their roles. People new to the organization or new to their career may have different needs than long-time staff.
How can the best of in-person engagements be preserved while adding in a WFH element?
This is the key question, though the answer will be different for every organization.
While COVID-19 may have swung the pendulum strongly to WFH, organizations now need to take the time to consider the future of work. This encompasses all aspects of work, including company culture, staff desires and how to help everyone deliver their best, whether in the office or at home.
My sense at this time is that WFH can work to a much greater degree than people thought before COVID. Even in situations where people are always remote from their colleagues, it can be effective. This means that organizations can hire candidates with the right skill sets, even if those people do not wish or cannot move from their current home locations.
The magic will be in finding the balance that works for individuals, teams and companies. This is not a simplistic dictate, a one-size-fits-all proposition. Organizations need to ensure that it makes sense and delivers on equity, job satisfaction, engagement, culture and outcomes. More considerations and experimentation are ahead. As we all determine the future course of work, let’s stop the swinging pendulum and focus on finding a middle ground that will make work work for everyone.
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Posted on Jan 19, 2022 6:00:00 AM