When the pandemic recedes into our collective “good riddance” memories, executives and leaders in companies can’t expect office life to be as it was. There is a new normal that will have taken hold — not that change is a bad thing — but a new work environment can be created that will keep employees happy and productive.
In early 2020, employees were sent home, with a laptop and a “let’s hope this doesn’t last longer than a couple weeks” attitude. Turns out that a couple of weeks turned into a year and a half. But here we are and things are finally looking like we’ve turned the corner.
The workforce is preparing for a new normal in the workplace. But what will that new normal look like? Will it be a hybrid of office life and work-from-home life? Quite possibly, depending on the company, after the forced flexibility that has created an unexpected experiment that actually proved to be workable in most cases.
The truth of the matter is that executives will have to accommodate changes to work patterns in a post-COVID world. Of course, many employees will crave a return to in-person social connections of an office environment and a community that has been so lacking and sorely missed by so many, but we can’t ignore that people have become accustomed to the virtual workplace — from less time to commute to more time with family and home life. Many will enjoy occasional visits to the office for real-time connections with colleagues, but will also prefer to maintain their at-home work lifestyle. And so we see the birth of the hybrid workplace.
Every responsible senior executive should become very interested in what changes employees will want as we move forward. The truth is, only your employees can tell you how they have changed as a result of the pandemic and why. Shooting out a company-wide email with a few generic questions about what your employees would likely seem a little impersonal and simplistic. Here’s where an honest and open, public conversation would benefit everyone.
As one would expect, there will be differing opinions on the matter, taking into account individual living situations and personal needs and wants, but in the end it will be up to the leadership of a company to decide what the new normal will be, based on the greatest good for the greatest number of employees and of course, the organization as a whole.
An optimistic view would be that lockdowns accidentally (but by necessity) led corporate America into the world of remote work where cultural and technological accommodations could usher in a new era of efficiency and prosperity. Truthfully, in a matter or mere months, people all over the world became adept at working from home. Many companies are now planning to continue this arrangement after the pandemic, and a majority of workers say that this sounds just fine.
Obviously this is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are workplaces where you have to be there in person. And there are those who don’t have the option to work from home. Large segments of our population don’t have the means to work remotely, whether it be because of financial constraints, or otherwise. Higher wage workers are six times as likely to be able to do their jobs from their living room, than those counterparts in the lower income brackets.
But as for those who can continue their jobs at home, most people have reported stable or even increased productivity levels after changing and adapting their lifestyles and schedules to this unique circumstance. Of course this, to a large degree, depends on the culture of the company itself and how accommodating the leadership is to helping its employees find their feet on unstable ground.
It’s just not an option to have someone remotely fix your plumbing, cut your hair, or serve your dinner. That’s not to mention the obvious manufacturing and other positions that require essential in-person proximity to be effective. But having said that, some very clever solutions arose out of the need to keep doing business in very challenging circumstances and we were forced to reconsider some “everyone knows” ideas. Video conferencing and other online tools have made being on location not as important as we all may have previously thought.
The bottom line is that a solution where your employees are happy — and a tallying up of what’s best for everyone and how your company can move forward with maximum efficiency and productivity will require some honest and open communication from leadership as well as the professionals in a workplace. Where it’s feasible, some companies might take their business model completely online, and others might walk the tightrope of a mixture of both. Perhaps a hybrid of in-person and remote working is the way of the future.