The “Return to Work” Debate

There has been a lot of talk and opinions lately about whether people should return to the office, stay remote, or move to a hybrid model.  The only thing that is for sure is that no matter what side you are on, you can find support for it. Which brings us to the question of what is the right direction? If you know us, you are probably not going to be surprised to hear that our opinion is that there is not one right choice. This is definitely not a one size fits all decision. What is right for a financial institution may not work for a corporate services company. It is going to take a more customized approach.

Depending on which study you read, employees are definitely on the side of having more of a choice in where they work, as well as when. We have seen this number vary from 76% wanting flexibility in where they work to 93% wanting flexibility in when they work.  According to Deloitte’s recent back to work survey, 64% of organizations plan to bring back their office staff in some form, either full-time or hybrid in 2021 and 25% already have. The question looks to not be a matter of if, but when and how. 

If employees want to remain remote, why aren’t organizations ready to jump on board. Doing so has some advantages for organizations. There is a reduction in travel expenses. They can reduce their office space footprint and save money in a number of areas. There is also a reduction in sick time. Especially for working parents that can still work from home while they care for sick children. 

Most executives cite the loss of creativity and collaboration as the biggest concern in a remote work environment. The organic conversations and collaboration are lacking in this environment. And, even more of a concern, is the company culture. One of the factors in engagement is feeling a part of a team/organization. This is hard to duplicate remotely. Not impossible, just different for sure.

So, where to now? This is where a lot of organizations are – in limbo land or in the middle of what is right or wrong and where the customized approach is needed. We can’t tell you how to attack it, but we can provide some guidance to help ground your decisions.

  1. Consider the Customer – While I am sure all employees have clearly stated their preference for how they would like to work, if it doesn’t align to how we need to serve our customers, focusing solely on employee desires may not be the answer. Organizations must operate with the customer’s needs in mind or face becoming obsolete. If this can be done remotely, great. Then the organization needs to then determine what that looks like. Is it a hybrid, full-time, etc. Seek employee’s input and outline a plan. Then, work through the challenges, but don’t lose sight of the customer’s needs.
  2. Flexibility – We know employees are calling for flexibility in how they work, but employees and organizations need to exhibit some flexibility at a time of constant change and uncertainty. For most organizations, being in the office for some number of days will be needed to uphold the level of service. For others, a coordinated hybrid model will work great. The goal is to find the right balance where productivity, collaboration and, of course, culture are maintained. 
  3. Focus on Results, not Time – Most managers are used to seeing, with their own eyes, what is happening in the workplace. With remote work, this is just not possible. To be successful in a remote, hybrid or full-time workplace, managers need adjust and focus on what results employees are producing; not the time they are in the office. Managers need to set clear goals and objectives for each project. Doing so will allow managers to hold staff accountable to their outcomes. Which, in the end, may lead to more productivity than the old time in the office method.
  4. Keep an Open Mind – This may be hard for some. For those that don’t like change and want to go back to pre-covid times – unfortunately, for them, that ship has sailed. Now, we need to focus on innovation in the workplace and new and better ways of doing things. For this, an open mind is needed, as well as being open to trying new things and ways of doing work. Find out what works for your team and keep an open mind.
  5. Find New Systems – Along with an open mind, we need to be open to finding new ways to do work. I think all of us can say we have learned that the old way of conducting work does not exist in a remote environment. Communication needs to be more purposeful. Instead of walking two offices over to relay a message or ask for someone to proof something, we now need to start an email, type out what we need and send it off or leave them a voice message. For some, that seems more cumbersome. For others, it works great. Either way, we need to find new ways to work and be efficient to be successful. The good news is there are a lot of systems out there that are built for just this and can help. MS Teams has a great collaboration space for projects. Slack is great for the instant communication that we are used to. Maybe a project management system will be the answer. Do some research and try some new platforms that may help improve your workspace and how work gets done.
  6. Support Managers – One thing that has not stopped is the stress and increased workload that managers and executives are experiencing. With employees out of the office working at different times of the day, it has extended the manager’s typical workday. It is common for us to hear from managers and executives that they are on zoom meetings all day and don’t actually get to their work till after 5pm. They receive emails from employees well into the night requesting support or with questions. The balance for managers and executives is a little out of whack to say the least. We need to help them set up a system to support their balance and work. Talk to your managers and executives and stay in touch to find out what they need to avoid burnout.
  7. Increase Communication – We know that, in times of uncertainty, people crave information at a much higher rate and frequency. Whatever your organization decides is the best work model, leaders should adopt a practice of communicating more often and in multiple methods. Pre-covid, it was normal for us to hear that people’s email box was out of control. With Covid, that has not changed and, if anything, it has increased. Finding multiple ways to communicate with your staff will be the difference between a successful transition to a stressful one.

Organizations will need to seek employees’ input and balance it with the requirements of their company. Whatever your organization decides, don’t expect to get your workplace model right the first try. It may take a few adjustments along the way. In the end, companies will have to decide what works best for them and their customers. The above tips can help guide the process to ensure a successful outcome. 

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