It took a global pandemic to foster the necessary change in our workplaces that some employers and leaders have been struggling with for years. Bogged down with decisions around policies, productivity, trust, communication, equipment and technology improvements, they were frozen with the desire to move forward, but unsure how to change the mindset that being seen in the office equals productivity.
In March 2020, companies and employers had these decisions made for them for the health and safety of their teams. Many who worked in office settings were encouraged and expected to work remotely. With limited time for policies to be written, guidelines to be communicated or equipment to be ordered, employees picked up and moved their offices home. Some purchasing new desks and office chairs, and some working side by side at the kitchen table with their new officemates—significant others or children, with dogs and cats in their laps.
With employers putting health and safety first, they had to trust that their teams would continue moving forward as the world adjusted to a new normal. Virtual meetings replaced in person meetings, and people continued delivering results. Would work continue to get done and for how long? How will company culture be impacted? Some of these questions are still unanswered, however, COVID-19 may have been the catalyst that transformed the workplace to meet the needs of a workforce that was already evolving.
Employees want and need flexibility to achieve their personal life goals while succeeding and advancing at work. Work doesn't start at 8 am and end at 5 pm anymore. When not anchored to an office, employees are now able to shift and flex their work responsibilities around life commitments. They might log in remotely before the sun comes up, homeschool a child between meetings and calls, pop into the office for a few hours to hold necessary in-person meetings, get in an afternoon run before they shuttle kids to various activities on their way to volunteer at the local foodbank, and then wrap up the day after caring for their aging parent. Employees are demonstrating that they can balance work where and when it is most efficient, driving increased productivity in both their work and personal lives.
With flexibility comes the need for trust from peers and leaders. No longer does an employee need to be seen to show productivity. Employees are hired based on experience and fit within company culture to do the job. Leaders must have great trust in their employees and vice versa to do good work. By setting clear objectives, goals and desired outcomes, employees and leaders are empowered and can feel confident that good work will get done without micromanagement. Leadership is about trust, and trust is believing that employees want to perform well.
Being in an office 40+ hours a week, an employee may be less productive than when at home due to office chit chat and a myriad of other distractions. However, some of this communication is also important and necessary to ensure employees feel connected. Since we used to spend more time with people at work than with our families, how can we continue to communicate with our teammates while also minimizing distractions? Most companies have intercompany chat programs such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc., which allow for quick conversations that you can answer from your phone or computer. Communication and messages are directive, focused and purposeful vs. talking to whomever you "see" in the office. Once less popular or even considered uncomfortable, video calling has become the new norm to talk face-to-face with anyone in the world.
While we saw a sobering amount of lay-offs in 2020, many new companies emerged and some are even thriving. This growth brings more diverse opportunities to people all over the world and companies are no longer confined to local recruiting efforts. With the move to remote work environments, employers can cast a wider net to recruit the right talent, and potential employees don’t have to pass on the perfect job due to relocation. Current employees may also have the ability to move between departments that were previously in other cities and will feel more engaged and connected to a company's brand, culture and direction. Companies have invested in their infrastructure for the current times, and now anyone can work in any company, in any department, in any city, in a field or industry that they are passionate about.
All of the above have included some sort of technology enhancements and employees have had to become more comfortable with what they already had at their fingertips. This pandemic has brought to light the importance of flexing to find solutions to problems or setbacks. Companies are inventing and deploying tools that help people work efficiently in remote environments and have brought people closer together than they have ever been before. Technology allows for the transfer of information within seconds, enhancing the organization of data, and making it possible to access information from any device anywhere. With enhancements in technology, we may get to a place where it is more difficult to be in the company office rather than just adapting your environment to the work for the day.
People and life today are much different from any previous century. There are a higher number of dual income households, multi-generational households, kids’ activities, continuing education opportunities, community involvement, increased social engagements, desire for healthy living, and the list goes on. With human trust and powerful technology to collaborate with colleagues, employees have the power to integrate work and life seamlessly, more so than ever before, leading to a successful and fulfilling career.
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