They are successful because they are intentional and make all those things we took for granted in a physical workplace happen virtually. If you are forced to stay or be remote, what changes do you need to make to keep everyone engaged and productive?
We find ourselves at a peculiar junction in American history. Our economy is going through a bit of an identity crisis. As coronavirus transmissions in the U.S. escalated in October, jobless claims fell, all three major stock indexes traded near-record highs and the TSA processed 6 million passengers in a single week, the highest number since March.
While most business owners remain vigilant, we are at an intersection where the hybrid office of the future is emerging. According to the Future of Work survey, 82% of employers believe their workers will be “back in the office” in 12 to 18 months. The Harris Poll, conducted on behalf of Glassdoor, found that three out of four office workers are “eager” to return to the office.
As we prepare for this eventuality, employers are:
Imagining A New Physical Footprint
Reports of the death of the office are overexaggerated. McKinsey projects that the time office workers will spend in their offices will decline by 12%. Companies will still have corporate offices and socially distanced workstations. In some cases, the office of the future will require more space, not less. The layout of the office will likely feature fewer cubicles and be more collaborative.
While there was already movement in that direction pre-Covid, the office of tomorrow will promote people working in smaller, cross-functional teams with less compartmentalization by department.
Embedding Technology Into Workflow
The average office worker spends about 25% of their time looking for information. The construct of work systems is more important than it has ever been now that workers are spread out over more locations. The hybrid environment has forced companies into adopting collaboration software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Many teams did that seemingly overnight, often in a haphazard way.
Companies should be rethinking how they conduct their work to better integrate work threads such as Slack, project management tools such as monday.com or Asana, and CRM such as Salesforce into cohesive working systems.
One of the biggest obstacles I’ve found in our current circumstances is that some workers are having a hard time adapting, especially in virtual meetings. We are going to have to find a way to show up in the same manner as physical meetings.
If you are leading teams, it’s important that you (or a colleague) actively facilitates work sessions online. If people are distracted by email, the facilitator should call on them directly. As a meeting participant, focus on the meeting as you would in person. Look into the camera and smile. Virtual meetings will only be ineffective if we let them be.
According to McKinsey, employees will be given more choices to work: 1) fully remote, 2) hybrid remote, 3) hybrid remote by exception and 4) on-site. Organizations will need clear practices to ensure that there are no unfair biases toward employees based on their chosen work style, and that their systems are designed and optimized for every option.
Retooling The Physical Environment
Companies are conducting audits of building functions such as ventilation and water systems. They are increasing preventative maintenance and ensuring regular cleaning of surfaces on a transparent schedule. One of the most important improvements to satisfy employee safety concerns will be ensuring physical distancing, though this practice can be difficult for employers to control.
Naming A Workplace Safety Czar
Companies used to have a safety coordinator and facility manager who made sure the lights remained on. Companies are now appointing champions to ensure development, deployment and enforcement of workplace safety rules.
The offices of tomorrow will likely have temperature readers, hand sanitizing stations and other technology we didn’t use prior to the pandemic. It will be important to coordinate these changes and communicate them to employees in a cohesive fashion.
Adopting A New Corporate Calendar
I am already seeing companies pivot to a new meeting cadence with meetings held midweek, much in the way that virtual meetings are held midday. Employers are seeking out experiences for their employees to feel more connected through town halls and the like, and they will be selective about which of these meetings must be held in person.
Employers should identify the few vital meetings that require the greatest collaboration, such as strategy meetings and innovation sessions. Hold those meetings in person when appropriate and in compliance with local regulations.
Formalizing The Feedback Loop
A trap employers are falling into is failing to create systems for feedback while employees are out of the office. This problem has been exacerbated by companies feeling the pinch of the pandemic and not providing raises to employees. Managers are resisting career discussions with valued staff.
Employees need more feedback now than ever, as well as a sense that they are connected to their teams. Provide structure so that managers are having one-to-one meetings with all remote workers on a regular cadence, regardless of whether there is compensation action. Monthly one-to-ones are just good business, regardless of the circumstances.
As employers, we will face many challenges in developing the blended office of the future. Managing employee safety, productivity and client service will be a tall order during a time when the future is uncertain and employees are afraid. That is why we need to manage our practices and lead our people with a level of intention unlike ever before.