Bernie Malinoff is President of www.element-54.com, a strategic research firm which guides client decision-making through consumer insights.
I was inspired by a recent team discussion about what workplace expectations will be like post-pandemic. The discussion was interesting because we have a good mix of people of different generations, cultural backgrounds and experiences within our team. This article summarizes my thoughts about the discussion and what may be temporary adaptations to the Covid-19 pandemic versus what’s here to stay.
What’s Here To Stay?
Working From Home, Which Means A Greater Focus On Work-Life Balance, Less Micromanaging And More Trust
While this is not surprising, I think the important nuance is what it represents about the perception of management. Before the pandemic, many companies resisted the idea of allowing employees to work from home, citing concerns about productivity, communication and effective collaboration. But the sudden need to implement social distancing measures forced businesses to quickly adapt and embrace remote work to remain competitive.
Now, it’s clear that management needs to be more flexible and understanding of each team member’s personal situation. Remote and hybrid work models underline the importance of trust and flexibility between a team and managers. If the work gets done, it shouldn’t matter whether an employee is at their desk from 9 to 5 or not, with some exceptions for front-line customer-facing team members.
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The shift toward remote work has also led to an increased focus on work-life balance. It’s now more important for companies to recognize the impact that work can have on an employee’s overall well-being. One of our team members stated that in the time it would take to commute into an office in the morning, she can prepare her kids’ lunches, empty the dishwasher, walk the dog and bake a batch of cookies.
It’s critical for managers to rethink how they evaluate employees and move away from any form of micromanaging. Employees should be evaluated based on their deliverables and work and not on their time at a desk. If an employee underperforms in deliverable time or quality of work, this will become apparent very quickly whether they are working remotely or not. If we can’t trust our employees to perform without constant supervision, then why did we hire them in the first place?
Strong communications and collaboration tools are crucial. With many employees no longer commuting to the office every day, companies should set clear boundaries around when and how work should be done. Make sure these boundaries come from the perspective of what it takes to be responsive to customers as well as not allowing work to creep into personal lives. This may involve establishing clear expectations for response times or setting limits on the number of hours employees are expected to work each week.
A Flexible Mindset, Which Creates Possibilities For New Ways Of Working
The much talked about “Great Resignation” is real. But having the flexibility to juggle new career choices and living arrangements and possibly even managing family member care can help companies keep the best employees who might otherwise abandon their jobs.
The fully remote or hybrid work models have allowed employees to be liberated from any geographical boundaries. They can work abroad and experience new cities (which is a huge company benefit that can enhance life experiences for employees) or visit and take care of family members who may be living in different countries. Canada welcomed a record number of immigrants in 2022, which means that for many new workers, close and extended family members may very well live overseas.
We’ve had these kinds of requests at my company, and I’ve fully supported team members who’ve chosen to work remotely in their home countries while visiting family. To make this work for the team and clients means agreeing on how time zone differences will be managed and reorganizing the types of tasks and projects that employees are working on to optimize the workflow.
What May Change?
The Line Between Work And Personal Lives
Traditionally, the workplace has been seen as a separate entity from an employee’s personal life, with a clear divide between the two. But I’ve heard from team members that they’ve been in meetings over the last few years where a child enters the room and says “hi” to the camera and everyone in the meeting thinks this is fine. What’s unclear is whether this change will continue or whether we will start seeing rules about virtual meeting behavior, even in less formal team meetings.
By now, you’ve probably seen your own share of cats walking across screens, heard dogs barking, and seen babies and toddlers pop on and off camera. With video calls, we’re getting glimpses into the personal lives and living spaces of team members, clients and partners.
While extremes of this are likely unacceptable to most people, I think we should take the occasional interruptions as opportunities to build closer connections. Closer connections help foster greater empathy, and greater empathy has a powerful impact on team building.
What Don’t We Know Yet?
Is There A One-Size-Fits-All Approach?
My company has an office in Montreal that we use regularly. We used to have an office in Toronto as well, but no longer. The dynamics of city size and willingness to commute means that there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach, and I believe that companies need to embrace this possibility and be mindful of the implications.
How does a company develop and mentor employees without the opportunity to provide regular in-person interaction with senior team members, considering that knowledge and experience are often shared differently on screen? In our case, we fly people into our head office to ensure that both the learning and culture/values are maintained.
Some of the expectations that emerged during the pandemic, such as the need for strong communication and collaboration tools, the importance of work-life balance, and increased trust and flexibility from management, will likely remain key considerations in the future. While much of the future of work is uncertain, by staying open to change and embracing new technologies and approaches, businesses can position themselves for success in the years ahead.
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Author: Bernie Malinoff, Forbes Councils Member