When offices hurriedly closed in March 2020 to help slow the spread of COVID-19, employees were expected to be back at their desks within a couple of weeks. Now, more than 18 months later, the American workplace has become a massive and unplanned remote-work experiment. It is uncertain when many offices can reopen, but it is clear that the virtual work revolution that began with the pandemic is not going away.
“We all have to accept the fact that the workplace will never be the same and there are no plans for it,” says Stacy Haller, career expert at ResumeBuilder.com. “Now we have a different view of how we can work successfully, that it can be remote.”
While remote work isn’t an option in every field and isn’t ideal for everyone, many employees thrive in their virtual settings and want to maintain the flexibility and autonomy that they are allowed.
“We know through all the data that employees don’t want to go back to what they were before,” says Alexia Cambon, director of research at Gartner. “We know they are happier, healthier, more productive, have a greater chance for higher performance and, perhaps more importantly, a lot more inclusion if we adopt hybrid work.” Research from Gartner shows that 73 percent of women were on site before the pandemic but have been remote since, saying their hopes of working flexibly have increased in that time.
Rethinking the Office Model
Before the arrival of the COVID-19 delta variant in the US, Several companies had plans to reopen with a hybrid approach, usually asking employees to stay in the office for some part of the week. But while Gartner found that 60 percent of employees prefer the hybrid work model, experts say it shouldn’t mean that employees must be on site on certain days of the week.
“Any mandate on flexibility is inherently inflexible,” Cambon says. “If you’re going to mandate that an employee have to come in two to three days a week, there’s no place you can prepare your workday, and that’s what employees want.” Before the pandemic, employers asked employees to explain why they should work from home, she says. Now that they’ve proven they can successfully work remotely, she hopes to ask employers to ask why they should come to the office—and what makes it worth the trip.
Both Cambon and Deborah Lovich, managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, say that more progressive companies have taken the extended time that the Delta boom has forced them to bring employees into the office and re-examine the reasons each team works. settled for. drive their decisions.
“The most forward-thinking organizations are saying we’re going back to collaboration, social interaction, training,” Lovich says. “It really changes what you think an office should be.”
Cambon and Lovich suggest that instead of expecting employees to come every Monday and Tuesday, a better hybrid model might include in-person meetings of a few days once a month or a week-long retreat once a quarter. Or, there may be weeks when a financial services team, for example, needs to be together in person at the end of the year, but that they can get their work done virtually otherwise. Office space can also be used for employees who are struggling to work from home because they have a small space in the house, roommates or children.
Cambon says finding the right combination of personal and virtual work will require creativity and experimentation. Lovich stressed that companies should consider that flexibility is not only about location, but also about the hours employees work. “You will see many companies in the same industry announce very different plans, which will tell you, no one knows the answer. There is no one answer,” she says.
Lovich also explains the importance of finding solutions for the entire team. “What COVID taught us is that flex work cannot be for one person. It should be for the team,” she says. “When the whole team is together online versus the whole team together in person, it works.”
Progressive organizations are also rethinking their workplace culture. “They’re looking to change the culture and leadership, from input-based to more faith-based, influence-based, like, ‘I see you, so I think you’re productive,’ as compared to, ‘Wow, I see what you’ve accomplished, and I know you’ve been productive,’ Lovich says.
Raj Choudhary, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, also sees remote working — specifically the ability to work from anywhere, not home — as a “win-win” for employees who want more flexibility. and employers who can hire people from anywhere in the country or the world.
He sees this as creating equality in terms of allowing smaller cities to attract talent and providing women with more opportunities to climb the corporate ladder without relocating their families, something he says often leads to dual careers. He takes a back seat in the house.
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Companies are competing with others for top talent, who will be offered flexibility, and who will not need to “get along with the program” to remain current and competitive, Haller says. “Today’s modern woman is the one who takes the shots at her life and her family — who works remotely, who fits it into her schedule … who is empowered for the totality of her life,” she says. .
Gartner found that companies that require a return to a fully on-site model may lose one in three employees.
Lovich agrees that employers need to tread carefully. “It’s an employee market right now. The world is less worker, and because of that we really need to think about what we need and what we want and feel confident and courageous to speak up and have a voice. And a lot of companies do it. and so it’s a real opportunity to shape the place you work into where it needs to be or go somewhere else,” says Lovich. “For decades, we have been messing with our lives to fit around work, and COVID forced work to be fit around life. Let’s not go back the other way.”