The changes brought about by the pandemic will stick around even after it’s over. A recent study reveals that most workers will spend about 20% of their time working from home, which is a huge increase compared to 2019 – it’s gone up by 400%. Employees have found working from home valuable, almost like a bonus of 7% added to their paycheck.
Now, companies need to think about why they have an office in the first place, especially after this unexpected experiment. Going back to the office should offer something new and valuable to employees; it shouldn’t just be a place to do the same things they do at home. If the office doesn’t bring additional value, it might lead to employees feeling upset.
It’s important not to assume that workers must return to the office because of their roles. This year has proven that people can do their jobs effectively from home. Managers need to create a strong case that gives employees a good reason to come back to the office.
Focus on the Four C’s
Inform your team about the new work setting we’ve developed. It’s crucial to demonstrate that we recognize the importance of the office and ensure that employees working remotely don’t feel overlooked. To enhance your workplace, experts recommend concentrating on the “four Cs”: connection, collaboration, creativity, and culture.
The biggest change for many workers was not being able to socialize with colleagues. Humans are social beings, and we rely on others for support, growth, and motivation. While video meetings helped us connect virtually, it doesn’t quite match the connection we get from in-person meetings. Being in the office gives us plenty of chances to interact with others, and that social boost is essential for our teams. People who have a close friend at work are seven times more likely to do better work and engage with customers effectively. These friendships are more likely to happen in person than when working remotely.
In our new hybrid setup, it’s crucial to create a culture that encourages connection. Managers should actively support building relationships. Employees need to connect with their team, manager, and other departments. We can establish these connections by following the steps below.
Advice for taking action:
- Foster in-person contact by implementing moments for teammates to talk about subjects that don’t just include work. Focus your meetings on building connections. Ask people to share what is going on in their personal life with the group.
- Employees need time with you. Be focused and intentional where you listen, learn, and coach. Hold walking meetings. Do something you can’t do virtually.
- Create similar schedules with teammates where you can eat lunch together or have coffee.
- Plan group events to encourage people to engage with each other.
Collaboration changed when we shifted overnight to remote work. Returning to the office will promote efficiency and teamwork. The benefit of working together fosters and sustains trust. That will lead to working more efficiently.
Managers will need to build new “virtual first” standards that include remote workers for important parts of teamwork. Remote workers can feel invisible when others are in the office. It’s easy for on-site workers to schedule a time to work together in a shared space, immediately visit each other to request help, and give advice. The visibility of each person’s performance nurtures the team’s confidence in each other.
Advice for taking action:
- Study new collaboration technology programs as a team.
- Include remote members in the discussion and decision-making. Ask for information from people who have joined remotely. Ensure all materials are available to everyone.
- Implement practices to level the playing field for remote workers to get the same investment in personal development as those employees who are on-site.
We can’t continually improve without creativity and innovation. Working from home is productive for people executing tasks, mainly because it excludes our commute. But creativity withers without connections and collaboration. Creativity is born from organized collaboration and spontaneous discovery. Spontaneous discovery doesn’t happen in a remote environment. Those impromptu conversations between meetings are extremely challenging to recreate in a marathon of nonstop videoconferencing. This means that working together in person is vital to creative collaboration, brainstorming, and long-range planning.
The in-person meetings provide for fluid and simultaneous sharing of ideas. We can move around the room, break into subgroups, or organize ideas on a whiteboard. Those impromptu creative moments and intentional creative collaboration will improve in person. We must continue to foster creativity in a hybrid work environment.
Advice for taking action:
- Encourage people to take their work breaks together, and ask what everyone is most excited about. Discuss the biggest discovery you’ve learned lately. Invite remote workers to join you.
- Plan unplanned creative time. Schedule team meetings dedicated to discussing interesting topics and sharing ideas and experiences. No need for a strict agenda or required action items. Forget practicality for 60 minutes a month.
- Rethink your innovation spaces. Are they inviting and comfortable to collaborate in while making everyone feel safe from COVID-19? Do they include videoconferencing and virtual collaboration tools so remote workers aren’t left out? Do you provide education and techniques for sparking creativity?
Culture creates a shared experience for employees that is reflected in their collective values and behaviors. A deepened sense of belonging is created when we share a common space. We can naturally see how other’s work affects us. Although hybrid work improves flexibility and autonomy, it can also create inequality, unclear expectations, and coordination challenges. For example, when workers aren’t visible, they are less than 50% less likely to be promoted, according to a study. Teams must be deliberate about how and why they spend their time on-site.
Advice for taking action:
- Examine how remote work influences your culture. What are the possibilities offered by spending at least part of your week on-site?
- Create your team’s “return to the workplace road map.” Define your guardrails for how you’re going to work together. Start with your shared purpose. What are the behaviors you expect from one another? How can you be more intentional about how you spend your time in the office versus at home?
The Role of Leaders and Managers in Crafting Your Workplace Value Proposition
Leaders are responsible for guaranteeing the business delivers a compelling workplace vision. Leaders should:
- Craft policies and procedures that foster the four C’s.
- Role model the beliefs and behaviors directed by the workplace value proposition.
- Empower supervisors to individualize it to the demands of their teams.
Leaders should talk about what returning to work will look like for each person and the team. In these potentially difficult conversations, it is best if managers acknowledge the contributions made and the difficulties faced over the past year-plus while continuing to be authentic and specific to each individual’s circumstances.
Should we let individuals decide?
A Stanford economist argues that companies should organize the on-site days instead of letting individual employees choose on their own. When the team isn’t present at the same time, the advantages to being in one shared space are much weaker.
To engage in cogent, clear, compelling conversations with associates about returning to work, managers should:
- Recognize each employee’s experiences: Acknowledge the difficulties of the past year. Thank them for their contributions. Understand that your employees have sacrificed blurred lines between work and home life.
- Be genuine: Your communications must be authentic. Ground them in the real benefits of working on-site. Don’t tout the advantages of coming to the office unless they exist.
- Individualize to the person: Respect each person’s novel life circumstances and work responsibilities. Ask workers what they liked most and least about remote work. Remind them why they, liked being in the office before. Individualize expectations and plans so they feel acknowledged and understood.
We’ve learned to work differently while working from home. It is the leader’s responsibility to return to work better. We cannot return to the way things used to be. We must show our employees that we have learned from the last year and come back better.