When offices hastily closed in March 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19, staff expected to be back at their desks within a few weeks. Now, more than 18 months later, the American workplace has changed due to a massive and unplanned experiment in remote working. It is uncertain when many offices will reopen, but it is clear that the virtual labor 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 that there is no plan,” says Stacie Haller, career expert at ResumeBuilder.com, who sees this as an advantage. “We now have a different perspective on how we can work successfully, that it can be remote.”
While remote working is not an option in every area and is not ideal for everyone, many employees have done well in their virtual environments and want to retain the flexibility and autonomy that has allowed them to do so.
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“We know from all the data that employees do not want to go back to their old state,” says Alexia Cambon, Research Director at Gartner. “We know they are happier, healthier, more productive, more likely to perform at their best, and more importantly, when we adopt hybrid work, there is great inclusion.” Gartner research shows that 73 percent of the Women who were on site before the pandemic but have been away since then say their expectations of flexible working have increased during this time.
Rethink the office model
Before the COVID-19 Delta variant caught on in the US, many companies had plans to reopen with a hybrid approach and often asked employees to stay in the office part of the week. But while 60 percent of Gartner employees prefer a hybrid work model, experts believe that this should not only mean that employees have to be on site on certain days of the week.
“Any flexibility mandate is inherently inflexible,” says Cambon. “If you stipulate that an employee has to come two to three days a week, there is no place to then organize their working day themselves, and that is what the employees want.” Before the pandemic, employers asked employees to justify why they should work from home, she says. Now that they have proven they can successfully work remotely, she expects employees to ask their employers why they should come to the office – and why it is worth commuting to work.
Both Cambon and Deborah Lovich, managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, say it took more progressive companies to understand the reasons behind hiring people in the office and in the longer time the delta surge gave them Re-examining the work of each team drives their decisions.
“The most forward-thinking organizations say we are returning for collaboration, socializing and training,” says Lovich. “That really changes what you think an office should be.”
Cambon and Lovich suggest that a better hybrid model, rather than expecting employees to come every Monday and Tuesday, for example, could include a few days of face-to-face meetings once a month or a weeklong retreat once a quarter. Or there can be several weeks in which, for example, a financial services team has to meet in person at the end of the year but could practically do their work differently. Office space could also be used for employees who have difficulty working from home because they are short of space, have roommates or have children at home.
Cambon says it takes creativity and experimentation to find the right combination of personal and virtual work. Lovich emphasizes that companies should take into account that flexibility depends not only on location, but also on employees’ working hours. “You will see a multitude of companies in the same industry announcing very different plans, which should tell you that no one knows the answer. There is no answer, ”she says.
Lovich also points out the importance of finding solutions for a whole team. “What COVID has taught us is that flexible work cannot be for an individual. It has to be for the team, ”she says. “When the whole team is online together and a whole team is together in person, it works.”
Progressive organizations are also rethinking their workplace culture. “You are thinking about changing culture and leadership in such a way that they are trust- and impact-based and no longer input-based. I see what you’ve achieved and I know you’ve been productive, ‘”says Lovich.
It’s a win-win situation
Raj Choudhury, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, also sees remote work – especially the ability to work from anywhere and not just from home – as a “win-win” for employees who have more flexibility, and Employers who can do this hire people from anywhere in the country or even the world.
He sees equality in this by enabling small towns to attract talent and giving women more opportunities to climb the corporate ladder without having to move their families, which often takes a backseat in a dual career household.
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Companies compete with others for top talent who are offered flexibility, and those who don’t need to “be in the program” to stay current and competitive, Haller says. “The modern woman today is the one in charge of her life and her family – who works remotely, who adapts to her schedule … who is empowered for the entirety of her life,” she says.
Companies needing a return to a full on-site model could lose one in three employees, Gartner noted.
Lovich agrees that employers must be careful. “At the moment it is a labor market for employees. The world is in short supply and so we should really think about what we need and what we want, and feel confident and courageous to speak out and have a voice. And a lot of companies get that, so it’s a real opportunity to either make the place you work the way it needs to be or go to another place that does, “says Lovich. “For decades we have distorted our lives to adapt to work, and COVID has forced work to adapt to life. Let’s not go back the other way. “