COVID has reshaped the future of work. Learn the three things leaders need to know to pivot forward positively.
As we reenter the workplace, it is important that employers meet employees where they are at. That means recognizing that our work environment has forever been changed. There is no turning the clock back to February 2020. In a world filled with uncertainty, we know one thing for sure. The workplace this summer and beyond will be different. And, that might be a good thing.
It’s easy to think about the negatives – social distancing, slower economy, and less travelling. Instead, shifting the focus to the positives frames a different conversation. As teams reenter the workplace, leaders need to start by acknowledging these positive shifts.
What are the lessons learned from COVID?
Virtual work works
For those that questioned virtual work before COVID, this was a swift change. On the other side of change is a realization that virtual work could have worked all along. Outside of customer facing roles, technology enabled communication systems have drastically improved the ability to do work virtually. This cuts down on commute times and air pollution to boot. Most workplace studies reveal a healthy balance of three days in the office with two days at home to optimize productivity.
In addition, virtual work opens up opportunities to diverse groups of people and a broader talent pool. Those with disabilities, women that are caregivers, and people of color (especially those that live in different parts of the world) can access jobs that they may not have been able to before. Employees that successfully worked from home during COVID will expect this to continue to some degree.
Recommendation: Leaders need to have virtual work expectations clearly outlined for a successful return to work.
All humans value flexibility
Flexibility has been a taboo topic since my days in Corporate America. It is all too often a tactic to retain women. All genders are likely to express gratitude for being home with their families. The time spent with family is a perk of the COVID world. Although the challenge of e-learning and additional child care has largely fallen on women, men alike have cited the appreciation for increased quality time.
It is important to note that every family is different and may have different dynamics, yet at the core increased appreciation for family is universal. Gone are the days of having only dinner and bedtime quality time with the family. As employees return to work, they will likely want more flexibility to be with their families.
Recommendation: Leaders need to discuss flexibility norms and expectations for employees proactively before returning to work.
People want to be their full human selves at work
Countless stories have been shared with me in my ongoing research on the “Future of Work.” Some of the most surprising is that people learned more about their coworkers and teams while separated. With video calling comes the entry of family members, pets, and unique backgrounds and stories.
This begs the question, why were we not being our full selves at work before? The future of work is uncertain, but one thing is for sure. Employees want to connect with purpose in their work and know more about one another. Starting meetings by checking in on everyone before getting to business is good for business.
Recommendation: Leaders need to hold space for their teams to be their full selves and share more about themselves. Your team will be better for it.
Other things to consider as we return to work from my ally Karen Catlin:
- Social distancing: Office designs are tight. Karen recommends you consider headcount per square foot and how to reduce it. Can you alternate in-person days to lighten capacity? You may also need to signal social distancing in your office. One office furniture company is offering circular rugs with 12’ diameters to leave six feet around a desk chair.
- Home office support: For those working virtually more and to accommodate social distancing, teams need to consider ergonomic friendly home office setups. Working from a bedroom or kitchen table can be problematic and a small investment can pay dividends in productivity and health.
- Privilege walk: Karen designed a Workplace Privilege During a Pandemic guide to help recognize the privilege of being able to work virtually. Those on the front lines, those unemployed, or those impacted by the virus directly may not have this privilege. Privilege is something we can use to help others. The more privilege we have, the more opportunities to be allies.
Like this topic? That is why I am partnering with a team of amazing women business owners on the “Future of Work” to learn more. Please take five minutes to participate and share with your network. Each participant will have access to the white paper findings following.