The Post-Pandemic Workplace- In-Person vs. Remote and 6 Tips to Meet Employees Where They Are
- Content Specialist
Nov 06, 2023
The official end of the pandemic was declared by the government earlier this year after a 3-year period of upheaval, giving companies a green light to resume onsite work. How many companies have decided to leave the home office in the rearview, and how many are embracing remote work? The increasingly popular hybrid work arrangement is another favored option.
In this blog you will learn:
How employers and employees are working together to redefine the future of work
Six happy workplace tips
Insights from C-Suite leaders
How to ensure a healthy culture and evolve over time
According to surveys from Northeastern University and Gallup1, remote work is here to stay and the war for talent has never been more urgent. We’re at a point in time where creating a happy workplace with motivated employees doesn’t have to be confined within four walls. Smart companies see the post-pandemic workplace as a new moment in time offering a great opportunity to reimagine the office and office culture.
Sixty-two percent of executives said that following pandemic disruptions, they are “now more likely to leverage remote working arrangements” to expand their talent pool compared to pre-pandemic times. Fifty-two percent predict that “hiring employees who primarily work remotely will be central to their employee talent recruitment and strategy going forward.”
But what about the job positions that don’t bode well for remote work, such as service-focused jobs? And what about relational concepts like team building and culture – isn’t it harder to collaborate and keep a pulse on workplace dynamics?
On or Off-Site?
When it comes to in-person or remote work, there are the workers who miss the social setting of an office and find face-to-face collaboration more effective and energizing. On the other hand, there are those who thrive in a quieter setting or may have found respite from a long commute. Or… maybe you’re somewhere in between: part of you prefers the routine and energy of the office, while sometimes it would be more convenient and productive to work remotely.
Meeting Team Needs Through Feedback
The big question many companies are grappling with is: “How do we meet the needs of our team members who all want different things, while protecting our positive culture and commitment to our company values and mission?” In this article, we are going to explore the topic more and talk to some company leaders about their strategies for navigating the post-pandemic workplace and the desire to meet each employee wherever they are on the return-to-work spectrum.
The first thing that the experts agree on is obtaining employee feedback. You don’t want to guess what people think or want when it comes to the ideal workplace setting.
Tip #1 – Ask for Employee Input
The very first thing leaders should be doing is asking employees to talk about their needs and preferences. In order to gauge what means most to your staff, take the time to hold manager/employee check-ins, focus groups or Town Hall meetings with senior leadership where anyone who wants to can share their concerns and preferences. Be sure to take all ideas seriously and thank everyone for their input. Most important, have a designee take notes and follow-up with staff on their ideas and also provide periodic updates to the company as a plan comes together.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) concurs: the only way to know whether your employees prefer to work onsite is to ask them. About 59 percent of companies surveyed their workers in the past year about their readiness and comfort in returning and used that data to update workplace flexibility policies. Surveys can be a helpful tool to gather information but shouldn’t be the only method used as it isn’t as personal as face-to-face conversations.
One CEO values his team so much that he asked them to dream about and share with him what their ideal work setting and schedule would be. His thoughts on the post-pandemic workplace are below.
“Being a servant leader means I make every effort to lead with compassion and curiosity each day. Instead of enforcing a schedule on team members, I asked them to share their ideal schedule with me. I heard from many who said working in the office provides great motivation and in-person connection with others, while some prefer to forego a long commute or work solo. Meeting in the middle with a hybrid approach was the best compromise for our company at this time, and I imagine many leaders have come to similar conclusions,” shared Kevin Schnieders, EDSI Chief Servant Leader.
Tip #2 – Create a Strategy That Guides Rather Than Enforces
When it comes to creating the most effective workplace strategies for your organization, taking both a data-driven and people-centered approach is one way that effective business leaders can ensure a positive work environment. The best workplace strategy is one that balances business objectives with employee needs and desires. See the thought-starters below to begin crafting a solid strategy that will help build meaningful connections across the organization.
Identify what teams need in the workplace to deliver their best work
Coordinate schedules and determine which teams benefit from being in the office together
Ensure optimal utilization of workspace and avoid overcrowding or lack of areas that provide heads-down spaces and functional meeting options
Effectively align management and HR efforts to deliver the best outcomes for the organization and its employees
Transparency in your communication approach and making your strategy known to the people it will impact builds trust. Share your strategy in many ways, for example: at an all-staff meeting, in a video or webcast, or schedule smaller team meetings to explain expectations, processes or policies. Be sure to post information on your company’s intranet, digital newsletter, etc. You’ll want to provide lots of opportunities for employees to ask questions, provide their feedback, and ultimately rally around your plan.
The optimal two-prong communication approach should include both a one-to-one manager-employee conversation and a larger scale companywide gathering to ensure all staff are on the same page and set the tone as your organization leaves behind the one-size-fits-all workplace and embarks on a new era of working smarter.
Hybrid work environments require technology and wellness-builders that can support in-person and remote collaboration and connection.2 Investing in tech tools like video conferencing software, project management systems, and cloud storage is one way to help ensure companywide connectivity and efficiency. Technology isn’t the only important connection tool for employees, we also need resources that help foster person-to-person connection.
In order to develop a holistic workplace strategy that balances business goals with employee needs, you can start to visualize and design an environment that fosters innovation and engagement by considering the following connectivity-builders:
Keep employee wellness at the forefront of your strategy. Companies with wellness initiatives, including regular mindfulness practices are more focused, collaborative, balanced and productive, regardless of whether staff are on or offsite. Check out one of our previous blogs highlighting mindfulness here.
Create a dynamic, in-office, data-based plan built from objective, behavioral metrics to determine which teams benefit most from working in person vs. remote.
Identify what teams/departments need in the workplace to deliver their best work. Don’t make assumptions; ask them directly.
Coordinate work schedules to ensure optimal utilization of workplace space and amenities; be sure to consider office design and flow.
Offer virtual lunches, team-building events, co-working sessions, digital coffee hours, etc.
Encourage, but do not force the activities
Ask the team what they would like to see offered and how often
Offer prizes, surprises and incentives for attending and participating
Uncover unique collaboration styles and less obvious workplace needs by conducting research, hosting focus groups and tapping experts who can provide additional ideas or insights
A keen eye on the future will serve you better than the natural inclination to cling to the past when it comes to an evolving in-person, remote or hybrid workplace culture. To enable a relevant sense of community and culture while people are working from different locales, leaders are finding it helpful to keep lines of communication continually open with staff so they know what the company needs to keep doing, stop doing, and improve upon. In order for a culture to thrive, we must replace old practices with new ones, rather than returning to the comfort of the past.
Other helpful tips as your company evolves with a growth mindset:
Invest in employee development - This helps ensure that your team has the skills they need to succeed in any work environment. Seek out resources and do research to improve your chances of creating options that everyone can be happy with.
Don’t be in a rush to get it all figured out. Take time to talk with leaders and colleagues in different industries who can offer new ideas and innovative approaches.
Focus on outcomes - In any work environment, it’s important to focus on outcomes by setting clear goals and expectations for employees and measuring their success based on their ability to achieve those goals.
See Tip #6 for more on how to measure success
Tip #6 – Measure Success
It is crucial to adopt a data-informed mindset to measure productivity and success. By evaluating what works and what doesn’t, you can prepare to adjust workplace norms as needs and goals change.
Check out this list of DO’s and DON’TS to help inform your employee satisfaction measurement strategy.
DO ask for feedback through an annual or bi-annual employee engagement survey to gather data and ideas, and gauge satisfaction levels. This encourages a feedback culture where employees feel safe and welcome to share opinions.
DO connect business outcomes to employee behaviors and the most important elements of a person's job. With these metrics, managers and employees can have effective conversations about personal development that promote peak productivity.
DO consider hiring a 3rd party survey organization or apply for external awards which can provide a baseline and show year-over-year progress or improvement opportunities.
DON’T rely on a single method of measuring productivity. For example, tracking employee hours is a relevant metric for many businesses, but doesn’t provide the full picture because the quality, value and availability of those hours worked aren’t fully understood.3
DON’T assume that work isn’t being done just because you can’t physically see tasks being completed.
DON’T rely only on output-based goals; focus on efficiency and quality.
There's one thing we know for sure about today's workplace: the pre-pandemic “one size fits all” model is no more. To set everyone up for success, leaders must remember to reflect on their company’s mission and strategy, as well as optimize workplace decisions in a way that boosts employee experience, collaboration, and productivity.