As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A smooth sea never produced a skilled sailor,” and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. As regulations lift and many employees are immersed in the waters of remote work, many business leaders are sorting through what a flexible workplace will look like in the future.
With an increased appetite for workplace flexibility and a new kind of employer/employee reciprocity on the rise, there may never be a time when 100 percent of an employee base is back in the office. To strike the right balance, organizations will require tailored approaches and deeper discussions. They need to ensure employees are empowered to deliver excellent customer experiences while honoring their trust. By working to accommodate employee post-pandemic work styles, employers won’t just be helping their businesses but also the people who keep them running.
Work Style Over Space
Cultivating a work environment—and culture—that meets specific post-pandemic work styles will greatly serve employers.
Since March of last year, we’ve invited employees into our homes (digitally), and they have invited us into theirs. We’ve met their spouses, children, and dogs and cats alike. We’ve become accustomed to their more relaxed dress code, their mementos, their home décor. The working environment has gotten tremendously casual and intimate.
In light of this, this reorientation will require an even higher level of mutual trust between employer and employee. The employer should set high expectations, giving autonomy to employees, and hold them accountable for performance. They shouldn’t try to manage how, when, and where they work. In exchange, employees can experience a greater acceptance of work/life integration. As some re-enter the office space with an eye toward personal and familial obligations, this will be beneficial. It will also be valuable to others who remain in home offices, continuing to mesh their lives with the work they love.
How to Accommodate Post-Pandemic Work Styles
For any organization, it won’t be possible to duplicate company culture as it once was. Instead, to adapt and advance, culture must evolve, while keeping the organization’s core values intact.
Here are a few things leaders can do to navigate the workplace of the future while keeping employees’ post-pandemic work styles at top of mind.
Ensure Employees Co-Create the New Norm
It’s imperative to understand employees’ needs and hopes for this new world of work. You can achieve this through active listening via focus groups, ongoing employee pulse surveys, employee advisory groups, and honest discussions between managers and direct reports. Maintain the non-negotiables of culture and let go of any leave-behind elements of culture that can disappear. After gathering employee insights, leaders can co-create an envisioned future. One where the employee is involved in the development, understanding, and communication of that future so they can adopt, advocate for, and believe in it.
Hold Tight to Core Values
Regardless of work location, a company’s core values must hold steadfast. From hiring employees to making important business decisions, leaders should remain true to their core values and use them as guideposts.
Focus on the Mission
Mission-driven organizations are more important than ever. They keep people connected and engaged when not seeing each other every day. It’s crucial to instill companywide messages that employees are more than a “workforce.” Rather, they’re a community of like-minded individuals who equally share in the company’s mission.
Operate from a Place of Compassion
Empathy is key. It’s vital to take employees’ physical and mental wellness into consideration. Many still struggle with mental health issues due to the effects of quarantine. Consider this when interacting with employees and making plans for their work future.
Create Ways to Communicate and Connect
Many employees experience office FOMO (fear of missing out). To combat this, position the office as a social gathering place for collaboration, mentoring, development, community-building, and more. In lieu of the historical face-to-face time, design other ways for employees to communicate and connect. Some examples of this are weekly social meetings, all-hands-on-deck brainstorms, fitness and cooking challenges, or virtual meditation breaks.
The work world will never be the same. Still, with high levels of trust, communication, and vulnerability, companies can work with employees to cultivate and accomodate post-pandemic work styles.