The global pandemic has shaped employee mindsets about their jobs in ways none of us could have anticipated, and as employers work overtime to define the optimal path to getting them back to the office, there is no one size fits all approach.
Some large companies such as Goldman Sachs, Apple and Amazon have already announced plans to return to the office full time; others such as Twitter are allowing team members to continue working remotely. Most organizations are evolving toward hybrid models that apply learnings from the past year and serve the needs of both the company and its employees.
Below are some key takeaways from our experience working remotely that are guiding our own return to work plans:
1. Employees Increasingly Value Their Time: After more than a year working from home, most people have grown quite comfortable with the experience. Armed with the right technological tools and training to support virtual meetings, collaboration, and knowledge management, remote employees in our experience have become as productive (and sometimes even more so) than those working in the office. They appreciate the convenience and flexibility that comes with eliminating a daily commute, not to mention transit costs for fares or parking, and ongoing health concerns about taking public transit. Employers must respect this desire by employees to limit unproductive time in their day as they craft back-to-office plans.
2. Culture Requires Face-to-Face Engagement: Three decades in the agency world have taught us that culture is everything in business, and that creating and sustaining a strong and cohesive organization can only be achieved through intentional face-to-face engagement. Experience shows that life-long personal and professional relationships (along with a strong company culture) are built through the powerful experience of mutual collaboration to deliver programs that meet client goals. That is why, beginning in September, we will initiate limited in-office days which will incorporate team building, strategic agency updates, account planning, professional development, networking, and fun. How frequent these days ultimately become will be determined after a few months. In the meantime, those employees who choose to return to the office full or part-time are free to do so.
3. Health and Safety Must Remain Paramount: Despite being fully vaccinated, employees remain vigilant about the potential health risks of coming to the office, especially with the rising prevalence of the highly contagious Delta variant. They expect their personal health and safety to remain top of mind through strict enforcement of social distancing rules, plentiful PPE, and stringent sanitation when they come to the office. The good news in all of this is the highly dense “open concept” bullpens of several years ago have faded in popularity, and possibly permanently.
Ultimately decisions about how your organization returns to work should be guided by regular employee input and supported through straightforward, honest communications. The biggest questions employers should be asking themselves right now are not where the work best gets done, but rather how. Observe how your top performers consistently deliver results for clients and customers and seek ways to showcase their efforts and remove barriers that are hampering the success of others, whether working remotely or in the office.
What is most important to remember is that employees should feel respected, and able to trust that you are looking out for their best interests as you redefine what office work looks like. After all, with the economy continuing to rebound and job growth accelerating, unilaterally choosing between in-office, hybrid or remote work may become a deciding issue in the never-ending war for talent – especially in an environment where four in 10 workers say they are considering changing jobs within the next year.