Over the last two years, many businesses have proven their competency, productivity, and versatility in supporting remote workers. Leaders and teams have adapted, adopted new technology, and covered for each other when needed. After creating new policies and provisioning for employees to be productive working remotely, we now need to figure out the path forward.
Organizations of all sizes must now decide whether to return to pre-pandemic standards or embrace the flexible working models which have been in place since Spring of 2020. Rather than building a workplace strategy around recovering from these “emergency” COVID-19 work models, I think it’s more valuable for leaders to carve a new path forward and break away from outdated ideas of what the workplace represents.
Here are three ways we have been exploring new opportunities to move the future workplace forward.
1. Prioritizing quality over geography
Pre-pandemic, businesses spent a huge part of their budgets to link productivity with being in the office. Impressive campuses provided all sorts of perks just to keep workers working -- a notion that was turned upside down due to the pandemic. In today’s world of Zoom meetings and Slack conversations, employees have found a new freedom with the ability to work from anywhere, and many have taken the opportunity to move to places that better suit their needs and budgets.
However, while the overall demand and expectation for in-office capabilities and luxuries diminished, the quality and productivity of the work put out by employees has not. At our company, we have identified an opportunity to shift the conversation from where we work to how we win. Our path forward is so much more than whether or not we bring people into offices.
Being open to geographically diverse talent is also helping us attract a wider variety of skilled workers and improve the diversity in our workplace.
2. Reorienting to the optional office
Today’s new working normal is making one thing clear: We can’t put the remote work genie back in the bottle. The concepts of in-office work, daily commuting, and cubicles now feel like a bad memory. Over the last two years, we’ve all become so proficient in remote workability that many now have an unprecedented opportunity to “choose their own adventure” when it comes to their working style and environment.
This is not to say that working remotely works for everyone. According to a monthly survey published by WFH Research, nearly six out of 10 workers reported being more productive working from home than from the office; however, 15% said they felt more productive at the office instead.
I think what this report really shows is that organization-wide work models are no longer one-size-fits-all, and the future is really about hybrid work. Many employees have realized their preferences for work and what keeps them productive -- and feel more comfortable asking for it. According to a recent Deloitte hybrid work study, 34% of companies surveyed said they now plan to allow their employees to work part of the week from home, but they will leave the choice of the exact schedule to the employees. Offering your workforce flexible options for work -- remote, in-office, home office setup, device variability, etc. -- can not only improve team productivity, but also employee happiness, engagement, and retention.
3. Moving to mass personalization
Let’s be honest: We were long-overdue for the end of cubicle culture. In today’s world, offering employees the option to better personalize their work environment, not just physically, but digitally, helps employers to demonstrate respect for individuals and trust in their skilled workers. And this respect for individuality in all modes will be increasingly important as Gen-Z begins to make up a larger share of the workforce, as highlighted in this McKinsey report. Digitally native and identity-neutral Gen-Z’ers have been acculturated in the virtual world of pandemic productivity, and tapping into their hard-won strength is an essential part of our path forward.
Adopting workplace personalization needs to be a priority for leaders who want to attract the next generation of talent. While no one can truly “future-proof” their business, providing our multi-generational workforce with diverse work options is certainly a key contributor to business resiliency and longevity.
The Path Forward is Fruitful and Flexible
Organizations that were drastically forced to adapt to challenging working situations over the last two years now find themselves in a great position. For the first time ever, they are provided a “blank slate” on which to purposefully mold their workplace strategy in ways that are uniquely best for their employees and their business. And more than ever before, employees now also have a voice in the way their workplace is structured -- calling for employers to think outside the box (literally) and consider a more virtual, flexible, and personalized style of work.
As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, none of us can predict the most successful route to business success. But it seems likely to me that a combination of these factors will ensure that we’re moving our companies *forward*, towards a more profitable, more fruitful future together.