When the rush to work from home started, most people assumed it was a temporary measure, and the world would somehow right itself in time. While many people are looking to return to the office later this year, nobody can quite agree on what that will look like. One thing is more likely than anything else, though. The number of people working from home on occasion will rise dramatically.
But what is a leader to do when people are in different places at different times? How do you create a cohesive team? Can you ensure information flows cleanly and consistently? Do the people who spend more time in the office have an automatic advantage over those who don’t come in every day?
Why is it so complicated? There are a few reasons that nobody will be able to wave a magic wand and create a new normal:
The flexible working genie is out of the bottle.
The ability to work from home (at least occasionally) was the most-requested perk in the workplace over the last five years. Many companies resisted because they didn’t know if it could work, or how it would impact productivity. Many of these questions have been answered. Additionally, a lot of folks who never considered working remotely have had a taste of it, and while lots of people want to return to the office, many are less eager to do it every day.
The rest of the world may not work at the speed of your company.
One potential problem looming is that while workplaces are eager to return to the status quo, schools and other institutions may not be on the same schedule. Additionally, nearly half of families report that their childcare providers pre-Covid are no longer available or dependable. This means there will be a scramble for daycare and other services, and the people most likely to need flexibility are women, who are already disproportionately impacted by these concerns. If companies wish to create an equitable workplace, accommodations will need to be provided.
Over the last year, a number of companies have reduced their real estate footprint.
Consolidating offices, leasing smaller workplaces, and trying to save money in order to stay afloat has changed what the workplace will look like when people do return.
What you can do to plan for the return to the office (whenever that is):
- Make a (preliminary) timeline. What’s your area’s best guess on vaccinations and re-opening of businesses?
- Be realistic about whether (and when) you need people to get together. Some of the options being explored include having everyone come in a day or two a week for in-person meetings, or designating who comes in when.
- Determine what the ideal workspace will look like.Some companies are eliminating permanent offices in favor of “hoteling” situations. There’s never been a better time to make decisions about what you want your workplace to be.
- Ask people what their plans are. Some folks will be chomping at the bit to return, others have serious barriers to returning too soon., and some just prefer to work in certain ways if given the choice. Understanding where people’s heads are at will help you create a work environment that works for as many people as possible.
We might not know exactly what the future holds, but the workplace of tomorrow will definitely have more flexible working arrangement and people working remotely. Anticipating how this will impact the work will help make reentry more stable and keep the team intact and working at peak efficiency.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.