A survey recently published by Hibob, a people management platform, showed that medium-sized companies are particularly struggling to retain staff as offices around the world closed due to the pandemic start to reopen. According to the study, more than half of employees of these companies are prepared to leave their jobs if not offered flexibility over their hours and where they work.
But, in truth, organizations of all sorts are struggling with how to get the balance right between a return to something that looks like offices used to and the reality that work has changed for ever. This involves acknowledging that a huge and sudden experiment in remote working has turned out better than was probably hoped — and in so doing has raised all sorts of issues around what work and the management of it looks like.
There has been much talk from the heads of investment banks and others about their concerns about losing the mystery and camaraderie that have served them well in the past if staff are not going to be expected to be in the office all the time. However, it could be that the real motivation of these leaders is worries about the extent that traders, say, are complying with increasingly stringent rules and regulations if they are out of sight.
Whatever the reason, there is also growing evidence that some leaders are working hard to maintain and even improve their corporate cultures. Mike Morini, chief executive of Workforce Software, another provider of human resources management tools, insists that there are “many routes to take in order to make a company culture stronger than it has been in the past.”
He has started by encouraging his senior team (including himself) to “over-communicate” with one another and the company’s teams in order to know what is being prioritized, who is responsible for which tasks and to acknowledge accomplishments and good work. “This way, no one is getting lost or falling behind in the remote world that we’re in,” he says. “In a remote setting, it is very difficult for employees to know if their work is being appreciated, simply due to the lack of face-to-face interaction and office camaraderie.”
Morini adds that he seeks to live by a “listen first, talk second” approach that he believes is critical because it means that before decisions are made executives have heard employee feedback and have adjusted approaches accordingly. “A business is ultimately no bigger than the sum of its parts, so ensuring your employees are satisfied and feel appreciated is key to successfully leading and managing talent and supporting a strong company culture and positive employee experience during a challenging time.” Another critical driver is offering the best possible work-life balance as we all work from home.
In order to build team spirit and a sense of belonging, companies must ensure that all workers — including deskless workers — receive information and productivity tools that match their working environment. Integrating this information and these tools offers significant benefits to an enterprise by allowing it to create personalized experiences, communications and better access to information. That, in turn, creates bonds across the organization.
At a time when so many people are working from home or otherwise out of the main office, it is also vital that managers work to ensure that employees are establishing a work-life balance, says Morini. Key to this is checking in with employees. “The best managers know that cultivating a happy and healthy team is one of the most important contributors to their own success. After more than a year of disruptions in typical work environments and patterns, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for managers to find creative ways to support their wellbeing and motivation. In order to combat this, it is important that employers stay in contact with their team during the workday to make sure that they know what their employees are working on, can recognize accomplishments more regularly, and determine if they are experiencing any issues with work-life balance or challenges with managing increased work or separating from work.” Employers also need to take the initiative to find out how employees are really feeling. They should conduct regular check-ins to gauge the team’s happiness levels and overall state of being and be ready to support quick interventions for preventing any negative mental health outcomes or low productivity. This level of connection will show employees that executives genuinely care about their wellbeing and will help retain top-tier talent.
In addition, organizations need to continue doing everything they can to support their employees and offering benefits that truly make a difference. Health and wellness benefits are key right now. Companies should consider implementing wellness programs that allow employees to take advantage of initiatives that relieve stress, such as exercise, yoga, meditation and personal health coaching. Other benefits can be showing appreciation for your employees by offering an extra day off or relief from endless meetings. It is also important that employees are encouraged to take off — even though they may be reluctant to take vacation because of travel restrictions. “It is so important for employees to understand that stepping away can increase their productivity in the long run,” explains Morini.
Over the course of the pandemic, some have voiced concern about software that monitors employees. But Morini argues that workforce management systems have played a significant role in supporting employee safety, well-being and work-life balance. For instance, fatigue management systems monitor hours worked, tasks performed, breaks taken and time off scheduled to flag employees that may be at risk of becoming fatigued and burned out.
He adds that, as companies start heading back to the office in the coming months, it is critical that they make appropriate investments in technology that leverages data to make it easier to detect when there is a potential problem with an employee, to capture employee feedback frequently and to enable managers to take action. This will not only have a significant impact on employees’ experience, showing them that they are valued and cared for and their needs are being met. It will ultimately increase productivity in all areas of a business.
But even with such initiatives, some individuals may feel uneasy about the return to the office. Nora Tobin, an executive coach and nutrition and wellness specialist who also heads an organic coffee business, stresses the importance of employees knowing they are not alone in their anxieties.
She offers five tips for overcoming fears about the actual return to the office and for improving performance and productivity once there:
1. Make a list of the benefits of going back to work in the office. Creating a list of benefits for going back to work at the office can serve as a way to mentally prepare for the big, and quite uncertain transition. Some benefits may include the opportunity to reconnect with one’s social networks and having fewer distractions that may increase one’s productivity. Another might be to have a more solid boundary between work and home life.
2. Create a routine of healthy habits in the transition stage. Workers nervous about returning to the office should make time for things in their lives that are important to them. What this involves will depend on the individual, but examples might include setting time to meal-prep healthy lunch options or going for walks in the mornings.
3. Take on the transition one step at a time. Individuals nervous about going back to a full office should take advantage of the option to work remotely part of the week. This should provide the opportunity to find the balance and time needed to adjust to returning to the office.
4. Be intentional in practicing what worked best for you while working at home and working at the office. Taking the time to listen to themselves and identify what habits help them feel happy and healthy are an important step in setting individuals up for success during this time of transition. It is also important that they take note of what they liked and didn’t like from both working at home and in the office.
5. Be respectful to people’s boundaries. Many people have strong, and sometimes clashing, opinions about how the pandemic has been and should be handled. Setting a good example of being respectful of the diverse opinions back at the office will hopefully make everyone feel a lot more comfortable during these still uncertain times.