Back To Better: Our New Way Of Working
Founder and CEO of Real Chemistry, a global health innovation company making the world a healthier place for all.
People returning to their offices is a true sign of recovery and one I especially welcome. But as we start getting used to seeing colleagues in conference rooms and office break areas, we should remember what we’ve learned over the past 18 months about the many ways people can get work done.
Full disclosure: I prefer the office. Groups of people getting together and hashing out ideas gives me energy. Being there in person helps build relationships and trust, even amid creative tension, and is just more fun. That kind of atmosphere helped me build a company from the basement of my loft to one with more than 2,000 colleagues.
However, I’ve learned over the years that not everyone works like me, and fostering a culture where people could do their best in a variety of settings helped us grow over the past 20 years. Well before Microsoft Teams and Zoom calls became ever-present in our lives, our company built what I call a “long hallway” across our 15 offices. Success was more than just knowing how to operate the conference call software; it was about making sure the best work could get done no matter where people sat.
But the pandemic changed the way we work. Businesses of all types and sizes reexamined decades-old patterns of working and assumptions about worker productivity. We realized that taking draining and environmentally-unfriendly commutes in order to get to an office at a certain hour was not the most important aspect of a well-functioning enterprise.
Research suggests that working from home, in and of itself, did not hurt productivity. As it always should be, getting great work done is far more important than where it gets done. This is an especially important message for working parents — the backbone of my company’s business since its founding — who, with appropriate flexibility, can deliver great work at non-traditional times and from non-traditional settings.
Our business interactions during the pandemic became a little more casual and a little more personal, and I believe that is for the better. Thanks to remote video calls, we heard (and sometimes saw) pets and children, we saw bookcases and personal artifacts and we all let our hair down just a little.
As we return to the office, we should not forget that our colleagues and clients are more than just what they do to earn a living and that knowing more about them makes our work life happier and more satisfying. One of our mottos is “choose happiness,” and it is crystal clear that happier people do the best work.
We’re currently seeing how deciding when and how to return to offices can be fraught with challenges for leaders. At Real Chemistry, we’re developing a hybrid approach that will have some people in the office, some working remotely and some doing a bit of both. Based on our experience so far, there are few things leaders should keep in mind:
1. Protect and respect everyone’s health.
At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, Covid-19 has not completely disappeared, and the Delta variant is changing the landscape. Leaders should set a good example by getting vaccinated, pursuing all appropriate methods to ensure that anyone who returns to the office can also get the vaccine and being understanding of those who care for unvaccinated people at home.
2. Be inclusive.
When taking a hybrid approach, it’s important to urge everyone to focus on being inclusive as they transition to post-pandemic work. Planning meetings, workshops and gatherings means remembering those who will be there virtually, too.
3. Listen to your teams.
Continue to keep your ears open and listen to what people are telling you. Ensuring that everyone feels connected and respected is critical during this dynamic time when people are thinking about making major life and work changes. Above all, remember that you can make great investments in data and technology, but ultimately, it’s your people that matter the most.
4. Accept the challenges and stay fluid.
It will take some adjustment for people to get used to a workplace where some work from home or remote locations — even if only part of the time — while others are in the office every day. Give teams time to figure out the new rhythms and ways of working together, whether that’s in the room or on Zoom.
Much like basketball players returning from a break to practice dribbling, passing, rebounding and shooting, the return to post-pandemic work offers the chance to get grounded again in the basics. We have a very rare opportunity to clarify and get on the same page about overall goals and strategy, enabling team members to take bolder steps as they get accustomed to the new pace.
For some companies, this regrounding will include people hired during the pandemic who have never met their colleagues in person or who have never worked in an office before. For others, the reconnection time will help everyone move forward after an incredibly difficult and challenging period.
We should not forget that we have the opportunity to return to a more “normal” work environment in large part because of scientific achievements like the vaccines and Covid-19 therapies and the heroic efforts of frontline health care workers.
Beyond the human toll the pandemic took, it also challenged all of us — our businesses, our workforces and each of us personally — in so many ways. Many of us discovered how adaptable and resilient we could be. As we transition “back to better,” we have to give ourselves the space and time to adjust gracefully to make us healthier and more productive in our post-pandemic work.
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