Finally, we are turning the corner with COVID-19 and the phrase “heading back to the office” is more commonly used. At the height of the pandemic, 80% of companies sent their employees home to work remote. Now we are looking at these companies as the COVID restrictions are being lifted. Three trends are being observed:
1. Traditional Workplace: many companies are asking their employees to come back to work. Being physically in the office will help morale and solidarity. I have a friend in the clothing industry that said they could not wait to get back into the office. During the shutdown, her entire team lost the feel of creativity that occurred when they were together in the office. Some of her staff had a hard time focusing when working at home and the Microsoft Teams virtual meetings were just depressing. The head office opened their doors in the early stages of the vaccinations and the employees did not mind the mask and social distancing as long as they could gather in a large place to relate in person.
This may shock many, but there are groups that prefer working together physically and find they have better focus than working remote. In the EER study, only 11% of the employees wanted to return to this way of working even though we found 83% missed the physical interaction. Keep in mind, the office has lots of areas to have people interact even if they are not getting together for a meeting. Just by going to grab a coffee or tea gives a person the opportunity to find a colleague and a conversation. When you need help, you can walk to your colleague’s desk and ask the question. In many offices, the cubicles have gone away and replaced by open space with working stations. This is primarily so everyone in the team can constantly interact with each other. Let’s face it, there are more ways of catching someone at work to chat as compared to sending them a text hoping they will answer.
2. Hybrid Workplace: many companies have felt the productivity increases during the pandemic and learned to trust their employees for getting the work done. Not wanting to rock the boat and keeping to the employees’ wellbeing, they are being more flexible with the employees as they open their doors. The responsibility to get the work done in a timely fashion falls on the employees and the employer will be flexible if it means getting the greatest productivity.
We found that 73% of the employees in our study want to have the option to work at home or go into the office. This does not mean that everyone will work remote. Anyone wanting to interact with a colleague to focus has the option of going into the office. It also means that the employer can look at reducing their office footprint and save overhead costs. It becomes a win-win situation as long as both parties are accountable for their responsibilities. I know of people who want to see their colleagues again, but they find they focus better for some of their tasks at home with no interruptions. For these people, the hybrid model is the best option going forward.
3. 100% Virtual Workplace: The last group is where the employers have decided working remote works best, want to reduce / remove their office footprint, and feel they can now get the best candidates anywhere in the world, no longer limited to the office surroundings. We found only 16% of the employees preferring this option. Yet whomever found it stressful to work at home and not interact physically with others will not particularly opt for this option. If the environment at work was toxic pre-pandemic, then avoiding the office is preferred. On the other hand, if the office wasn’t toxic but something else strained working at the office, like a long commute or traffic, this would seem a viable solution for both the employees and the employer.
This option works best for those who spend most of their time in front of a computer working and don’t need to have a lot of interaction to do their jobs. Anyone who had to deal with people virtually before the pandemic found they can do so at home, without the hassles of going into the office since there is no one in the office they really interacted with for work. Yes, they miss the side conversations, but they mostly worked remotely just sitting in the office. Most of these individuals have their own social setting and do not need the colleague interaction for their mental health. They also tend to stay away from the office politics and prefer just attending to their work without interruptions.
You may find yourself falling in one of these categories above. When your aspirations of where to work best marry the company’s, there is no problem. It’s when they differ that friction occurs. This is one of the factors that leads to the rise in resignations post pandemic.
In a traditional setting, it works best when the employees love hanging out with their colleagues and miss the physical interaction. The environment is healthy and wholesome where the employers are still supporting their employees with mental health. There is a trust in the team and if you ask any of these employees, they will tell you though they can work remote, they prefer working in the office. They feel the environment around them helps them focus on their tasks with no home disruptions. They enjoy having the side conversations with their colleagues and dressing up in anything other than sweats.
If the workplace has a toxic environment, then the traditional option will not work for the employees. They will prefer a hybrid or 100% virtual setting instead. These are the ones thinking about their future and job aspirations, deciding to quit and find something new.
On the other hand, if the environment wasn’t that bad pre-pandemic, employees will prefer the hybrid model so they can reduce the commute time, choose when to focus on tasks at home vs. the office, and can have more freedom to deal with their personal commitments. They can also opt for the 100% virtual setting because most of what they do does not need to be in an office but on a computer. The only time they would go into the office would be for general assemblies or important meetings.
There may not be one solution that fits everyone re-entering the workforce post pandemic, but the better of the three is the hybrid because it lends the most flexibility for both the employee and employer. Chances are, when informal discussions start occurring again at work, the ones working remote will make the effort to go into the office just to stay on top of the office chatter. And when new members join the team, they will want to be part of the onboarding and team building. Building the trust amongst colleagues is important and the team is more effective when the roles and responsibilities are clear. Once the trust is there within the team, then it doesn’t really matter where they work as long as they keep the communication connection open.
Let us know what you think with your comments….