For a number of years, many employees have requested to work remotely and just as many organizations were insistent on keeping their employees in the workplace. Then COVID-19 sent much of the workforce home to stay safe and out of harm’s way. Those who were reluctant to have their employees work remotely were forced to implement stay-at-home policies, which were put together hastily and some were done without much strategy or support. And employees who wanted to work at home had the chance to try it out.
Now that we have had some time with this, the discussion of how to keep your business productive is shifting to focus on where employees do the work: do we bring employees back to the conventional workspace or do they stay remote?
Remote or not remote? That is the question.
After 3 months working from home, many employers are likely hearing an increasing amount of feedback from their employees. Some employees had a taste of working at home and are ready to come back. Others finally got their wish to work remotely and now don’t want to come back.
With all this chatter, how do you start to consider how to move forward?
First, answer these three questions to give yourself a clear understanding of what makes sense for you.
#1 What does your organization provide and how should work be done to provide it well?
You may have interest – and even pressure – from your employees to return or restructure what they want in their new normal workplace. But their options can be addressed only after you reassess how COVID-19 has changed your organization. Consider the products or services you offer. What is required from your employees to ensure the customer deliverable is done in a way that supports your commitment to the customer experience? Once you define or redefine WHAT you do, you can start to discuss the options of HOW to do it – remote, full workplace or some variation of the two.
Once you clarify the work that needs to be done and how it will best be done, move on to the next question.
#2 Can your employees be successful working remotely?
This requires assessment in 2 areas: abilities and space. Do your employees have the behaviors, skills and experience (abilities) to achieve the expectations of the role? And, do they have the ability to work independently, are self-disciplined and are organized to work without supervision? If you are confident that the employee in question can do the job well from home, ask yourself if the employee’s remote space can support the successful completion of the tasks of the role. Allowing someone to work at home doesn’t ensure they have the privacy, quiet, connection, space or even work surfaces to do the job well. Remember, there are some expectations that must be met in order to deliver an exceptional experience to customers or colleagues, regardless of whether that’s in a remote location or within the physical workplace. You may find that remote may not mean working at home, nor in the workplace, but rather some other place. Consider what some of those workplaces could look like and who on your team, if anyone, may need this as their work environment.
#3 Can your organization support and engage a remote workforce, capable of delivering world class service?
However you define how work will be done, assess how you will be able to engage them to be able to drive productivity, performance and retention. Workplace culture has always been an important part of the employee experience. Employees want and need to feel part of the organization, valued, supported and cared for. It will be important to (re)define what will engage and inspire your workforce and to determine how to consistently deliver it. If you are unable to do this, the result will be seen and felt in not only performance, but also increased turnover. Assessing how you will engage your workforce is a critical consideration in developing your future workforce.
There is pressure to be remote. There is also pressure to return to the more conventional workplace. Invent scenarios to explore how you will have an engaged workforce that consistently and successfully delivers a remarkable customer experience, grows the business and achieves your goals.
Your options or scenarios should be based on achieving your goals, not on the wishes of your workforce. This doesn’t mean ignore them, however. Solicit their thoughts and perspectives, then ensure that the creation of the new normal for your organization makes sense for who you are and what you do. Then, share with your employees how work will be for them and develop a plan to help them return that new normal.
By Jay Forte
Consider reading Don’t Go Back to Normal. Instead, Focus on Becoming Better.