Our People & Culture team held a round table recently to discuss several topics relating to the effects of the pandemic on the workforce and office culture. Many organizations are now facing an unprecedented re-imagining of policies and practices as the world prepares to return to its new normal. During the conversation, each person was invited to share their thoughts and strategies on how to manage the transition back from COVID-19 work-from-home restrictions to the office.
The first in our series “Thoughts on a Post-Pandemic Workplace,” weighs in on the discussion about hybrid work models and how organizations can balance the needs of their employees with the needs of their business.
For the next instalment in the series; click here.
The New Normal
After over a year of pandemic induced work-from-home arrangements, many organizations are now facing a reimagining of office culture as employees look for guidance on what a return to the office might look like.
We sat down with our People & Culture team to collect their thoughts on the post pandemic workplace and discuss what considerations employers need to weigh as they plan for a return to face-to-face meetings with cities and workplaces now starting to re-open.
Top of mind for many organizations is the insistence that work-from-home options remain available, and how to incorporate a hybrid model that will set the business up for success while still meeting the needs of the employees.
A Balancing Act
“It’s a fine balancing act between what employees would prefer and the operational requirements or business needs. If you tip the scale too much on one side versus the other you will probably create some disengagement, either from the business or from the employees.”
Hybrid workplace policies and practices will need to flow out of the culture, the business requirements and the capabilities of the organization to meet these needs. It will take a commitment from both leaders and employees to honour individual preferences in the spirit of what works for the business and the team that you are a part of.
1 | Communicate early and often – The consensus around the Stratford table was that adjusting to a post pandemic workplace culture will be an exercise in change management. New practices should to be communicated well in advance to give employees ample time to make necessary adjustments.
With 6 months until 2022, planning for a return to work should be well underway, and managers and leaders need to be communicating this to their employees. It needs to be broader than just “here’s the policy”; it should include the context for these decisions as well.
2 | Invest in your office culture – Make it a value proposition where employees get something when they choose to come into the office. This can range from a dedicated workspace, to better food, or to a recurring social event (Can we make Donut Fridays a thing?).
“It goes back to culture – it goes back to ‘what are we doing at the office that different than what we are able to do at home?’ Make it attractive to come to the office. Make it about attraction rather than requirement. How do we advance the culture and where does the hybrid model fit in?”
3 | Be inclusive – The pandemic highlighted that the need for local talent is no longer a necessity. We are going to see more and more organizations expand the geography of their job postings, highlighting the requirement in organizations to provide equal access to things like events, perq’s and development.
“Inclusivity is going to have a different definition now – ensuring that for those who do not have the option of coming into the office, that they still feel included in the environment and culture and that they are not being disadvantaged by not being able to be physically present for things such as promotion opportunity.”
4 | Be consistent – Whatever model is put in place; it is important to maintain consistency amongst teams. If one manager offers a lenient policy on working from home, while another insists on in-office work, it can create feelings of resentment or create an ‘us vs them’ mentality’ which could lead to unnecessary retention issues within your organization.
5 | Emphasize accountability – During our discussions, Laura mentioned the concept of ‘predictable flexibility’. Managers have to be more than kept in the loop when it comes to hybrid schedules, so that meetings can be scheduled, and appropriate technology is made available.
Ultimately, the onus is on the employee to make a hybrid model work and to meet the business requirements of their position.
6 | Maintain regular touch points – One of the victims of a hybrid model is the potential loss of touch points throughout the day: those short connections that allow for check-ins and updates. Managers will need to work harder to keep their teams engaged and to keep their finger on the pulse. This started during the pandemic but will continue with employee workplace preferences now in the mix.
Touch points as simple as regular coffee meetings outside of the office, or virtual lunch hours – available to all team members equally – will continue.
Making a case for a return to the office
“The goal of the social interaction [in the workplace] is to build trust, collaboration, and connection; to be in relationship with people, which is a precursor to how you work together and give people the benefit of the doubt because you’ve known them, it creates an element of trust and an emotional connection.”
We’ve heard of some organizations that have completely eliminated the requirements for a physical office and have gone “virtual by default”. However, if your operational requirements do not dictate that people need to be together in the office, it is important to consider the cultural impact and value that thrive from teamwork and collaboration.
That is not to say that it is impossible to foster a strong workplace culture virtually, but it requires more work and dedication to the above points to make it work.
Workplace policies and culture are two sides to the same coin, requiring a strategic human capital strategy and a commitment to making it work.
About Stratford People & Culture:
Our team is made up of experienced practitioners including leadership coaches and strategic HR advisors who are ready to roll up their sleeves and help you manage the transition to a post-pandemic workplace. Our experience lets us lean in as a trusted resource, leading departments, divisions and whole organizations through growth and change that is aligned with your business plan.
If your organization is looking for help in managing the transition from work-from-home to a hybrid model or a return to the office, Stratford’s People & Culture team can help. Reach out to us, we’d be happy to chat.