Work Models and Finding What “Works” Best
This topic is a part of many of my conversations these days. I have friends and colleagues working via in-person, remote and hybrid models. There are even some that are transitioning to fully in-person from being fully remote and are experiencing mixed feelings about the return to office life. I am fully remote but travel to meetings and networking events several times a week. Before the pandemic, I worked in an office Monday through Friday, and the change of pace and scenery has been wonderful for me. It took time to adjust and build my self-discipline to work at home and accomplish tasks. Being remote has given me the flexibility and autonomy I needed to develop a routine and checks and balances system for my work and home life, since they now often intersect.
Some of my friends work for both small and large corporations and have successfully worked remotely for the last year and a half. They tell me about sources of some friction among coworkers that do not have the option or permission to work fully remotely. Other employees resist the shift to remote work and prefer traditional in-person office hours and environments.
I have friends and family that work in manufacturing and retail and as of yet do not have the option of working remotely. They use social distancing and mask-wearing policies to keep themselves safe. Some of these workplaces are seeing labor shortages that are causing mandatory overtime that could lead to burnout and lower productivity. Our community retail and manufacturing workers are so vital to our everyday lives, it is important that we treat them with respect and follow the safety guidelines put in place in their workplaces (i.e. wearing masks, etc.).
I have worked using all three models: in-person, remote, and hybrid. There are benefits and drawbacks to each. One of the three models applies best to every company and team within each company. There is definitely a transition period and learning curve when adopting a new model. The great thing about the time we are in right now is the option to reevaluate the work model that “works” best for your company and teams. I think currently, there is also an environment of forgiveness in the workplace when it comes to including remote workers in physical meetings, background noises on Zoom calls, and other little day-to-day things that come up in today’s workplaces.
Company and Team Policies that “Work”
There were so many workplace standards, expectations, and approaches already in place before the pandemic began. We all probably had daily routines and commutes that we could repeat and accomplish on auto-pilot. New standards and regulations brought about by the pandemic have changed many of our schedules in terms of work, school, daycare, visiting family, etc. You can probably think of several examples of small and big changes you have made since spring of 2020. Since family units have experienced change, we can imagine the scale of change that entire companies have had to instill.
Even in large companies, small teams and departments exist and work together to create products, provide services, and accomplish company goals. There are companies that are currently creating company-wide policies for or against remote work. Some large companies are figuring out what to do with their large commercial real estate holdings that may be sitting empty at the moment. There are internal teams that have the ability to create their own policies for entire teams or certain employees whose roles are best suited for remote, hybrid, or in-person work models. Company leaders and managers should consider alternate work models and understand that it may not be smooth immediately and may require constant adjustments. By conversing with managers and employees, companies can create work model policies that provide fair treatment to employees without sacrificing the quality of their product or service.
Inclusive Work Environments
As companies reconsider their approach to work models and treatment of employees, inclusivity must be top of mind. All employees, remote or in-person should be treated fairly. This is in terms of access to technology, company benefits, and opportunities to learn and advance. The everyday, casual connections that happen in the break room or at the water cooler have reduced or gone away for some work teams. These interactions were often when employees connected on a deeper, more personal level and got to know each other as people instead of just coworkers.
So, what can replace the water cooler environments that encourage casual chatting and connecting with coworkers? If a team works within a fully remote or hybrid work model, there are still ways to connect and enjoy each other. This could be time for sharing anecdotes, pictures of pets, or planning a safe gathering that allows some face time. These are little moments of connectedness that I often took for granted when working in an office. They help you get to know your coworkers, create trust and camaraderie that will bring more success to your work projects and initiatives.
Safe Interior Environments
Some of the resistance to returning to an in-person work model could be due to a fear of getting sick or bringing sickness back to an employee’s household. These feelings should be validated by managers and addressed appropriately based on the company’s policies and values. There are many approaches to providing a safe, clean interior environment that can ease the concerns of employees in regards to contracting COVID or another virus. As we inch closer to colder weather, concerns about the flu and strep throat are definitely valid as well. Programs like Fitwel certification that we have discussed in another post here on The Thread can show employees that their employer is dedicated to providing them with a safe and clean working environment.
Managers may increase the space between desks and/or provide partitions between workers. Meeting rooms often force workers to sit closely, so meetings could be held outside or in larger rooms to maintain social distancing. Break rooms may need to reduce their seating capacity and alternate eating areas can be created. These are generally quick adjustments managers can make to their in-person work environments. Just like all management approaches, some individualized treatment is required. Some workers may thrive in remote environments, while others perform better with the structure that a day in the office provides them. Regardless of the work model, it is imperative that managers check in with their employees and take action to provide the best work environment possible.
How Technology Can Help
Technology is evolving right alongside our work models. Tech companies have stepped up to address the pandemic and its unique challenges. Many remote work softwares are free or provide tiered pricing that matches a company’s current size and needs. Since many of us are still developing the best ways to work during a pandemic, many softwares offer a free trial. Seeing how a program or software works for your team prior to purchasing can be extremely beneficial.
Additionally, webcams and remote meetings are advancing ways to keep people connected and reduce screen fatigue. There are ways to chat with the participants of most web-based calls as well as provide quick reactions in the forms of emojis or chat messages to the entire group. Camera options such as blurring backgrounds or changing background scenery are helpful for those without a dedicated office or that may have a pile of laundry behind them (guilty!). Advanced camera settings can provide a 360 degree view of a conference room and amplify the speaker’s voice and focus on their face. This allows remote workers a more immersive experience and more connection with those working in-person.
Thanks to cloud sharing, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other technologies, workers can access their work anytime and anywhere. This was useful prior to the pandemic, of course, and still offers employees the ability to work remotely if allowed/required. Even if an employee works in-person at the office everyday, technology allows them to still complete work remotely if they need to stay home to care for a family member or are sick themselves. This kind of flexibility can help productivity levels stay up and gives companies and teams a quick transition strategy in case an unforeseen event like a global pandemic happens again.
Where Does Sustainability Come Into Play?
Work models can contribute widely to sustainability efforts. I mentioned above that companies are reducing their commercial real estate holdings and allowing employees to work remotely. This reduces carbon emissions by reducing the amount of commutes employees otherwise would have driven daily. It also rids the company of a building that is being heated, cooled, and maintained, but has no occupants. There are commercial office spaces currently that are not being used, and their owners may have to get creative on how to repurpose the space. Many office buildings are being converted into apartment buildings, adn better yet, mixed use developments.
Companies that are committed to providing work models that “work” for their employees can also benefit by promoting and providing employee health programs. This could be physical fitness initiatives, partnerships with local gyms, and even providing rooms and spaces that promote wellness and physical activity. These efforts can be a part of providing employees with safe, healthy working environments. It can also boost morale, employee camaraderie, and work performance.
For any team, and especially remote teams, another way to promote connectedness is volunteer and charity efforts. These efforts can take on many forms and can benefit programs like food banks, soup kitchens, clothing and toy drives, etc. Companies that support their local communities encourage commitment and loyalty from their employees and attract new employees.
Which One is Best?
That question is best answered by managers and team leaders. The correct work model is the one that works best for them, their employees, and the company as a whole. The chosen work model must maintain productivity and the levels of performance that match company goals. A company culture can be promoted through its adopted work models. For example, if a company values collaboration with clients, it can showcase its ability to collaborate internally via advanced technology or socially distanced meeting rooms. Clients will appreciate the company’s adoption of technology and commitment to safety. Another company may promote its value of speed and timeliness in delivering its product or service. That company can highlight how it has increased its speed with new discoveries in efficiency brought about by the pandemic. These are just examples, but you can see how the work model is very much a part of any company’s culture.
Your company culture and approach to work models is important in talent attraction, employee retention, and employee productivity. Start the conversation with your employees, managers, and leaders about the work model that’s best for your team.