For a whole year now, the question of when and how the return to work after the end of the pandemic will take place has haunted both managers and ordinary employees.
While vaccine distribution is well underway in some regions, and a recent survey found 79% said their CEOs plan to return employees to the office, teleworking and virtual meetings will not disappear any time soon, or perhaps never.
Returning to the offices will make certain changes both in the physical aspects of work and in the way we communicate with each other. Will meetings in break rooms and parties in the office kitchen still be relevant? Will the balance shift in favor of remote workers as they are better informed than their office counterparts?
Remote vs Office: What Do the Companies Plan to Do?
In the UK, a recent survey by the CIPD found that 71 percent of employers said: “remote work” either increased employee productivity or had no effect on it. Therefore, according to sociologists of the Institute of Directors, 63 percent of managers plan to allow subordinates to work from home from one to four days a week, and some will even be allowed to independently determine the hours of work.
Nor are they planning to say goodbye to the remote form of work in the United States, where, according to a report from the Upwork platform, in 2021 every fourth resident will work remotely. Therefore, many companies continue to adapt to these realities based on the experience gained over the past year.
For example, Marketing Refresh will minimize the number of working video calls, believing that redundancy is detrimental to performance. According to the Remoters website, many organizations set up "virtual coffee breaks" to maintain a friendly community.
The pandemic has also spawned a completely new phenomenon - the tourist places suffering from the absence of guests literally hunt for remote workers. Hawaii has developed a Movers & Shakas program for out-of-state Americans working remotely. They are offered to come to Hawaii and work for their company from there, while the host party will bear the cost of the flight and guarantee a discount on accommodation in local hotels. In return, program participants will consult local startups in various forms or allocate time for volunteer work. It turns out that such immigrants will spend the money earned in other states in Hawaii, thereby compensating the local tourist business for losses from tourist downtime, and at the same time supporting the local business with their experience.
In France, the "obligation" to work remotely, for violation of which was recently fined up to 15 thousand euros, will soon be over. From June 9, employers will decide for themselves what to do with the "remote".
Small companies, especially startups, have completely adopted this form of work and are not going to give it up. For example, the insurance agency Easyblue plans to work 100% in this mode even after the end of the sanitary crisis. Moreover, some employees intend to move out of town, where life is cheaper and more comfortable. But every quarter, the director will call his subordinates to Paris so that they can communicate with each other for several days.
Indeed, as revealed by a survey of the French Institute for the Study of Public Opinion IFOP, 55 percent of people come to the office not only for work, but also for communication, sometimes informal. This is especially important for young people. According to experts, we should not forget that offices are a space where a connection between employees and the enterprise is created, common ideas are born, motivation increases, and therefore, ultimately, productivity. The pandemic has spawned many ideas for hybrid forms of work - from renting a place for an employee near his home to moving to exotic islands.
This is understood in large corporations, where they tend to a hybrid form of work. For example, the telecom company ALE will offer its employees a mixed option: work in the office a few days a week and the rest at home. Moreover, without any restrictions in one direction or another. According to the head of the personnel department of the company Eric Leschelard, "remote work complicates the management of the company, does not fully understand the mood of people."
Finally, experts believe, the attitude towards the workplace will change. Under the new conditions, it will not be assigned to someone in particular, but will be treated as an ordinary means of production that can be used by any employee who happens to be in the office.
Dealing with Post-Pandemic Workplace Situation
In this case, the main questions that need to be answered are: What to do with tasks that are best made in person, if many employees today prefer to work remotely? How will the division of the workforce affect corporate culture in the long term?
The specific answers to these questions will vary depending on the organization and the situation each CEO faces, but the tips below can help.
1. Leaders should not make final decisions ahead of time. When uncertainty lies ahead, it is important to avoid steps that either create unrealistic expectations or limit the range of available alternatives. The key to success is to gain time to gather more information and to be able to choose for as long as possible.
2. When discussing return-to-work scenarios, leaders should keep their own preferences to themselves. Top-level government officials are taught not to voice their opinions too early to military and intelligence advisers, so as not to affect the quality of the analysis. Likewise, at this stage, CEOs should ask questions and refrain from making statements for as long as possible.
3. Do not overly trust the data obtained through employee surveys. Many companies ask workers how many days a week they want to spend in the office after the pandemic ends, and if they want to at all. Most of the comments boil down to the fact that once it is safe to return to the office, many will prefer to continue to work from home for most of the week. However, opinions often change. What people say after sitting at home for a year may become irrelevant by the fall, especially if by then they have lived several months under relaxed restrictions.
You should also separate the opinions of employees and managers and interview them separately. Many managers say that working remotely is more frustrating than satisfying because their responsibilities include tasks that are very difficult to do remotely.
They need to provide interaction between teams, advise them, resolve issues with employees and problems of relationships between them, and read subtle cues in day-to-day work that indicate communication difficulties. If these tasks are not performed well, morale, team efficiency and ultimately innovation suffer. Managing people remotely is always more difficult. Therefore, managers' opinions on a return to work plan must carry special weight and matter more than those of their subordinates.
4. The size of the company is an important factor in decision-making. A large company, unlike a startup, needs predictability and routine, since the risks and consequences of mistakes are more serious. Large organizations need to rely more on formal politics and a sense of fairness, which limits their ability to make individual decisions that are acceptable to small companies.
5. Do not dwell on the technological problems of remote work. When it comes to decisions related to going out to the office, the main question is not “How can we use technology to increase the efficiency of remote work?”, but “What can't we do well if we go too far in the passion for remote work?” and "What does 'go too far' mean?"
The CEO must take into account the costs of over-reliance on telecommuting. Real teams (unlike nominal ones) cannot be created online. Creativity requires spontaneity and regular, unplanned, sequential action. Loyalty and dedication to a common goal requires people to go through good times and bad times together, shoulder to shoulder. Employees who describe their telecom experiences for a year say discussions have become shorter and more superficial and that there is less time to think and analyze the situation.
6. Do not blindly imitate well-known companies (such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Adobe and Oracle) that have announced plans to move to permanent remote work. The most active in defense of permanent deletion are those who benefit from it financially, primarily software developers. Remote workers use technology products and social media more than office workers. That is, tech companies are interested in more people working remotely. And it's not always worth taking an example from them when developing your own policy.
What’s Next for the Workplace?
Mark Zuckerberg has pledged that by 2030 at least half of Facebook's 50,000 employees will work from home. A few days earlier, Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter and Square employees would be allowed to work "exactly where they feel most creative and productive, even after offices start reopening."
These leading tech companies have spent a lot of time building highly-equipped campuses that are as seamless as possible for talent and ideas to interact to entice their employees to spend as much time in the office as possible. COVID-19 has shown them that their staff can be just as, and in some cases, more efficient by staying at home.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella isn't sure about this. A complete rejection of office work for the sake of telecommuting is "replacing one dogma with another," he explained in an interview with The New York Times. “We may be burning some of the social capital that we accumulated at the stage when we were all working remotely. How can this be measured? " Nadella asks.
Remote work is helping companies weather the current crisis, but what do company leaders want from it in the long run? Higher performance? Savings on offices, travel, and salaries for employees living in lower-cost regions? Improving morale and reducing employee turnover?
In fact, more or less active use of remote work is not a point change in a previously stable management system. Working from home is a system in itself, in which there are many interdependencies, both personnel and technological. These include:
The technologies (which you have or need to build) you need to keep your system running, including tools for collaboration, creative challenges, and productivity.
The resources (your physical presence, people, technology tools), rules, practices and processes your system needs to function. These include HR tasks such as staff relocation and development and remuneration, operational issues such as office design, and logistical challenges such as creating temporary jobs for remote workers when they need to work in the office.
The rules, regulations and key metrics you will need to implement, maintain and improve your culture and values.
You can model this system to some extent, but its characteristics will have to be revised after they come into contact with reality. Do not expect the system to start successfully the first time.
It’s more than a year since most offices closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, there is a reason to expect that the pandemic will be over soon. That’s why so many companies are beginning to seriously consider returning to the offices.
Return to the office, stay remote, or incorporate a hybrid model - all require thinking of the employees and what will be the most effective, convenient, and safe way to fulfill their tasks. Global pandemic showed us that people can be flexible and transform the traditional notion of the workplace into a modern and productive solution.
If you're looking for a software developers team that will be perfectly matched with your industry, technology, team dynamics, and company culture - contact us so we can answer all of your questions.