Two and a half years ago, employees all over the country were sent home from work on what they anticipated to be a two-week work from home experiment. Most workplaces remain remote since that monumental day in March 2020. It’s clear that COVID-19 reshaped how and where we work – for the better in many cases.
In addition to changing the structure of the workplace, people have shifted their perspectives on work and their relationships to their jobs. As indicated by the 4.5 million workers who quit their jobs during the height of the Great Resignation, employee priorities have shifted. As always, American workers prioritize opportunities for advancement and higher pay, but since 2020, there’s a major uptick in a desire for increased flexibility, and improved work-life balance.
As we move to living with COVID as an endemic, it’s clear that we won’t be going back to our pre-COVID ways. In this next chapter, it’s important to create workplaces that maintain employee happiness and engagement while being mindful of organizational needs.
We’ve outlined a few considerations to keep in mind as we navigate this next shift:
1. Encourage conversations around wellness
We have all experienced loss, challenges, or additional stress over the course of the past few years. We continue to experience complex emotions that we haven’t been accustomed to addressing in the workplace before – whether that’s grief, burnout, loneliness, or even languish.
Successful companies have created an open dialogue around these topics recently and should continue to prioritize these conversations over regular check-ins. This helps build trust, comfort, and safety, making employees more inclined to share their feelings honestly and reach out for support. Be sure to offer appropriate support and resources following these conversations, too – providing mental health days, behavioral health resources, and access to wellness programs.
2. Redefine productivity
The concept of the 9-5 workday has quickly disappeared and been replaced with the blurred lines of work and home, as we now have access to work 24 hours a day. This means it’s time to rethink how we define productivity. We should shift our focus to outcomes, rather than effort or number of hours spent behind a computer screen.
Encourage people to plan their tasks around their peak energy levels and to take short breaks during the workday as needed. Research shows that scheduling breaks even as short as five minutes between meetings increases focus and engagement. Taking breaks even reduces stress levels and boosts creativity – especially if you’re able to get outside for one. Here at Careerstone Group, we’re big fans of using the Pomodoro Technique which breaks tasks down into 25-minute periods of work followed by a five minute break.
3. Embrace flexibility
Having become accustomed to working remotely, many would like to continue working this way. A study from PEW Research suggests that 54% of employed adults would like to continue working from home. If you find yourself in that 54%, be prepared to make the case using data and metrics to support your stance and demonstrate all of your virtual contributions.
If full-time remote work isn’t an option for you, this is a great time to make the case for a hybrid work model. Figure out what tasks would be beneficial to work on in person and which ones can be accomplished from home. This can help you decide how many in-office vs. at-home days you could propose. Hybrid work can be the best of both worlds – providing you with some of the flexibility you’re seeking while also leaning into the needs of your organization.
4. Demonstrate empathy
The pandemic brought many personal challenges and stressors upon us that we haven’t experienced before. As we navigate this next workplace transition, we’re bringing all that personal baggage along with us. Showing kindness to each other is especially important right now. That might look like scheduling time for meaningful check-ins with coworkers, setting aside a chunk of time during meetings to highlight achievements, and going out of your way to express thanks and gratitude to someone who helped you.
You never know what’s going on for everyone behind closed doors (or when the virtual camera turns off), so we should continue developing and demonstrating empathy at work. This can be uncomfortable at first, as many of us have a long history with keeping work and personal lives separate, but learning to understand someone else’s feelings and point of view is a powerful tool. You’ll end up fostering genuine connections, building trust, and providing support – all of which will benefit your team and improve performance to boot.
5. Promote transparency at all levels
Transparency at the leadership level is even more critical as business leaders implement widespread organizational change and make decisions on behalf of their employees and their companies throughout this fluid time. How many of us have had our return to office date changed? How many times?! Continued transparency is necessary for continued success and it starts from the top down. At the leadership level this looks like establishing clarity surrounding goals, keeping employees in the loop, and welcoming feedback.
A transparent organization will lead to higher trust at every level of the company. This will promote open and honest communication between employees and managers, as well as between coworkers. People will feel more comfortable raising concerns and asking for help.
No matter where you sit on the organizational chart, you can positively influence your workplace as we enter this new world of work. Start helping guide everyone in the right direction today!