We've all been sitting in our home offices for a year and a half pondering the return to our corporate enclaves. For some, the office has opened back up, this means commutes are back and formality might override flexibility. Others may have embraced the work-from-home ideology as permanent, this means longer working hours as lack of commute and in-office distractions free up more time for extra project work. Then there are those who tried to go back and were thwarted by the delta variant. Another group has reconsidered long-term work-from-home structure and have re-opened the office to those "willing to volunteer".
Uncertainty makes it hard to put mandates in place. Leaders have been forced to make organizational decisions without conclusive data; harming their popularity. Employees have a wide variety of opinions about the future of work and sitting at the laptop for 12 hours daily gives them time to interlude to 10,000 articles on the subject.
I talked to a Human Resources Executive at a major Life Sciences organization the other day, her insight was astounding. "At some point, we have to trust that our employees are adults and that they are going to make adult decisions for the betterment of the cause". She continued, "all the policy in the world is not going to build trust across our employee base. We have to believe that individuals understand the importance of their role and honor their team members to fulfill the expectations of their job". Seems simple enough. Could it be that if we allowed our business units to "police" themselves there may be a revelry of self-empowerment?
WFH v In-Office
I've seen some stunning opinions around work-from-home versus in-office efficiency models. It's obvious that there are certain roles that absolutely require in-person interaction. Other roles may serve the organization from afar with greater productivity. There is the argument that saving three hours a day from commute time can be dedicated to extra work. Some believe time in the office with thousands of others only distracts the individual from core job focus.
The primary debate comes down to financial well-being. We see organizations offering complete work-from-home (and often relocation) opportunities with the caveat of reduced salaries. This begs the question.....
Does it cost (or save) the organization money when one chooses to work from home?
Here's a potential breakdown:
1. Cost of Office Space: Let's say an organization owns 25 buildings that are 35,000 sq feet at $5 per square foot per month. If you closed half of these buildings the savings annually would be over $1,000,000.
2. What about the cost of office supplies, in-office dining, system security and facility utilities?
3. Commuting Costs?
.... without having to eliminate offices altogether, reductions could save the organization money while improving employee engagement.
With the above parameters in mind, why would employees have their salaries decreased for working from home?
What Do Employees Really Want?
I don't believe any employee wants to work in complete solitude. You'll note the flocking to restaurants as COVID-19 restrictions were initially lifted. People, for the most part, are tired of sitting around at home. However, this doesn't mean that a total return to the workforce as it was is necessary.
Without physical workspaces, the frills of ping pong and yoga rooms lost luster, was it ever there?
Cash bonuses for hopping companies seem to have a limited shelf life.
To mirror the aforementioned HR Executive's insight, what people want to is be trusted to do great work!
Train, Trust and Thank!
I've spoken to several HR Professionals who admitted that their organization offered just enough training to keep employees progressing but not enough inspire them to leave. That concept always seemed bonkers. In this day-and-age people are thirsty for knowledge (not only that which improves their core performance but anything that will inspire new thinking). TED Talks and Master Classes are being offered up to inspire individuals to think different. We've seen e-learning offered up in "learning snacks" as daily quick hits 5 minutes at a time. There has also been an evolution of "soft skill" development to inspire the leaders of tomorrow to create a fully stocked toolbox.
Transparency took an involuntary front seat during the COVID19 pandemic. Leaders had to step out in front of their employee base and address questions that ranged from Human Rights to Science to Politics (not to mention the core elements of what helps the company thrive). The Manager/Employee relationship has evolved beyond work as mental health has been destigmatized. Our time working from home has taken the veil off workforce formality and it won't likely be replaced.
There is one thing every person wants to hear: I'm Proud of You! It's a terminology that has to be earned to be genuine. 10 years of work and a thousand achievements culminate with a simple conversation with one's boss that reveals those four words. It's also a two-way street... Managers need to engage their employee's trust to earn the right to use those words.
Maybe it's time to stop over-thinking workforce engagement and simply trust our employees to be responsible adults.
Here's to moving forward safely!