For nearly 20 months, we've been pondering what the great "return to work" will look like. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the greatest disruption to the working world in recent memory. Fortunately, advances in technology, production work-a-rounds, and nimble leadership have helped certain organizations maintain (if not thrive) amid chaos and uncertainty. With each working day in 2020 came another adaptation. In 2021, we've prepared ourselves for a return to normal. As a future without perfect forecast lines ahead, we are all doing our best to keep our heads above water (intent on swimming again).
There is an assumption, with the proper protocols in place, we would return to work as it was. That has yet to happen and we may have to consider that it won't.
Many workforces have maintained productivity. Commutes have gone away for some. Technical adaptations have been embraced. Some companies have found a way to strengthen revenue again. Many employees report being more engaged than they have ever been.
Employees will return to offices, but in what form? Will remote work be a long-term solution (if even on certain assigned days)?
Will flexibility in where we work strengthen leadership trust or is a line of sight still a requirement for certain positions?
If companies were able to close physical locations what would the cost analysis look like?
If employees were able to cut down on business travel what would the financial impact be?
So many questions evolving and still so few iron-clad answers.
If we can learn from what worked during the great work-from-home experiment and pair those learnings with what worked best pre-COVID-19, we might evolve a greater workforce.
The Ever-Evolving Importance of Technology
When the work-from-home interruption arrived, companies who had a well-formatted tech stack were able to pivot with greater efficiency. As the pandemic moved to a longer-term disruption, the process of inventorying the tech stack became a priority. Companies made efforts to consolidate technical tools while simplifying protected access points. This forced efficiency made for a virtual employee experience that amplified production: more tools that are easier to find under an inter-related business strategy. Some companies were ready from the get-go, others have caught up.
The question circles around which applications are business-critical vs the sunk cost of under-utilized installations.
Here's where we are seeing the necessary impact:
Where are employees interacting intent toward project completion? How are we measuring contribution and how does that relate to goal setting?
Delivery of developmental content is increasingly important. Employees are looking for daily learning opportunities that won't take them through hours of "read and test out" repetition.
The world has been turned upside down while the workload remains. In order to stay productive and engaged, employees need carrots not sticks!
The Now Unavoidable Mental Health Imperative
Isolation causes a number of different mental hurdles. Sure, people may not miss three-hour commutes but they would likely revert for a little human interaction. We're all tired of zoom screens and cell phone conversations from the porch. Simple fact: people need people to thrive! The opportunity exists in companies benefitting from the trust built during the work-from-home experiment. In many cases, employee productivity was amplified without being under the watchful eye of their managers. Whereas managers who have led through control were rendered obsolete. The world now has a comprehensive case study that people can get things done on their own schedule as long as trust drives manager/employee relationships. Employees are happier and more productive. How can we sustain engagement without breaking the trust agreement as in-person work resurfaces?
Discovering Greater Meaning in Work
The Behavioral Economics concept of the dopamine effect shows us that when employees are recognized for meaningful work their brain releases dopamine. This effect causes individuals to find inspiration to try harder and extend beyond their perceived limitations. If you are sitting at a laptop in your living room interacting with people who are driving meaningful concepts into the marketplace, your motivation and engagement will skyrocket. On the contrary, If you schlep around an office from meeting to meeting without an ounce of purpose, you'll likely be looking for another opportunity.
WHERE you work matters far-less than WHAT work means to you. The answer to getting the world back to work is not contingent upon returning to an office or staying at home forever. People need to know that they are doing work that matters and to is rewarded when they prove what matters.
Let's stop wasting time-saving our motivation for the great return to normal. Keep what we need and discard what we don't.