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We’re going through a paradigm shift in the workplace. What was once a primarily in-office model has transformed into a remote-first working environment. For many companies, the novel coronavirus spurred a sudden and dramatic shift from the majority of employees working in the office to everyone working remotely.
But what would a return to the office look like? How do you balance the shifting preferences of employees? What are the impacts of a dispersed workforce? And how do you create a sense of culture and belonging in virtual environments?
Much like the last year brought a whirlwind of uncertainty, preparing for a return to office life won’t be a seamless transition with easy answers. Employers have complex questions to consider as they determine a path forward post-pandemic.
A hybrid model comes with pros and cons.
Remote work has caught on more quickly than we ever anticipated as a direct result of the pandemic. We’ve proven that we can, in most cases, successfully do it — even for organizations that believed they couldn’t.
A global study by Slack found that 72% of knowledge workers said they would prefer a mix of remote and office work, with the rest split evenly between a preference for working exclusively from the office or exclusively from home.
As it becomes safe to return to in-person working environments, rather than the pendulum swinging all the way back to a primarily on-site model, we’re going to see more hybrid approaches. Some people like the boundaries of a commute and the buzz of an office setting. Others prefer the comfort of being at home. There will be a new balance of how often people visit the office, and why. But it’s important to consider the impact a hybrid model will have on how we communicate and connect.
While the data shows employees are looking for choice, this approach is not without challenges. For example, in-person meetings tend to flow more organically. When a team is fully remote, everyone focuses on a single platform. When participants are split, it can be hard to encourage engagement from both sides.
Global companies have a leg up — they are hybrid by nature. When I worked at a global company, most of our meetings had people in the room and on the screen. I’d intentionally sit so I could view the screen rather than have my back to it. Consider this when setting up your own meeting spaces: Break away from the circular conference-room tables and high-mounted cameras. Instead, stage it so all workers are looking at one another at eye level.
Understand the diverse needs of your workers.
While some individuals have comfortable and quiet home environments, others might face distractions from children or roommates. At Wave, we developed a Return to the Workplace Playbook in response to the very fact that everyone is managing through the pandemic differently.
The magic isn’t finding one thing that suits everyone. Instead, it’s about finding ways to group your workers based on commonalities and building programs and processes targeted to their specific needs. This approach can help employers create environments that are truly centered around employee well-being. You can also let your employees do the segmentation for you. Give them more autonomy, more choice and more control over their working environment.
Along with this, be hyper-aware of the nuances in relationships. It’s easy to develop bonds with people we see in person, as digital interactions don’t always allow for emotional connection. Are you developing stronger relationships with or subconsciously favoring workers who visit the office more frequently? Be aware of this and seek opportunities to build connections between teammates no matter where they are.
Expand your geographic footprint.
While it might be tempting, don’t rush to abandon your office space. New hires who have been onboarded during the pandemic might have been drawn to your company because of the opportunity to one day collaborate in person.
It’s also important to consider how employees’ lifestyle choices might have shifted. Downtown dwellers may have originally chosen to live in condos because they anticipated a city lifestyle with minimal time at home. But since working from home has been mandated, they find themselves needing more space. Many employees might have moved outside of typical commuting distance to meet this need more affordably.
For employers, this certainly opens up a larger talent pool. The flip side, however, is determining salary. Employers often adjust salaries based on the cost of living in a particular area. But when this comes with a salary decrease, it can be tricky to navigate. Determine both the costs of working from home and your cost savings, and see if you can pass that on to employees.
Maintain culture and connection.
It can be tough to celebrate and feel like you truly belong in a fully remote environment. The connections may be more intellectual and process-driven, and less personal.
When we used to hit a big financial metric, I’d bring donuts to the office to celebrate. Now, if I had to ship a donut to every single person, that would cost a lot. So how do you celebrate milestones? A message? Zoom? It just doesn’t feel the same. How do you acknowledge the small moments that contribute to the big picture — how do you recreate the culture of your company?
My advice would be to challenge yourself to look at culture through a different lens.
At Wave, we had a virtual holiday party where we watched a live and pre-taped show together. It was a celebration optimized for Zoom, rather than retrofitting an in-person celebration for a digital medium. To have meaningful celebrations, you can’t hang on to the old ways — you have to reinvent the workplace to suit this new environment.
These are hard problems to tackle, but they also offer the opportunity to build something better than before. The transition won’t be seamless. You must reconfigure, innovate and create a workplace that’s designed for the times.For the original article, visit: Forbes.