The Workplace of the Future
Auntie Em, Uncle Henry…you’re not in Kansas anymore!
Coming out of the chaos of the last 18 months, I’ve noticed that the people I work with have changed somehow. They sound the same and look pretty much the same, but they seem different. Kinda like Dorothy’s friends in the Land of Oz.
Has anyone else noticed it?
No, really. In the whirlwind that took us from Spring 2020 to Fall 2021, it feels like they changed while we were apart. Or was it me who changed?
What’s really changed is the workplace. While the difference may not as drastic as it was between Kansas and Oz, it may feel like that in some companies. Change is inevitable, yes, but poorly led and managed change on such a large scale can be the beginning of the end for previously well-led organizations.
The most obvious change is whether people are still working entirely at home, full-time at the office (if there’s an office left), or a hybrid of the two. Whatever the new work policies are, and how we came to the decisions about them, there’s a good chance we’ve alienated a fair portion of our workforce. So, what does the workplace of the future look like?
Lots of people are anxious about getting back out there after such a long time in some state of isolation. Just getting back into an office with co-workers in close proximity and a commute that suddenly feels awkward can be intimidating, but having to sit in a meeting wondering who others have recently been exposed to can be downright paralyzing to some. Not to mention trying to avoid controversial topics in casual conversations in the breakroom.
That doesn’t bode well as we approach the end of another year and are trying to play catch-up to reach our 2021 goals.
So how do we as leaders decide what our future workplace is going to look like and how we’re going to ensure our teams can meet expectations? The first thing we have to remember is that nowhere in our organizations, departments, sections or teams does one size fit all. Where they work is different, what they do is different, and what we expect of them is different.
- Start by focusing on what kinds of interactions between our workforce is critical to the success of the team (however we define it). Creativity depends on a different kind of interaction than routine information exchange. Some departments can get by mostly using phones and computers (HR and accounting come to mind) requiring much less face-to-face time in the office.
- If it doesn’t matter what time of day (or night) a person’s work gets done as long as it meets expectations and is completed on time, why should we care when or where it gets done? Just one consideration as you decide who needs to be on-site daily.
- Choice is important… within limits of course. The days of believing that everyone is more productive at the office than at home are long past. Does that mean each employee gets to decide where they’re going to work and on what days? The best answer I can give is maybe. It’s at least worth having the conversation.
Employees’ sentiments change over time, so what they wanted in 2020 might not be the same at the end of 2021. What won’t work is re-establishing the old schedule with strict daily attendance policies.
- Just be transparent in the decision making. Regularly listen to others to generate ideas and gain a higher level of buy-in.
- We’ve gotten used to virtual meetings; do we have to go back to sitting around the conference room table? If we’re still measuring a meeting’s success by who attends rather that what get accomplished, we’re still doing it wrong. And if we haven’t figured out how to have hybrid meetings by now, the IT team isn’t doing their job.
- Speaking of meetings, what about reacting to the boss’s ever-changing meeting schedule? I would argue if that kind of flexibility is required, it’s easier to adjust virtually than physically, especially in the case of geographically separated offices.
- Finally, we have to be willing to make different decisions when new information comes to light. I wasn’t alone in thinking – initially anyway – we were returning to some semblance of normalcy earlier this summer. My kids are mostly grown, so I didn’t consider the ramifications of a parent having to stay home with a quarantined school-age child – or two back-to-back.
If we can let people work from home when their kids are sick, what’s keeping us from letting them work from home when their kids are healthy?
One last thought: talk to each other! No one in our generation of leaders has faced a global disruption in the workplace that we have – and are still having. You are not the only one having to make hard decisions about what the new normal will look like; others in your C-level and executive leadership circle are facing the same kinds of tough choices. Ask others what’s working for them and share what’s working for you. Together we can build a better workplace for the future.
There’s no clicking of heels and wishing things would go back to the way they were. It doesn’t have to be as crazy as the Land of Oz, but we’re never going back to Kansas again.