On a near universal level, if there’s one thing office workers all have in common right now, it’s that most are working from home (Eighty-eight percent by recent estimates). For some, this has been a relatively easy (and welcome) change. For others, it’s very challenging. For companies that are trying to manage a remote force, many are seeing productivity drop or change, as many workers are also trying to take care of children and juggle responsibilities – while being on the clock. For whichever work-from-home spectrum you may find yourself on, the big question everyone is asking is: How should office culture change, post coronavirus?
One thing that stands out about the current pandemic is how much more control the post-coronavirus office workforce will have than in previous upheavals. During the financial crash of 2008, those workers who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs found themselves working harder – and many with decreased perks – because their companies were financially squeezed. The corporations gained an upper hand. However, in this current coronavirus pandemic, employees may have way more sway over new office policies, as their concerns about their health moving forward will likely give them an edge when it comes to how corporate policies are shaped.
If you’re in HR or upper management, take note of this last point: Your employees need and will want to have input on what post-coronavirus office like looks like. Here are some tips to ensure your new policies reflect what they’re comfortable with.
Tip #1, Post-coronavirus office life: Learn where your employees are at first
Even though you may still be “seeing” your employees daily (virtually, of course, on platforms like Zoom or GoToMeeting,) this is very different from seeing them in person. The pandemic has caused financial and emotional stress for many people, and this will likely affect your employees’ well-being and even their perceptions about their job goals. Before your office opens up, take an employee assessment to see where people are at. Are they especially anxious? Have their work priorities changed? Do they feel behind? How has the pandemic affected their job metrics and annual career goals? You can work with a neutral market research firm to come up with quantitative assessment measures, which the research firm can send out confidentially. This will give your HR and management teams a benchmark to know how to readjust quarterly and annual goals and expectations. If you find that employees are highly anxious and their stress level is above-average, make sure you coach your management team to take it easy and re-adjust expectations. Employees may not have the capacity to go back to 100% after they return to the office.
Tip #2, Post-coronavirus office life: How should the physical work office change?
Employee medical records are highly confidential, so even HR executives may not have full-insight into how many employees have vulnerable health conditions that may make them especially uneasy about returning to an office. To ensure confidentiality, work with a neutral market research firm who can confidentially interview employees (and assemble the data anonymously). This will provide insights for the management teams on how the actual physical office space may need to change to help people feel comfortable. Do employees want to have their office desks spaced farther apart? How to they feel about current cleaning protocols? What should the new norms of socialization and even hand-shaking etiquette look like? How should your company manage business travel? These and a myriad of other questions are likely on your employees’ minds, and if there is one thing you can do before you start to implement new policies it’s simply this: Listen to them. Work with a trusted research firm who can interview employees (phone interviews, called in-depth interviews, work very well for these types of questions) to understand how employees want to see office policies change before they feel comfortable coming back to work.
Tip #3: Post-coronavirus office life: Do employees want to telecommute more?
For some employees, the time that they save by not commuting helps decrease stress and improve productivity. While certain employees may be highly-self motivated and find they thrive working from home, others feel they need the collaboration and social interaction to keep them at their best. For most companies, 100% work-from-home policies aren’t feasible, but there may be a balance to strike, post-coronavirus, as some employees may request, and prefer, more flexible work-from-home policies. This is where sensible HR policies need to be written that take into account the new world we’ll be stepping into, post-coronavirus. Listening to employee input is crucial in shaping policies and procedures that ensure employees’ wishes are taken into account, while still maintaining corporate goals and in-person office culture. HR teams can collaborate with a research firm to gather input from employees, through focus groups and one-on-one interviews (which can all be done virtually) to understand how people would like to have flexibility baked in to post-coronavirus policies.
Post-coronavirus office life will be different. Will your company be ready?
As eager as most of us must be feeling to return to a post-coronavirus world, where shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted, and we can return to the office (and restaurants!), that doesn’t take away from the need for careful planning. The obligation falls on workforce leaders to shape careful policies – driven by employee input – that will determine what our new work culture will look like.