Workplace: The Next Generation
What was your favorite part of working from home? The ability to have uninterrupted thinking time, fewer in-person meetings, no commute, money saved on gas and food, fewer in-person meetings, pantless Zoom meetings, more time with your family? Or was it the commuting time that transformed into more work hours, the chance to stare critically at your face and the TMI of other faces in endless Zoom meetings, the fear of “out of sight, out of mind”, every day becoming Blursday… and more and more and more time with your family?
What was your favorite part of being an essential worker when most of the world was at home? The lack of traffic? The freedom from being interrupted by non-essential co-workers and meetings? The ability to leave your house, bursting with kids being homeschooled and a working-from-home spouse?
Or was it wondering whether your colleagues were actually working versus lying around in their sweats binge-watching Netflix and drinking quarantinis, while you were worrying about your risk?
“All of the above” is what people are telling me. As things are opening up, the pros and cons of working from home are raising good questions. Is “work from home” part of the new normal? Full-time, or part- time, or a mix? Required or optional? What about jobs that can’t be done from home? How do we manage WFH employees? How do we ensure that the work is getting done? For people working from home, their concerns include managing work/life balance, and the necessary discipline to do so.
WFH is not for every person, nor every job. Some jobs require full-time presence at the job site, while other may allow for a mix. Other jobs may be able to be done remotely 100% of the time, but the individuals need some actual face time and interaction with colleagues. It’s also critical for teams to have some regular in-person time with each other. Many businesses used video conferencing during the lockdown primarily to enable employees to see each other’s faces and connect. Let’s look at some of the factors to consider as you move to the next generation of the workplace.
Will working remotely work for my business?
It’s not an all-or-nothing. You have about six-eight weeks of real experience to help you evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what can be improved. Under normal circumstances, the concept of “work from home” would have involved multiple committees, recommendations, and a trial period followed by more of the same. Maybe a two-year project. Instead, you got thrown into the deep end of the pool with less than a day to figure it out. You’ve had the trial-by-fire version.
Review positions and jobs.
Which ones require full-time, in-person attendance? Which ones can be done completely remotely? Which ones are hybrids? Dig into the position descriptions and look for opportunities to make changes.
Talk to your team.
Who is interested in WFH? Full-time, or part-time? Most people who have never worked from home before have expressed a preference for flexibility and a mix— perhaps working from home 2-3 days a week, and in the office the other days. Others want to work remotely all the time, while there are many who prefer the regular routine of going to work every day.
Once you’ve determined the preferences of your team, you need to look at the compatibility of their preferences with their job requirements. If they don’t align, the person will need to consider the possibility of changing their job, if that is an option. Another important factor is the track record of employees who want to work from home. Do they consistently meet their goals and deadlines? Have they demonstrated sufficient reliability and the ability to work independently with minimal supervision? Again, you’ve had a trial period to provide you with some important evidence.
How will you assess productivity?
One of the time-honored, if less than accurate means of assessing the elusive work ethic is showing up. Coming in early, staying late and having a great attendance record equals a hard-working employee. In “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, the lead character got to his desk just before his colleagues and boss came in, threw his head down on the desk and acted as if he’d spent the night. Along with a few other tricks, this got him fast-tracked to success. I’ve personally worked with similar people- all appearance, no substance. Yet they got great reviews and promotions. What about results??
The most effective and accurate way to assess productivity is agreement on goals, deadlines, time frames, and details. Less emphasis on process and more on results. This is particularly important if you are looking to attract, motivate and retain millennials, who are more outcome-focused than process-oriented and seek flexibility in the workplace on when, where and how to do their jobs.
The old ways aren’t necessarily the best ways!
Managers have expressed concern about being able to manage people they can’t see. We’ve already discussed the criteria you should use when deciding who can work remotely – dependability and a proven track record, someone who meets deadlines and goals with quality work. If you’re really concerned about a need to watch someone, that person may not be the best candidate for WFH. If your concerned about whether they might be walking the dog or throwing in a load of wash during “work” hours, you’re stuck in the old and generally ineffective way of determining productivity. If they’re getting the work done as per your mutual agreement, what does it matter what time they do it? Obviously they would need to attend scheduled meetings and phone calls and be able to be reached. These are details you need to define and agree upon in advance.
Set up regularly scheduled times to touch base. Some managers are fine with weekly check-ins, while others have regular “end of day” calls with individuals or groups, where they discuss what’s going on and any issues that may have come up during the day. Adjust your check-in schedule according to the needs of your team.
Managing remotely involves much the same process and tools as effective delegation. Make sure scope, tasks, objectives and deadlines are clearly defined and understood. Encourage open communication for questions and clarification. Listen, be available, have regular check-ins and provide constructive feedback.
Last but not least, recognize the fact that you are dealing with tremendous change. Change is not a thing; it’s a process that requires communication, time and patience. This change is just one part of the huge changes we’ve all experienced as a result of the Covid-19 virus. Hang in and remember that we’re all in this together, and together we’ll prevail.