2021: Not Business as Usual
On October 11, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy announced a significant change of course from their previous policy that would require its employees to return to their offices at least three days a week, effective January 2022. The new policy will now allow directors to decide how much time their teams will spend working from home (WFH) or working from anywhere (WFA) based on the needs of the individual team, the workers, and the best interests of their customers. In his remarks Jassy noted that “there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for how every team works best…we’re going to be in a stage of experimenting, learning, and adjusting for a while as we emerge from this pandemic. All of this led us to change course a bit.”
Amazon’s announcement sent many Seattle-area employers scrambling. With a LinkedIn poll indicating that flexibility is the fastest rising priority of high-value job seekers and a PriceWaterhouseCooper survey that indicated over 65% of their employees are looking for new jobs with hybrid options, and 88% of its executives are experiencing higher than usual turnover, the competition to attract, motivate and retain talent just got fiercer. Apple and Google pushed their return-to-office date to Jan 22 while reassessing their plans, while Microsoft delayed their return date indefinitely. Those employers who are out ahead of the change curve are in much better shape to compete than the ones who decided to take a “wait and see” approach while hoping things would return to business as usual.
Adapt, or die. The history of business is littered with the detritus of the companies that failed to innovate when faced with Brobdingnagian change: Blockbuster, Kodak, and Blackberry are among the more well-known. Along with that guy who made buggy whips and insisted that horseless carriages were a passing fad.
Seattle’s Death Wish Coffee President Mike Pilkington succinctly summed up the current status of the traditional workplace. “Death to the standard work week.”
The future (and the most sought-after talent) has always belonged to the nimble and agile-those who are quick to recognize, acknowledge, pivot and adapt.
Here are the key components of a successful transition to a hybrid workplace:
- Start with a jobs assessment.
Determine which jobs can be done remotely, either full or part time. If a job requires the employee’s presence at the office or a work location, it is ultimately the employee’s choice whether they want to stay in that job or post for a WFH job.
- Assess people, too.
Not all people are suited to the requirements for WFH or WFA. If an employee is unable to keep their end of the contract, they lose the option.
- Measure the right stuff.
The old way of managing production depended heavily on observation, based on the belief that people work more and harder when they know they’re being watched. The lead character in “How to Succeed in Business- Without Really Trying” made sure to arrive at the office a few minutes before everyone else. He then laid his head on his desk, as if he’d spent the night. The erroneous perception that he was a workaholic helped shoot him right into the C-Suite, where he could nap in greater comfort. Measure effort based on results, not good acting skills. If you truly have an employee that needs to be constantly watched, you have a completely different management problem that has nothing to do with location.
- Production is production.
More than a few veteran execs have expressed concern that an employee might be mowing their lawn or getting their nails done during “working hours.” Does it matter, if they meet their deadlines and goals? You may have been used to hashing out a knotty problem at your desk well into the evening, and struggle with your perception of the work ethic of the new team member who leaves promptly at 5, only to get an email around midnight with the solution. If the job requires the employee to be available at certain specific times, such as call center employees, or for a scheduled meeting, be sure that is communicated clearly and understood.
- Develop your management team’s Change Leadership skills.
Most people are uncomfortable with change. Skilled leaders know how to inspire, not simply enforce, and gain their team members buy-in and support.
- Put together a “contract”.
Make sure both the manager and the employee clearly understand and agree on the parameters:
- Exactly what needs to be done (goals, tasks, etc.)
- How production will be measured
- Check-ins (vs checkups)
- Flexibility regarding active working hours
- Specific dates and times that employee needs to be fully present
- Days required to be in office or work location, if applicable
- Lead time required for any changes to work schedule
- Finally, once and for all, put an end to “death-by-meeting” and Zoom fatigue. The SINGLE factor that hurt productivity during the worst of the pandemic was too many meetings.
Make meetings meaningful, or don’t have them. Make them shorter, with a clear agenda. And don’t schedule them at lunchtime!
- Pay attention to the mental well-being of your WFH employees. Check in frequently.
- Repurpose office workspace to create areas for collaboration, innovation, talk, feedback and brainstorming when people come in to the office.
- Continue to ensure that your workplace is safe. If people feel unsure or unsafe they will avoid working near other people.
- Look into the software being developed to help you manage remote work. Workiva connects various apps to help you monitor and manage workflow and is being used by 75% of Fortune 500 companies. DocuSign, in addition to its electronic signature platform, has a suite of new products, including DocuSign CLM, which creates pre-populated agreements with a collaborative feature for remote negotiations.
- Make sure your WFH employees have the technology and internet access they need to do their jobs.
- Partner with your employees for ongoing workplace development and strategic planning.
- Continually review and assess and make necessary tweaks and adjustments.
The next article in this three-part series will consider the pros and cons of WFH and WFA from the employee’s perspective, with some tips and ideas. To read the first article in the series, click on the link under Other Articles.
2019 is in the rear-view mirror. Don’t look back- you’re not going that way.