Without doubt, many employers were extremely nervous about how COVID-19 lockdowns and work from home directions would impact their business. What would be the impact on productivity and employee engagement, would connections with internal and external stakeholders survive and how does one create a Zoom background to hide the mess in the family room so that your position as a leader isn’t undermined? Indeed, how was business supposed to flourish, let alone survive all the challenges this nasty virus had thrown at the world?
For those who have come through the experience, the learnings raise new questions. What now? How do we incorporate many of the incredibly positive work from home learnings into our businesses in 2021 and beyond? Should we consider changing the way we work?
HR Daily published an interesting case study based on the experience of General Mills that highlighted the benefits of opening the door to ongoing and increased work flexibility. Like many big companies, General Mills felt they were all over the flexible work situation – after all, they allowed their office teams to work half days on a Friday and that could be structured around late starts, early finishes or even working from home. It seemed so incredibly innovative…at the time.
But then COVID-19 popped in and showed General Mills – and many other office-based businesses – just what was possible. Despite the predictions of Chicken Little, the world did not fall in and while there were adjustments that had to be made, many employers have seen great work still coming from individuals and teams alike. Aside from the relief employers felt that work could continue with only a slight blip, the global work from home experiment that COVID-19 triggered is now causing many employers to think about what their workplace structure and onsite requirements will be for those who can now return on site.
There have been a range of surveys conducted across the world, both in house and by third parties, to better understand what employees want now they have had a chance to experience such crazy levels of freedom. And the results are mixed but the idea that ongoing, permanent access to flexibility is apparent no matter who you ask.
For some, a shared house with friends or a young family means that working from home is an horrendous nightmare and they will run screaming back into the office as soon as they can! For others, an understanding boss and flexibility means they can manage children around a work schedule that might involve starting early, taking some time off during the day and then jumping back online later in the afternoon/evening. And there are those that want a mix with some time at home and some in the office depending on the requirements of the day or project.
WORKING WHERE THEY WIN
But what about the needs of the business? If you have seen ongoing and positive work output, it is important to consider requests for some form of flexible work arrangements. General Mills are looking at this very seriously as they look to incorporate long term flexibility into their business model. The principle being that employees should be “working where they win” – a philosophy that HR Staff n’ Stuff is right behind as a philosophy we should all encourage.
Let’s be honest, not everyone is their most productive working within the confines of a noisy office particularly when working on a project that requires an individual approach or the peace to think clearly….like when writing awesome blogs such as this one….! Conversely, there are times when you really need your people on site, and they need to be aware that this flexibility is a two way street.
Something that has been mentioned time and again by many businesses is that they won’t support a full work from home model, simply because they want better cohesion and connection across their teams, and that comes from in person time and organic conversations that occur. You can’t replicate that via Zoom, or schedule time to have an ‘organic brainstorm discussion’. So, it seems likely that the future for many companies will be some sort of hybrid model incorporating appropriate flexibility arrangements that suit both the business and the individuals that are able to perform their work remotely. Sadly, for cabinet makers, retail staff and chefs – the ability to work from home is never going to be theirs!
PLAN AND COMMUNICATE
Yes, yes, once more it comes down to good planning and clear communication. Two areas Team HR Staff n’ Stuff won’t let you compromise on as it will get you into trouble! A highly flexible work environment doesn’t just happen – you need to have structure in place, and you need to communicate your expectations and the company policies to ensure everyone understands that with freedom comes responsibility.
It is also worth inviting your team to answer the question as to what successful flexibility in the workplace looks like to them and how can they support the business in making it work? Engage your team in determining how they can make a hybrid approach work for both themselves and the business overall and you already have the foundations to a successful plan! And as always, if you require additional support in making changes to your traditional work arrangements, HR Staff n’ Stuff can help you sort through the challenges and get the right infrastructure in place to help support a program that allows your business to continue thriving.
The HR Staff n' Stuff team all contribute to our blogs. Enjoy the read!