It's that time.
The weather is improving, the masks are fading, the workers are returning to the highways and the offices.
Or are they?
With the lifting of mask mandates (varying by state), a significant portion of office workers who primarily work on computers are finding little attraction to resuming clicking and clacking in cubicles again, finding their work-from-home productivity is comparable to before, if not increasing, and yet hundreds of years of office-work is a hard habit for employers to break. So, how to share the bad news? Should there be any bad news at all?
Returning to the office - this decision must be driven by Culture rather than just an Ivory-Tower Order.
Culture is a 'pull' mechanism while orders are a 'push', and given the inviting feel of one's own living room, it will take a strong pull to get people back in workspaces with dress codes and behavioral standards (plus, no Netflix!).
With that in mind, I've come up with five points every People Manager could use to hone in on their team's Right Fit needs for a post-pandemic world.
Face time isn't FaceTime: Let's get something out of the way - video is NOT the same as being there. We've had a year of Zoom calls with the inevitable lagging connections, tech issues, unexpected guests, wandering eyes (checking emails while on calls) and my favorite, the video off all the time, every time. We know that more than ever, there's nothing like being face to face. Now don't get me wrong, we can get a LOT done over video conferencing, task-wise, but if we really want to build a strong personal connection, work culture, team culture, there MUST be a regular in-person visit and meeting. Especially when new people join or a new team or project is being launched.
Keep the good people: By far, the greatest ask of a good People Manager in these times is to hold on to the longest-tenured, battle-tested and dedicated people in their team. You know who they are - the ones that always come through for you in a time crunch when there are unforeseen bugs and complex problems. The ones that seldom complain or ask for anything. These people, believe me, have offers, whether sought or unsought. Keep them in your team and fully motivated because you never know when the next crisis may hit.
Mind the competition: With the shrinkage in commutes regardless of location, your best talent can log on to any office, especially if they're a techie. Keeping an eye on what other companies (or even teams in your own company) are offering is critical to knowing how to balance between your needs and the constant comparisons that will inevitably be made.
Work + Team = Teamwork: So now it starts to become clearer - the work can absolutely be done remotely, the team MUST regularly meet, albeit with relevant safety guidelines, so that a team culture can be built. This is the key - if you want strong people on your team, give them some remote work flexibility. If you want a strong team, and for that team to work synergistically, the in-person aspect is essential.
Finding Balance: You may say, that all sounds good, but what is the right way to go about it? Think of it this way - whatever can be done in the cubicle, can probably be done in the living room or home office. Whatever needs a conference room for 1-2 hours, probably can be done in person. ALL conflict management MUST have an in-person component, even if accompanied by virtual check-ins. Team building and alignment are an ongoing cultural practice in any healthy workplace.
Let's be honest - the hidden piece here is that everything has changed. Every person has changed. A lot of people are carrying new stress and anxieties, even with the vaccination program nationwide. Being there for each other and letting them check in on family is an ongoing essential part of work.
We used to talk about "work-life" balance - that's when we believed that work and life could be separated. And they can be, to a point, maybe even should be - for our own good. It's just that 10% overlap between the two - not more, not less - that keeps things in harmony.
Life is built on finding meaning and purpose, such as work, so as owners of companies and managers of teams it's up to us to make sure that work and the workplace is meaningful, purposeful, and full of life.