As the post-COVID workplace evolves, the pendulum is swinging between two extremes. On one side, many employers are requiring more in-person attendance with the belief that returning to the office improves productivity. On the other side, some companies allow permanent remote work as a way to attract talent.
Rather than dwelling in the extremes, the way to manage today can probably be found in the middle. With self-reflection, input from colleagues and a genuine desire to foster balance, managers can decide what makes the most sense for their teams — based on people’s roles, the team’s priorities and goals, and how work gets done at the company. Here are some issues to consider:
Square footage is not the measure. Many companies have opted for hybrid work, sometimes with a fixed schedule. One CEO told me recently that part of the workforce at his company is in the office Tuesdays and Thursdays and the rest on Mondays and Wednesdays. While that may enable a company to reduce its office space, this decision should not be based on square footage alone. Far more important is the impact on how people collaborate and experience the culture. For example, are there times when the whole company should have the opportunity to be in the office together?
Unlocking the value of in-person work. A change in the labor market, especially layoffs, has made it easier for some employers to require in-person work. For example, last year, Apple began mandating its employees work in the office at least three days a week to put greater emphasis on in-person collaboration. Google reportedly will take in-office attendance into account in employee performance reviews. A “gotcha” attitude, however, can make in-person work feel restrictive and even punitive. The real issue is what value is created by working together in the same location. Are the best ideas generated when people are physically present? How do team members feel about brainstorming in person versus online? Managers need to reach out to their teams to hear what people value about in-person work — and when it makes the most sense.
Seeking balance for everyone. During the pandemic, remote work and the absence of long commutes improved many people’s life balance. Now, post-pandemic, many employees still prioritize flexibility in where and when they work. Perhaps they relocated during the pandemic, making in-person work nearly impossible. Unless managers understand their team members’ individual circumstances, it will be hard to strike a balance between what people want and what the company needs to optimize productivity.
Check-ins are more than just about work. When I was a corporate leader, I made it a habit to go from cubicle to cubicle speaking briefly with people — not because of a business agenda, but simply to check in about their lives, what help or support they might need, and anything they wanted to discuss with me. Managers today need to replicate this practice. One manager I know convenes a team meeting every Wednesday to talk about the status of projects, timelines, obstacles, customer feedback and new opportunities. However, she never uses this group gathering about the business to check in with people personally. That happens on Mondays and Tuesdays when she calls each team member and has a short conversation about how things are going. Granted, check-ins happen naturally when people are together in an office, but even when they are remote, a simple outreach from a manager can make all the difference.
Managing in the post-COVID world isn’t just about choosing between in-person and remote work. Rather, it’s striking the right balance based on what makes people feel happy and engaged and helps teams be more creative and productive — no matter how and where they work.
This article originally appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business here.