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FLEXIBLE WORK IS HERE TO STAY: How Do We Sustain the Change for Good?
Remote work is here to stay but what does that look like exactly? For many it’s a bit like the removal of the mask mandate: for some it’s scary on a number of levels while for others it’s an opportunity to breathe and feel like a whole person again. Yet, writing about this topic opens up a variety of conflicting opinions and problems. There’s nothing exact about the remote or hybrid work models, except that employers who can offer flexible work have the opportunity to widen rather than narrow the talent pool. All they need to sustain this transformed organizational infrastructure are tools created to retain and empower every flexible worker.
Organizations like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Meta, have summoned workers back to the office while others like Amazon, Twitter and Reddit have more choice in the matter. The disparity between available jobs and available workforce remains massive - employers are still trying to fill jobs post-pandemic, as they attempt to normalize the new normal of work, yet unable to reconcile employment needs amid a workforce shortage. Many workers simply do not want to return to the office for various reasons.
Why do managers favor traditional in-office structure?
Corey Norman, Vice-President of Customer Engagement and Innovation at Hunova, explained that, “Teams were largely never designed to be remote. They were always together. Individuals are managing their time for what is best for them, not what ensures they all log on and off at the same time of day. Yet, social cohesion is absent. Not to mention everyone is physically moving around – sometimes half way around the world.”
A recent report from KPMG expands on this, indicating that remote work is a permanent part of organizational infrastructure, but long term, it could be damaging to workers and employers. Progress made in diversity, equity, and inclusion are diluted along with the organic hive mind idea sharing opportunities of in-person interaction and their cross-pollination. Innovation is stalled because communication slows, so culture cannot be conveyed, and if culture cannot be conveyed, purpose is absent and ideas simply cannot get off the ground.
The thinking is simply that face time is necessary, though not merely Zoom face time. Cultivating a company culture isn’t easily translatable through web meetings, phone calls, emails, and texts. All that said, “while culture for mobility teams is a driving force for skills improvement and scaling corporate initiatives, many global organizations are working it out as either hybrid or flexible work capabilities are augmented along with adaptive measures that necessitate positive change.”
If the Office is so Great, Why Don’t People Want to Go Back?
Since we’re talking about remote work here, some simply have found that they don’t want to return to every day office attendance because the lack of what a lot of salespeople call windshield time was reclaimed to both the heart of life and the quality of work they now enjoy.
“The share of remote workers who would consider leaving their job if they were asked back to the office before they felt safe rose to 55% as of Jan. 6, up from 45% just a week earlier, according to pollster Morning Consult. More than 4 in 10 workers felt unsure about returning to the office, compared with 35% who said so on Dec. 30.”
Before the Industrial Revolution shifted entire families off the farm and into office culture for the 9-5 workday and American Work Ethic, there has been no real event that so completely required an immediate digital transformation, allowing people to work remotely either exclusively or part time. While child and elder care became significant factors that made remote work exhausting to the point of unsustainability, it also allowed others time for reconnection and a simplicity they didn’t know they craved despite the The Great American Burnout that preceded the pandemic.
Once people could return to work, millions didn’t know if they even wanted to continue with the rigor or myopia that Americans associate with a work ethic. Or, parents saddled with facilitating Zoom school distance, simply didn’t have the childcare to return to the office.
It’s an every-changing difference of opinion which can only be grounded in one solution. For those workers who can work remotely, organizations need to embrace remote work in a hybrid or flexible work model. An employee survey proctored by McKinsey last year reported that 52% of workers would prefer a hybrid work model post-pandemic. Interesting enough, by the year 2027, more than 50% of an organization’s workers will be freelancers. The hybrid model is imminent.
While many organizations underwent a digital transformation as a result of the pandemic, others shuttered their doors unable to convert a business to the restaurant equivalent of takeout. While the restaurant comment is a metaphor for the burning platform for organizational change that the pandemic caused, not every business or worker can succeed in one or the other work environments. The gray area is flexible work. It’s not just remote work or hybrid work. It’s flexible work that is both worker-centered and sustainable. It could also lure the 5.4 million unemployed workers who want to re-enter the workforce, back to work.
One year into the pandemic, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index already embraced the hybrid model: “We’re all learning as we go, but we know two things for sure: flexible work is here to stay, and the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted. Remote work has created new job opportunities for some, offered more family time, and provided options for whether or when to commute. But there are also challenges ahead. Teams have become more siloed this year and digital exhaustion is a real and unsustainable threat.”
How Do We Manage Our Remote Teams?
First, let’s look at the two main problems with managing remote teams:
- Engaging remote workers and teams is already difficult in-office, so how can managers engage workers and teams and encourage collaboration within the flexible work model?
- Workers and managers are challenged by the remote or hybrid business environment, unable to identify skills gaps or tools that facilitate career pathing, upskilling and career coaching.
First it comes down to trust.
Optimist and Author, Simon Sinek, claims that the first step is to, Empower others with trust. “Trusting is a necessary risk for a leader. If we give people a sense of control and autonomy, we end up with healthier and happier teams.
Apart from worker engagement techniques like Zoom happy hours, yoga and meditation wellness breaks, engaging employees requires endless endurance. Companies like Accenture, have even given employees virtual reality headsets, experimenting with doing town halls and meetings as avatars in the metaverse. The trend makes the translation of vision actionable and transparent. Regular check-ins with workers and managers, one-on-one meetings and tools that offer both growth and connection are structurally necessary and may vary from person-to-person. They are also proven effective.
Employers Need Tools to Manage Flexible Workers
According to a Harvard Business Review article, “About 40% of the 215 supervisors and managers in our study expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely.” If managers do not feel empowered with tools to do their job, trust across all organization segments isn’t possible.
That said, in his book, Dream Teams, Shane Snow, by way of using the Russian hockey league, explains that letting talented people do what they want to do creates organizational success. When you let talented and hardworking people do their job while helping them create a career roadmap, the organization thrives on team success.
Workers also need to trust that their work environment will be safe and flexible, while organizations extend trust to their workers that the job will get done. Time in a chair, a good worker doesn’t make, and is a superficial construct of an archaic work habitat template.
Communication Creates Shared Trust
Another layer of trust involves communication. Cross-functional communication can engender trust and collaboration across departments and worker functions.
When Omicron hit toward the end of last year, Bloomberg reported on the issue. While at face value the reluctance was one of personal safety, after two years of pandemic-enduring trauma, sources agree that the return to office concerns are much deeper. “’When organizations don’t communicate effectively about what the future looks like, it creates uncertainty and can cause people to quit,” said Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace and wellbeing at Gallup Inc. “Matching what employers and workers want going forward is essential, because work will never be the same again.’”
Communication is at the core of collaboration. Further, team cohesion and innovation stem from the exchange of ideas within a network that can quickly solve problems and respond to market conditions and opportunities. Change occurs when adaptable team members know what to say to who, when. That network of relationships and access to the right people isn’t so obvious when you have people divided into their individual productivity pods.
Another recent article from The New York Times stated in a giant and bold headline, “The Pandemic Reminded Us: We Exist to Do More Than Just Work: “We need that truth now, when millions are returning to in-person work after nearly two years of mass unemployment and working from home. The conventional approach to work — from the sanctity of the 40-hour week to the ideal of upward mobility — led us to widespread dissatisfaction and seemingly ubiquitous burnout even before the pandemic. Now, the moral structure of work is up for grabs. And with labor-friendly economic conditions, workers have little to lose by making creative demands on employers. We now have space to reimagine how work fits into a good life.”
What Does the Future of Work Look Like?
A recent Gartner report reframed The Great Resignation as The Great Reflection, wherein people are Rethinking what work should actually look like. What it should look like is a balanced approach that allows people-centered rather than a transaction-centered ethos with a digital ecosystem to understand and support not just flexible work, but the organizational network as a whole, including team composition and communication, with the uniquely human worker at its core.
“When it comes to technology, organizations have focused a lot on replacing in-person and analog operations with digital constructs — because they had to. But now we have an opportunity to leverage technology to improve every facet of the work experience. The best-designed technology (think artificial intelligence) helps people be more human, and organizations will need to get serious about total experience: the combination of interactions, aptitudes, and value creation and delivery that are at the core of work.”
Hunova is an enterprise insights and solution tool based on people analytics including relationships, skills, psychometrics, and work style preferences, offering unbiased and validated data on human capital. Our products provide far reaching organizational benefits across every segment of teams, management and individuals. Visit hunova.com to learn more.