Over the next several months throughout the summer and into the fall, companies - public, private, non-profit, for profit and educational are making the big decision about what the structure of work will be into the future. Will workers return to the office, full time, part time, or at all? Workers have demonstrated that the work was getting done while working from home and without a physical presence in the office. Time is saved on the commute,
interruptions are limited, meeting via Zoom or Teams still enables people to see and hear one another well. And bosses have done their best to determine who is getting their work done and who is not. Some companies have even sold and/or repurposed their physical workspace anticipating that the same number of people working in the space prior to the pandemic, will not be returning to that space. While solving for this new reality is stressful and complicated, it still offers companies an opportunity to think and act differently; and a few important realities have been revealed.
One of the first realities and perhaps one of the most important is that workers are now including in their decision-making process about where to work, what the work practices are in any given company. Must they work in the office, can they work from home, how flexible is this policy? Those companies that are wetted to only one way, and if that way is the “pre-Covid” way, they may find that workers will ultimately vote with their feet. In a current economy that is desperate for workers, accommodation and flexibility could well be the new watch words.
Working from home, while lonely at times especially for younger, single, workers, still has not been that bad. They have discovered that where before they were in the office from 8:30am to 8pm, they can now get it all done between 9am and 5pm. They have been able to go home earlier and enjoy an after- work life that used to start so much later making getting up the next morning difficult. All have been able to flex the day to get everything that they wanted to done even if later or earlier in the day. Those workers with families, have been busy and in many cases have struggled to manage their children who were out of school at the same time they were working from home. The parents still standing, have been trying to perfect the work/family balancing act, and by the time we return to work, they may well have figured it out. Work/life balance has taken on new meaning since Covid; every family has had to make enormous adjustments so that family life was able to succeed. Now is the right time for the employer and its leaders to enhance the work culture to better support their employees’ ability to balance their work and their lives with family. In my book, Leading a Life in Balance: Principles of Leadership from the Executive Suite to the Family Table, I talk about the improvement to work performance when employees and leaders seamlessly integrate their family life with their work life. Open communication with the workforce can identify what adjustments to policies and practices could be made to create the supportive work culture people are looking for today. We will not go back to the way it was.