Covid-19 has killed the workplace as we know it, forcing many employers to abruptly rely on virtual work arrangements. Done right and with the proper level of support, the remote work model gives workers flexibility to manage their time and priorities, perform at a high level and remain connected to their colleagues. Done wrong, the remote work experience disconnects workers and has a negative impact on both individual and organizational performance. The risk to employers is real: lower productivity, stifled creativity and innovation, and destruction of company culture.
The decisions made today about the workplace will have profound implications not just on a company’s talent strategy, but also on its ability to successfully compete. Consider a company that orders most employees back to the workplace post pandemic and its subsequent ability to retain workers who value their newfound flexibility. Conversely, consider employers that opt for a virtual workplace model and how they will attract and retain workers who prefer working in onsite workspaces. This is not and never has been a choice of extremes.
With such high stakes, the “right” answer is critical, and the five steps below are key to getting there.
1. Change the discussion from “returning to the office” to “reimagining the workplace.”
Be progressive by thinking about what role the workplace can play in your organization’s broader ecosystem. The current focus on caregiving policies, safe occupancy levels and collaboration technology is instructive that a broader view is needed. Successful approaches must encompass long-term worker wellbeing and flexibility, real estate footprints, and connective tools that help win the war for top talent.
2. Move from “who” should be in an office to “what” should happen in an office.
Rather than asking what roles can be performed remotely, ask what interactions should happen in a physical space for the benefit of culture and to foster innovation. For example, collaborating on critical projects or brainstorming new ideas, external engagement with customers, learning and development activities, and community building opportunities. These interactions are critical for employees at all levels and across business and corporate functions.
3. Embrace “work from anywhere.”
Provide workers with a portfolio of options. Venues for in-person interactions may include a mix of hub offices, satellite offices, on-demand space, serviced office space, working from home and even cafes. Offering choice acknowledges the need for in-person interactions while delivering flexibility and choice to a workforce that will increasingly demand them.
4. Do not assume that one size fits all
Use analytics to shape the workplace that best supports your unique business strategy and talent needs. For example, retail and manufacturing competitors may retain a strong onsite strategy while high tech and business services may shift to a strong remote work strategy. Others yet, such as financial services, may fall in the middle. The data to consider is bountiful — benchmarking, employee preferences, type of work, labor supply, space utilization — and will require close collaboration across HR, finance, real estate and other functions.
5. Acknowledge what’s at stake – a competitive advantage in the war for talent.
Create urgency for your workplace plans. The reimagined workplace can become a critical component of a company’s talent strategy and help boost inclusion, equity and diversity. It can also drive employers’ ability to attract, retain and engage different workforce segments as well as gain access to previously inaccessible talent markets.
The pandemic has had devastating consequences on our global citizens and businesses. While solving the public health challenges remains the utmost priority, it’s not too early to plan for a post-pandemic world. In that new economy, workplaces will not die, but they will be forever changed. And the companies that can seize opportunities to rethink and improve business models and ways of working will emerge all the stronger for it.