It may seem 2019 was not that long ago, but in a short time the pandemic has transformed cultural shifts and company values to make much of the business landscape unrecognizable. Organizations have gone through a transformation CEOs expect to see over the course of a decade. Some senior managers have been slow to allow full time remote work, the adoption of hybrid and full-time remote models during the pandemic have reimagined the office space and the ability of employees to be successful outside of the normal in-person office experience.
A survey in January 2021 by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) of employee and employer perceptions compared to June 2020 found that even more employee respondents viewed themselves having increased productivity working from home than in the office (34% in 2021 vs. 28% in 2020). Executive perception of productivity also increased – more than half (52%) said that average employee productivity improved (vs. 44% in 2020). While the desire for an office hasn’t been eliminated by the forced move to work remotely, many employees are now fighting to retain their home office set ups at least part time instead of returning to the five-day, in-office schedule. The same survey found that most employees preferred a three day in-office/two-day remote schedule upon an office reopening, with most executives willing to accommodate this arrangement.
With the evolution of the office space and a change in thinking around what’s needed for companies to be successful, CEOs and their management teams need to maintain a balance between supporting employee expectations for post-pandemic flexibility of work arrangements and maintaining a strong company culture. If done properly, one does not have to be at the expense of the other. Here are three ways CEOs can support flexible work and encourage a positive work culture:
1. Establish a clear and ongoing internal communication strategy.
Company culture ultimately boils down to the beliefs, values and behaviors of the people that work there. Corporate culture is not the physical office itself. Finding ways to instill the sense of values and beliefs that make up the backbone of the organization is a good practice regardless of what remote working arrangement a company has adopted. CEOs should identify the values of the company and ways to weave this into all aspects of the employee experience, from adding language to the organizational website to incorporating value-centric language into the onboarding process. Without the benefit of in-person all staff meetings or hallway conversations, there may be limited opportunities for employees to interact with upper management, so establishing routine and consistent communication is critical in the remote work environment.
2. Position remote work as a performance incentive.
Large tech companies were some of the earliest to shut down when Covid spread and were by their nature, the quickest to adapt to a remote work structure. Some tech giants including Google, who traditionally has had a stellar track record of creating enviable office environments, are now adding stretches of remote-work time as a work benefit so employees can take two or more weeks of working vacation from wherever they choose and not have it counted against their PTO. CEOs should similarly consider ways that the hybrid office environment could be structured to encourage high performance, such as additional work-from-home privileges for achieving business objectives coupled with traditional in-office rewards such as a personal office or parking space.
3. Create workplace structures that support mentorship and growth.
In the PWC survey, the majority of employees who expressed a desire to return to the office tended to be younger and less experienced and didn’t want to lose out on the benefits of mentorship, in-person meetings, and team outings that have traditionally fostered relationships and broadened networks. The virtual workspace makes it easier than ever to arrange for quick check-ins between managers and all levels of staff via tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Slack that are now considered office staples in most corporate settings. In the hybrid work environment, these activities can be supplemented by traditional in-person interactions to ensure work expectations are understood, goals for performance are clarified, and relationships are fostered among colleagues. Rather than hoping managers will take the initiative to mentor junior staff, CEOs can make it an expectation at the c-suite level.
Senior management reviewing return-to-work strategies have an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine what the new normal of their office will look like. They can innovate and create wraparounds that support and encourage a healthy and productive company culture. By being proactive in designing structures that promote company values, reward engagement, and motivate mentorship, executives can ensure that the new normal of the workplace is one that benefits both the company bottom line and the workers who make it possible.