Welcome Back To The Office, Perhaps…

It turns out that how work gets done has been changed forever
It turns out that how work gets done has been changed forever
Image Credit: RedCraig

As though we didn’t have enough to do, now managers are being asked to help the company to once again reopen our offices. The Covid-19 pandemic send everyone home for a year or more. As the vaccine becomes available and the pandemic seems to easing, more and more companies want their workers to once again return to the office. However, nothing will ever be the same. Just exactly how are managers supposed to go about helping with the reopening of the workplaces that we used to call home?

Nothing Will Ever Be The Same

Our companies are inching closer to reopening their offices, but it’s clear that the way that we work will never be the same. It was two years ago that companies began emptying out as the coronavirus started spreading across the U.S., a move that was quickly mirrored by most offices nationwide. Today, many team members have no interest in going back to the way things used to be. In their quest for new talent, managers will have to do what it takes to hire and retain team members who feel empowered to demand the schedule and location of their choice. Even when the pandemic is over, many managers believe work flexibility will be a staple, hiring will be more geographically dispersed and workers will spend their time differently than they did before, with designated hours they’re available to collaborate with coworkers and other periods where individual work is the priority.

We need to understand that our sense of place has been permanently disrupted. Managers who try to force staffers back to offices in rigid ways will lose credibility with their teams. That’s just not going to be the way that teams go forward. Let us all agree that our sense of place has been permanently disrupted. At some companies team members will be returning to the office a few days a week. However, the future of work is flexible and now managers need to see that office work is a new canvas on which they can develop newer ways to work that will both make people’s work life and their personal lives more fulfilling.

Many companies are creating polices where workers can work however they feel most productive and creative and that includes working from home full-time forever. Office every day? That can work also. Some days in office, some days from home? That will be permitted. Perhaps one of the most lasting ways the Covid-19 pandemic has altered the workscape is in how we hire. Distributed and asynchronous work is the now and the future for most firms. Hiring like this means that managers are not limited to their own backyard.

How Work Will Be Done In The Future

Managers need to understand that where people work can directly impact how people work. Once teams scattered in the Covid era and started performing their roles from all over the country, managers explored ways for them to balance collaboration time with colleagues with focused time for individual work. Enter the concept of “asynchronous” work, where employees get to set their hours in part by what schedule best suits their lives. Many companies have “core hours” where team members are supposed to be available to jump on a call or huddle with their teams. These firms encourage employees to set their Slack status to “focus time” when they’re handling individual work or “connecting,” as a way to signal their availability to collaborate.

We don’t have all of the answer yet. There’s still a lot for managers to iron out in order to make asynchronous models run smoothly. Probably the biggest challenge to sort is what is being called the “collaboration tax”. This comes about because workers can’t string together enough hours in a row to focus, so they sometimes work well beyond the traditional 9-to-5 schedule, with alerts signaling requests coming to them from all over the internet. Going forward savvy employers will find ways to help people shrink their online time. The hope is that there won’t be the expectation that you need to be online for 10 hours a day, always available to other people.

Instead, teams will need to do more front-end planning for projects and then send team members off with tasks and deadlines. For some teams, hybrid models can work where people come in on set days of the week, while other teams might need to work from an office for five days, two weeks in a row, to create a plan for a project; then they could work from home for several weeks as they deliver that project, with online check-ins in the meantime. The pandemic has taken down the boundaries between team members’ personal and professional lives, and many managers are saying that workers’ mental health and wellness concerns will continue to bleed into their workdays. Conversations that may have once taken place with friends outside of the office now feel natural among team members, who have grown accustomed to supporting their peers during the pandemic. Manager believe that it will continue to be more acceptable for employees to talk about their mental health and the state of their personal lives at work – and to expect support from their managers when they do. We’re moving into a new world now where managers have to be aware of every team member individually, what they need and how they work best. So there is no longer a one-size-fits-all with work.

What All Of This Means For You

The pandemic is over. Well, maybe not quite over but has become much less of a disruption than it was in the beginning. What this means for managers is that our firms would like to try to get back to “work as usual”. They would like to see if it is possible to get all of their remote workers to once again work in the office. As managers we are going to be the ones who are going to have to learn how to navigate this new world.

One of the challenges that managers will be facing is that many of our remote team members may not want to return to the office. Work flexibility is going to become a key part of everyone’s job. The pandemic changed everything. Managers need to understand that how people work has been forever changed and we are going to have to be the ones who help people determine when and where they want to work. Firms are becoming more flexible in where their staff work. There has also been a big impact on how hiring is done. Many firms are implementing “core hours” to allow various members of a team to work together during the day. Workers are going to have to find ways to manage all of the alerts that they get during an average day. More planning of how projects will be done is going to be needed. Team members need to feel free to talk about things like mental health issues.

Managers need to understand that the way that the world used to work has gone away. We are now living in a brave new world where everything has been changed. What this means for us is that we need to realize that as managers we are going to be called on to help our team members remain productive members of our team. This means finding ways to allow people to work different hours and from different locations. It’s back to work; however, works looks a lot different than it used to.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How often during a week do you think that a team should all get together?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When the pandemic hit and everyone went home, it made life difficult for managers. However, there were some benefits for us. One of the biggest benefits was that all of sudden a lot of the things that distracted us while we were at work like coworkers who talk too much and hybrid meetings went away. However, as everyone continues to return to the office, all of sudden these distractions are once again creeping into our lives. What’s the best way for a manager to deal with them?