Workforce shifts and how to make best of people coming back to offices
While the discussions around whether work from home or office is better have gained prominence, let us not forget this situation is as much about unemployment. The US alone has witnessed unemployment levels at twice the pre-pandemic numbers reaching an astounding 6.2%
What was first thought to be a temporary job loss issue owing to the pandemic, is now appearing to be permanent by a vast majority
We must also realize that the pandemic pushed for solutions around automation. With emerging AI and its growing capacity to automate work, this has also been a contributing factor to job loss.
Organizations have witnessed a massive spurt in investments to develop AI and other possible automations.
With the odds stacked against the common worker, can we afford to move towards a society that simply does not care?
The answer is no, absolutely not
We do not attempt to address the issues of unemployment as such - this is a topic for a broader and more in-depth discussion. What we can certainly address, however, are those who are still employed. We need to take a closer look at the way organizations work to help their staff go through this often painful transition.
First and foremost, let's talk about the issue of whether work from home is better or we ought to consider bringing people back to the office.
This should not be a binary discussion, an informed, open approach needs to be promoted. There are certain activities owing to logistical and reasons of infra that may absolutely require people to work from the office. Equally so, we have seen people successfully contributing productively throughout the pandemic when working remotely.
Perhaps a hybrid model would work the best
According to a Gensler U.S. workplace survey that was conducted online on a sample size of 2300 plus US workers the following important stats emerged
29% responders would like to work full time in the office
29% 1-2 days at home
24% 3-4 days at home
only 19% full time at home
The hybrid model seems to have a favourable impression on the other side of the spectrum as well. As per a report published by Kayo Cloud and quote
An eye-opening 82% of respondents envision a hybrid model where employees work from the office three days a week
A hybrid model may be the optimal solution as some key concerns have emerged with a purely work-from-home model.
An interesting research by Gallup has discovered a trend called the 'Wellbeing-Engagement Paradox'. The study talks in great detail about the impact of work from home that has led to increased levels of stress amongst particular groups. Not everyone can afford personal space at home that will allow them to work without distraction. For some who are living alone, the office was an important source of interacting with others.
The below quote is particularly relevant to our discussion
It is from the book 'Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work’ by Michael Lee Stallard, Sep. 2020
Cultures that intentionally connect people to their work, their colleagues, and the organization as a whole convey several performance advantages upon those organizations, including a cognitive advantage that makes people smarter and more creative, higher employee engagement, tighter strategic alignment, better decision making, a higher rate of innovation, and greater agility and adaptability to cope with faster changes taking place today.
Even in a hybrid system, the office space will need some reinventing, business as usual is not an option anymore.
- Ensure that you give your team a voice. Include those who are affected most in the discussion. Do not try to force a solution that was achieved without listening and empathy.
- Physical architecture may need some change. While owing to Covid norms around distancing have to be respect - but an intelligent and sensitive design that is built with humans in mind can solve for warmth and safe positive interaction.
- Managerial patterns need to change - a shift from monitoring work to monitoring output is crucial.
- Training is essential, try to engage experts who can develop material that will help your team navigate through this phase. Change may be overwhelming but with help, this can be achieved.
We don’t know where exactly we are heading with the whole covid scenario. While new variants emerge, the technology around vaccines is also rapidly improving. It is difficult to predict if we shall weed Covid out like smallpox or will it stay with us for some time to come. The important thing is to learn from this experience. To prepare for the future. We cannot deny that in the future similar communicable diseases will not follow. This uncertainty shall remain but if history teaches us something, if we choose to learn from the past we can certainly respond better in the future.