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JOE SHERREN: Working virtually in a post-COVID world

Many companies are now planning to extend their work-from-home policies beyond the pandemic.
Many companies are now planning to extend their work-from-home policies beyond the pandemic. - 123RF Stock Photo

Many employees have been working from home during the COVID-19 crisis and managers are hoping, when it is over, their employees will come back to the office and all will get back to normal. That may not be the case. Many companies are now planning to extend their work-from-home policies beyond the pandemic. This might be good news for some employees, but devastating for others, since not all employees look at working virtually the same. 

I believe there are six types of employees who have been sent home to work remotely. These include:

  1. Desperate to return to the office (I can't work with the kids around me!)
  2. Itching to get back (I put up with this, but I really don't like it)
  3. Willing to come back (Working from home is OK, but I miss the office)
  4. Reluctant to come back (This remote working is great!)
  5. Unwilling to come back. (After this, I do not want to come back to the office)
  6. Unable to come back. (The family structure is now permanently changed)

To make matters worse, office life will forever be different. We do not know specifically how different, but right now I believe the office of tomorrow will have:

  • On-going social distancing: Desks will be spread out with dividers between them and private offices will be a premium. Work schedules and breaks will be staggered. Break rooms and restrooms will be reconfigured. 
  • Tech tools: Now that we have climbed the steep online learning curve, Zoom will be more the norm.
  • Personal protective equipment: When walking about, we will be wearing face masks and maybe gloves.
  • Medical screening: Workers will use a single entrance and receive temperature checks and disinfectants. They may also be asked to sign a form confirming they do not have any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Travel: Will be minimized and there will be fewer large meetings.
  • Touchless tech: Doors will open automatically, elevators will take voice commands, and Alexa will now be part of the staff.
  • Sanitation: Frequent cleaning, improved ventilation systems, and UV lights for ongoing disinfecting.

Before you sound the call to return, consider the following:

  1. Stage the return. Rather than everyone showing up on the same day, bring people back in "waves".
  2. Allow time to reconnect. For each wave, invest in the first day back in the office allowing people to reconnect, acclimatize to new check-in procedures,
  3. Rethink your belief system.  For each employee, ask yourself, does that function need to come back full-time? Separate the function from the person you might be surprised to find that roles you traditionally believed needed to be in the office no longer need to be in the office five days a week. 
  4. Reset expectations. Management by walking around is basically gone. So, redefine “walking around” to support your virtual and organizational reality. Face-to-face meetings will now need to be re-evaluated and decide which ones are truly necessary.
  5. Reshape the culture. In BC (Before COVID-19), remote workers were less common. Yes, they were part of the team, but often forgotten during regular F2F meetings. Now they will include more bonding time at the beginning of every meeting. 

Could we possibly go to 100 per cent virtual? It sure looks like it – we just did. We are a herd animal and our culture has been built around diverse people, working together in diverse locations, supporting each other. That is what makes us who we are and keeps life interesting. We like each other too much to want to be separated all the time.

Every work environment is different, so think through what could possibly get in the way of your team coming back and working successfully together. Then put in place measures to make sure those bad things don't happen!

Eventually, many of your remote workers will come back to the office — and several will stay at home working in various degrees. So, managers should be intentional about making their entrance into their "new normal" as smooth as possible.

My question for managers this week is: What are your plans to ensure the smooth integration of people returning to the office environment?

Joe Sherren is an international business transformation specialist. 

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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