We have a choice. Was working from home a passing necessity? Or is it now part of your longer-term operation? In all the recent change, teams have reevaluated many aspects of their operation to adapt to the quarantine. With restrictions slowly lifting, workers will be returning to their offices in the coming weeks under new conditions. This is an opportunity for leaders to engage, shaping and improving their company’s longer term business model and team dynamics going forward.
- Can productivity be optimized by allowing for more remote work?
- Does the company need to rethink the purpose and use of office space?
- What safety precautions need to remain in effect while uncertainty persists and Coronavirus treatments and vaccines are being developed?
- What do you, as a business leader, have to consider before reentering the workplace with your team?
In February when uncertainty first started gripping the world, was your company prepared to operate remotely for an extended period and on short notice? Probably not—few were.
There is still a great deal of uncertainty about the coming months, but at least leaders now have the opportunity to prepare a plan. Moreover, both leaders and team members have been forced to work in a different manner for nearly three months. Experiences from this time can be instructive. I would like to offer, from my role as a business coach, insight into lessons learned as well as how to apply them in the road ahead.
Working remotely during quarantine has necessitated thinking of new ways to organize a company. Under conventional circumstances, many of us worked independently even though we were together in the office. When team members left the office for quarantine, each of them faced unique situations at home, requiring different schedules and tools to continue their work.
Team members have always had distinct needs. In the midst of change and uncertainty, people appreciate the ability to balance work demands with personal obligations, not to mention the valuable time freed by eliminating the commute. With the flexibility to plan their own schedule, some became more productive and engaged.
In the office, the same principles apply. Employees will be engaged and reach their peak performance when their leaders understand and respond to their individual needs. Personal obligations will remain once offices reopen, so the flexibility valued during quarantine will remain significant going forward. In fact, Gallup found in a recent study of U.S. employees that the optimal time spent working remotely is between three or four days each week.
How is the team improved in delivering its work or in the engagement of its members when they work at home or in the office? The resulting arrangement may vary from company to company. Even when remote, providing the environment for employees to be engaged is the leader’s responsibility. This approach to organizing a team, although unconventional, may prove especially fruitful for the foreseeable time and not just to the extent aspects of this crisis proves to endure longer than initially expected.
The quarantine gave leaders the chance to understand the nature of communication, trust, and coordination that is necessary for their team to function. As the economy reopens, leaders have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they gained from reflecting on this experience to reform how the company uses its office.
- Who really needs to be in the office and for what purposes?
- Could an office be used primarily for collaborative projects, while individual work is done at home?
- Reducing the number of days that employees who use public transportation must commute also reduces their chances of exposure.
In cases where returning to the office is necessary, the leaders and managers are responsible for ensuring the safety of the team.
- Does the office building have sufficiently safe procedures in place to allow for hygienic use of the space?
- Will desks in the offices have to be rearranged?
- And how about the communal kitchen?
- Can teams or groups be scheduled to work from home, while others work in the office, switching off periodically?
As we engage, we seek to respond well to COVID-related health concerns, economic uncertainty, as well as our deep need to acknowledge the pain, anger, and division across our country in recent weeks. How can we listen to one another, and then pursue the hard work to seek to understand and develop a team that works stronger together for the future?
This is an important time for leaders to develop plans to prepare the company for safe and hygienic operation. This also is an unexpected opportunity to innovate on the company’s business model. We have a great need to find a new way forward, together. There is no better time for leaders to help guide their company to a better place. Let’s make good use of it.