Insights into the Future of Work

In the wake of a pandemic that transformed our business interactions nearly overnight, many are asking, “What is the future of work?” From changing dress codes to reconfigured office spaces, companies and employees alike are trying to understand which aspects of the pandemic-driven changes will stick, and how to move forward.

The most obvious and widespread impact was the dramatic increase in remote work. Before the pandemic, Americans on average spent five percent of their working time at home. However, by spring 2020, the figure was over 60 percent and growing. Both parties agree that the shift has gone better than expected. People adapted. Teams got used to new ways of working. So, now that restrictions are easing and employees are able to return to the office, the question is — will they want to? And as a leader, what does that mean for you?

What Employees Are Thinking

Employees report that they are working longer hours at home, but with higher levels of happiness and productivity. They love the flexibility and ideally would like to work from home (WFH) half the time. The biggest benefit of WFH is the time saved on commuting. The biggest downside is the sense of isolation due to reduced personal interaction.

What’s the Right Mix?

The right mix depends on your company and the type of work you do. However, a recent study by McKinsey estimated that up to 25 percent of workforces (not including proximity-critical positions) could WFH three or more days per week without lost productivity. This represents nearly five times more remote workers than pre-pandemic levels. According to CBRE, the commercial real estate services and investment firm, nearly three-quarters of companies expect to support some level of re-balanced work style going forward.

Leading a Remote Team

If you find yourself transitioning from remote work as a short-term stopgap to a go-forward strategy, here are five tips to help manage your new normal:

  1. Schedule daily check-ins: Your team needs to “see” you, if only for 10 minutes a day. This reassures them they are being led and helps them feel supported, even when you’re not in the same location.
  2. Communicate more than before: Physical separation can result in employees feeling isolated. Maintain a sense of connection through extra proactive communication, guidance, and mentorship.
  3. Leverage technology: It’s your job to keep everyone connected. Numerous platforms exist for virtual interactions and brainstorming. Make sure your company is investing in and using them.
  4. Manage expectations & focus on outcomes: Accountability can only be achieved when very clear outcomes are defined. To help make sure your team meets expectations, you may need to spend more time setting clear deadlines and deliverables.
  5. Be flexible: Each team member has different life challenges when working remotely. Trust your team and give them the freedom and flexibility to get work done on the schedule that helps them be the most productive.

The Final Word

While some of the pandemic’s effects may be temporary, the collision of the physical and digital worlds has changed the workplace and employee expectations in ways that will persist into the foreseeable future. These days, the first thing I get asked in every interview is, “What’s your remote work policy?” Whether you’re a company or employee, make sure you have an answer and a plan.

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