This article was updated on 3/5/2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us what it means to work primarily remotely on a global scale. Individuals have adapted differently and developed unique perspectives on how they want to work moving forward. Many people now desire a fully remote work experience, while others find themselves missing impromptu conversations and in-person interactions brought about by the traditional 9-to-5 structure. This invites organizations to reconsider and evolve their expectations and policies around various work styles.
In this article, we share different perspectives to help organizations better support their teams in redefining their best practices to support new ways of working.
Early trends in the world of work
Many individuals who traditionally worked in an office setting now know how to work remotely. As a result, many people have started considering moving part-time to spend more time with family, relocating to another state, and adopting a more flexible schedule to manage work and familial responsibilities better.
Culture Amp’s recent return to the workplace survey reveals that 85% of respondents believe their team would benefit from some degree of remote working. However, 51% also report looking forward to returning to the workplace.
Many companies plan to allow remote work indefinitely. Google announced that most employees could work from home well into 2021. Twitter similarly told employees that they’d be allowed to work from home permanently. This allows companies and people to expand their horizons to a more global range of candidates and opportunities.
People are rethinking what they want to do with their careers to be successful and fulfilled in this new reality. As a result, the online learning marketplace Udemy has seen a 425% increase in course enrollments since last February. People are looking for opportunities to grow and broaden their skill sets.
According to Shelley Osborne, VP of Learning at Udemy, “While the surge of online learning has been accelerated globally by the pandemic, we predict a fundamental shift that will be sustained over time. Continuous learning will provide us with a path forward in this new world of work and will serve as a core muscle to build organizational resilience.”
Continuous learning will provide us with a path forward in this new world of work and will serve as a core muscle to build organizational resilience.
— Shelley OsborneVP of Learning at Udemy
Future business success depends on building more meaningful work experiences now. Organizations with an authentic and mission-driven culture are best positioned to support their people's success and wellbeing.
How to support new ways of working
While there has been a lot of conversation about companies continuing to be fully remote, many people yearn for the day they can return to the office. Still, others would love to find a balance between their former work schedules and the flexibility introduced in response to the crisis. However, this will look very different for different industries and business models. It’s unlikely that everyone will be happy. But there are ways to approach the future of work that will help you both support your team’s individual needs and the organization's success.
Flexibility is key
The shelter-in-place order's greatest gift has been a better understanding of the blurred lines between work and personal life. We’ve seen firsthand the flexibility required to balance dependent care, general wellbeing, and work demands. As a result, most organizations have made space for being more human at work.
Whether it’s a willingness to reschedule meetings or blocking off family time on your calendar, people should feel supported in rethinking their work routine. Not everyone’s “return to normal” will look the same, so flexibility and empathy will be important as people try to balance all of their responsibilities.
Communication goes both ways
Listening to your people will be key in ensuring a smooth transition to supporting all styles of working. Ask your organization what they want and need to do their work effectively. We’re all reinventing the wheel together, so it’s helpful to get ideas from everyone affected. You might create space for these conversations by surveying employees or hosting “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) sessions with leadership.
When making decisions, leaders should clearly communicate them to the team. Ambiguity creates stress and confusion, so whether your organization supports full-time remote work or offers some level of flexibility, make sure the guidelines and expectations are clear.
Provide connection opportunities
Working with a distributed workforce can change the dynamic of the connections typically made between teammates. Virtual get-togethers and team meetings are only one step toward building those connections.
Find ways to bring people together authentically. Consider running wellness check-ins at the beginning of each meeting, leading group meditations, and planning creative social activities, such as a game night, lip-sync battle, virtual lunchrooms, or (safe) 1-on-1 coffee meetups with different people around the organization.
Let culture be your guide
An organization’s core values shouldn’t change in the face of a crisis but should instead be your guide as you determine the next steps forward. Now is the time to really lean into your values to ensure that all decisions are authentic and resonate with your people. Only do things that feel aligned with your organization’s culture. If you do activities like virtual karaoke night but that doesn’t align with your team’s culture, it will be more isolating than connective.
Lead by example
We’ve learned from remote-first work that the workday can look very different for different individuals. For some, working long hours without a break can be easy. However, it might be impossible for those with young children to get any meaningful work done until after they’re asleep. Further, a recent National Geographic article found, “The unprecedented explosion of [video calls] in response to the pandemic has launched an unofficial social experiment, showing at a population scale what’s always been true: virtual interactions can be extremely hard on the brain.”
Leaders and managers should make time to engage and connect with their teams on a personal level. It could be as simple as blocking off time for childcare, taking wellness breaks, or removing work applications from personal devices. This allows the rest of the organization to feel they have permission to do the same.
Leading organizations like Asana encourage leaders to practice mindfulness. Anna Binder, Head of People Operations at Asana, shares, “Mindfulness informs everything we do, from tackling tough decisions in product development to how we onboard new hires and develop managers. Taking the time to be present – meaning aware of our feelings and thoughts – is the first step towards an intentional direction, especially in times as difficult as these. As a team, mindfulness allows us to collectively learn from and improve, and to continually evolve the way we work.”
Embracing the unknown
After a global crisis, there’s no going back to “normal” – and would we really want to? The COVID-19 pandemic has unearthed an array of new working styles and presents an opportunity to evolve the work experience. Let your people and culture guide you as you build connections and best practices in this next phase.