Workplace Trends
December 23rd, 2020

GUIDE

A 5-Minute Return-To-Work Plan For HR Leaders

At the start of the pandemic, an outpouring of blog posts and articles touted the benefits of remote working.

Nine months into the transition to virtual workspaces, the honeymoon is over and companies are analyzing the long-term effects of having a 100% remote workforce.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s the deeper understanding remote working has given leaders regarding the needs of their employees as well as the company.

According to a recent survey, although many employees want to continue working remotely at least part of the time, 75% want some access to a physical office space.

Face-to-face meetings have benefits that can’t be replicated online, such as building and maintaining social capital.

Learn how some global business leaders are applying the lessons learned to ensure that when they open their doors again, they will have an even more vibrant workforce.

The benefits of face-to-face meetings

Re-opening your doors takes careful planning and an understanding of what works best for your company’s culture, workforce, and operations.

Deciding what needs to happen in person versus virtually, as well as the workplace technology needed to facilitate this, are important parts of the planning process.

Authentic connection

Some people thrive in an in-person environment, depending on their personality, work style, and job requirements.

Think about extroverted salespeople. Building rapport is easier when people can meet for lunch in an environment conducive to socializing. This also applies to maintaining those relationships.

Since so much communication consists of body language and subtle facial expressions, connecting with a two-dimensional, partial version of someone on Zoom is more challenging.

On the other hand, accountants, writers, and computer programmers may find the frequent interruptions and steady flow of work chatter characteristic of an office setting to be distracting.

One study showed that the benefits of working from home may not outweigh the costs, such as social isolation. Even introverted employees or those who work in jobs that require long periods of focus may find that remote working isn’t all they had hoped it would be.

Collaboration + innovation

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is not a fan of remote work. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said the inability to have face-to-face meetings has been a “pure negative.” Certain crucial functions, such as debating ideas, are more challenging when done online.

On Bloomberg Television earlier this fall, Ruth Porat, CFO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc, expressed similar sentiments.

“We believe that when people are together, that’s a critical element for innovation. Collaboration helps support innovation,” she said. This includes collaboration that happens with those outside of your team. “It’s collaboration and it’s serendipity.”

An office setting provides a space for this magical combination to happen, such as getting coffee in the break room between meetings, grabbing lunch at a nearby cafe, and attending office celebrations.

Even something as simple as overhearing bits of conversation in the hallway can help spark ideas and reveal new pathways for collaboration.

When a workforce works remotely 100% of the time, these chance meetings won’t happen.

The result? Your company may look like a row of silos instead of a dynamic web.

Cultural preservation

Maintaining a company’s culture in a virtual setting is more challenging for some companies than others.

Take Google, for example. Its Mountain View campus, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, offers free meals to its employees and features volleyball courts, a bowling alley, and many other amenities.

These may seem like fun perks, but they also add to the innovative, collaborative culture of the company. The layout and decor of the office, amenities, and office parties are all physical expressions of the company’s culture.

Equality

Working from one’s personal space can be so — well — personal. Videoconferencing remotely forces workers to invite their co-workers and bosses into their homes, which can be uncomfortable.

While some employees may be living in large homes with a private, quiet space to work, others may have to work in the living room of a tiny apartment or at the kitchen table near rowdy, restless children.

Those sharing a living space may have more responsibilities laid upon them when working from home, such as being the errand-runner or dealing with maintenance issues.

Compartmentalization

While your employees may not miss the stress of rushing out the door in the mornings or sitting in traffic during their commute, when working from home, they are always at work.

Having a dedicated workspace can ensure a better work-life balance for your employees and may also help with focus.

A hybrid workplace: the best of both worlds

A diverse workforce has diverse needs, and the shutdown has brought these needs into greater awareness. While companies may save money on real estate by giving up physical space, they lose innovation and collaboration. So should companies remain virtual or reopen?

For many companies, the answer is clear: Do both.

In the Bloomberg interview, Porat revealed Google’s plan for a hybrid workplace that combines some remote work with on-site collaboration.

“If you can save people commute time, you have better access to talent because you’re solving what people want in their personal life,” she said.

Requiring time in the office for in-person meetings allows both the company and its employees to capitalize both on the “productivity lift” resulting from remote work and the unplanned, innovative conversations that only happen when working in person.

Siemens and Apple are also implementing a hybrid model. What this looks like for each company will vary.

Some will require at least a couple of days of in-person collaboration. Instead of expanding at its corporate site, Amazon is opening smaller offices throughout the country, making a hybrid approach much easier to implement.

Others, such as Slack, will offer the option of permanent remote work.

“In the past, the physical office was the default space for work — from grabbing a small room to check in with your manager, to convening a large group to brainstorm on a whiteboard, to catching colleagues in the hall to hear about their weekend plans. While we’re still navigating exactly how and when our offices will reopen, we expect them to look quite different: fewer amenities . . . and more options for focused solo work.” — Robby Kwok, Slack CEO

 

What is the back-to-work timeline?

Although the advocates for in-person meetings are eager to return to work, many of them are not fully opening up their spaces until the summer or even fall when they feel it’s safe to have people together again.

Netflix won’t reopen until the majority of people have been vaccinated. Apple will open in June, while Google has pushed back its reopening date to September.

Although fully re-opening your office may seem like a long way off, that time will go by quickly, so planning now is crucial.

One of the things your company needs to decide is how well remote work versus in-person meetings suit your workforce and whether you’ll reopen in stages or all at once.

Whichever way you decide to move forward, you’ll need to ensure the effective integration of on-site and remote employees as well as safety in the workspace.

Teem’s comprehensive yet affordable Return-to-Work Starter Kit allows your employees to reserve their workspaces, check-in visitors and more, all from their mobile phones. Even better, you can implement it within hours. Start your free trial today. 

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