Over two years ago, many of us hurriedly left the office and walked straight into an uncertain future. The dangers of COVID-19 meant most of us had to find effective ways of working from home. We had no other choice. While a challenge initially, everyone settled into a rhythm – only to eventually wonder why the model wasn’t widely accepted much before this.
Fast forward to today, and many people don’t wish to return to the office as we once knew it. We’ve reconsidered previously held notions of what a successful career means. The result is that traditional associations between productivity and office presence have effectively gone out the window.
Teleworking is here to stay
At least one-third of business leaders plan to keep operations remote or hybrid, regardless of vaccinations or the pandemic ending. The decision isn’t just good financial sense – it is in keeping with what most employees want.
The proof is in the numbers. A FlexJobs survey in 2021 showed how 65% of employees wish to continue working remotely. 35% preferred changing jobs to going back to the office, while 33% felt hybrid models were ideal.
The figures indicate a significant shift in priorities. Today’s workforce values greater flexibility and autonomy. Teleworking or remote cultures empower workers to determine when, how, and where they work.
There are clear benefits to this. Control and autonomy over the variables of a working day can increase productivity, work-life balance and save costs from ditching the commute. Plus, we have enough literature that shows remote employees are happier than on-site workers. For businesses, remote cultures provide opportunities to save costs, innovate, and use technology to streamline operations.
On the flip side, we must consider how these rapid changes will impact employee mental health and well-being.
What are the costs to mental health?
Despite an overwhelming preference for working at least some days from home, employee mental health continues to decline. The pressure to always remain “on” is real. Blurry distinctions between work and home lead to employee burnout.
The role of management in a new working world
Executives and HR leaders must help employees navigate the permanent shift to hybrid models by focusing on their well-being. The more clarity you provide, the less stressful it will be for employees.
Leaders must encourage open dialogues to understand employee challenges and how to make the transition easier. Few things can offer perspective and alleviate concerns better than an honest chat. It shows companies value their employees.
Conduct fortnightly or monthly check-ins with the team. Leaders must prioritise checking in as much as project or task updates. Doing so on a regular basis can help address any concerns before they snowball into a crisis.
A process overhaul
Companies planning on staying remote can no longer afford to make things up as they go along. Let’s face it – everyone was doing that at the start of the pandemic. Hybrid or remote workplaces require defined processes to ensure efficiency. Offices must re-examine and re-write employee manuals to reflect a new working paradigm. Remember that there’s no such thing as too much detail. Define everything – from recruitment and onboarding to increments and team-building activities. Companies must be able to carry out all processes remotely or in person.
Conduct surveys or audits to ensure equipment is up and running. The equipment you provide can be the difference between an incredible day or a series of meltdowns.
Avenues for training and reskilling
Support employee upskilling or training programs just as you would for on-site workers. Employees may feel left out or stuck career-wise when they are not in the office. As we seek to rebuild after the pandemic, employees will need new skills to thrive in a new remote workplace. Skills such as critical thinking, self-regulation, and creativity are more critical now than before. Employee training must consider a changing world when designing training programmes.
The priority for employers is to rethink traditional ideas of employee support. Remote collaboration tools and processes are one part of the solution. But systems are only as good as the people behind them. Employers must find ways to provide remote environments that support focus, productivity, and employee well-being.