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The Pandemic Has Permanently Changed How We Work

Companies continue to struggle with balancing the needs of the organization with the preferences of its employees, an unprecedented challenge in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many years ago, I was a manager in a call center. The footprint was large: not sure of the square footage, but there were over 200 workstations. Representatives reported to a manager, all of whom had offices on the same floor and could make use of additional meeting rooms on the same floor. As managers, we fretted about call answer times, call quality, and attendance. Never would I have ever believed that this type of operation could be done remotely. Then Covid hit, and I heard from past colleagues that they had been forced to make remote

Had it been suggested that remote work could be an option that could have been offered to employees at the time, we all would have laughed; there would have been no way anyone would have even considered it: too compex, too much technology to consider tackling, and how would we monitor quality, performance, or attendance? (We've discovered post-covid that attendance has been shown to drastically improve with the ability to work from home).

Where there's a will - or need in that case - there's a way.

At the recent Future of Work Canada conference that our team at TC attended, one of the main topics was around remote work and presented a wide breadth of opinions on whether to embrace remote work, force a full return, adopt a hybrid model, or let individual preferences dictate work arrangements.

The overarching message was clear—there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Companies are having to closely examine their organizational needs and preferences, and measure them against the jobs being done, the preferences of their employees, and their ability to attract and retain staff. Most companies want to provide flexibility for their people, but worry about productivity and loss of collarboration opportunities. Others are drawing the line and saying, we are NOT a remote first company and only those who are okay with that should apply to work here. The point is, there is no 'right' solution, and which way you lean depends on many factors.

The Case for Flexibility

One of the central themes of the conference was the undeniable value of flexibility. The pandemic has irrevocably altered our conception of productivity and collaboration, demonstrating that work can happen effectively outside traditional office spaces. For many, the ability to work remotely has become not just a perk but a necessity, offering a lifeline to those juggling caregiving responsibilities or seeking a better work-life balance.

Where in-office is a requirement, flexibility has found other avenues to apply itself, such as job-shares, flexible hours or non-standard work weeks. The point is that, today, there are options.

Hybrid Work: A Middle Ground?

Hybrid work, a model that combines remote and in-office work, emerged as a compelling compromise for organizations striving to balance operational needs with employee preferences. This approach allows companies to retain the structure and collaboration opportunities of physical offices while granting employees the autonomy and flexibility that remote work affords. However, implementing a successful hybrid model requires careful consideration of various factors, including workplace culture, communication practices, and the nature of the work being done.

Many companies have found that implementing core in-office days for the entire team has been a great solution that meets (most) everyone's preferences.

Customization is Key

Perhaps the most resonant takeaway from the conference was the necessity of customization. The speakers underscored that what works for one organization may not work for another. Companies need to engage in open dialogues with their employees, understand their preferences and concerns, and consider how different work models impact productivity and satisfaction. This iterative process of listening, adapting, and refining is crucial for navigating the post-pandemic workplace landscape.

Here's some questions to get you started:

  • Can we have flexibility in some roles, and perhaps less flexibilty in others?

  • Have we evaluated how cross team functionality works and how it could be replicated remotely?

  • Are we disadvantaging any of our staff with our policies? (Think caregivers, those with chronic conditions, disabilties, or financial hardship, amongst others).

  • Have we surveyed staff to see what they want, what they need, and why?

  • Are our efforts to recruit and retain great team members being hampered by our policies?

  • Do we know what our successful competitors in the space are doing with respect to remote work?

Technology as an Enabler

The role of technology in facilitating flexible work arrangements is a primary concern. Robust digital tools and platforms have made it possible for teams to collaborate seamlessly, regardless of physical location, and investing in the right technology stack is essential for companies leaning towards hybrid or remote models. This is the only way to ensure that employees have the resources they need to succeed. Companies that are trying to have their staff work remotely but not providing the tools to help them communicate and collaborate in real time will continue to be challenged with productivity.

Looking Forward

It was interesting to see so many different perspectives emerge at the conference. These were all larger organizations with the resources necessary to focus on organizational performance and change, and each of them would be in the same boat when it came to attracting and retaining employees. So why were their approaches so vastly different?

To me, it comes down to leadership and their company's culture. It's a highly individualized issue that is ultimately decided by leadership. If their mandate is everyone works from the office, they have a happy and productive workforce and no problem attracting new hires, what's the challenge? On the other hand, if companies are struggling in these areas and have an in-office only policy, it may require some investigating as to why.

Ultimately, it's evident that the world of work will never return to its pre-pandemic state. The Future of Work Canada conference illuminated the diversity of perspectives and approaches to this new reality, emphasizing the importance of flexibility, customization, and technology in crafting work environments that respond to the needs of the modern workforce. In my opinion, companies that navigate this transition thoughtfully and inclusively will be best positioned to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

This article is meant to provide a starting point for businesses and individuals alike to consider the future of work in a post-pandemic landscape. By embracing flexibility, leveraging technology, and prioritizing the well-being of their teams, organizations can forge a path forward that benefits everyone involved. If you're looking for help in deciding which direction is best for your company, you can reach us here.


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