As we speak, many companies are preparing to re-establish the workplace for when staff that was sent home returns to the workplace—with new work habits and even clearer preferences and needs in their work life than before. Many of the companies we are in touch with here at Ennova have already defined their new framework, while others are in the process of doing so and still others are just beginning. Regardless of where you are in the process, clear communication, flexibility and inclusion of your staff is essential if you are to succeed in creating optimal workplace frameworks in the future.
Right now we are heading into a new quarter, where most workplaces will be able to have their staff come back to the workplace physically. After a long period with a different and new organization of their workday and the way they carry out their work, differences and individual preferences have come to the forefront and become clearer. We find that employees have become more aware of when their potential is utilized best in a work context. As such, it is hard to imagine that employees will return to a workday that resembles the one they left.
What model works (best) in your company?
Many companies have been working on defining new norms for their future workplace framework, resulting in many different models for the reality employees will face after the summer. It could be the familiar setup, a hybrid model, an activity-based approach, full flexibility or a purely digital setup. It is hard to say in advance whether the model you chose or will choose in your company is the right one for you.
- The familiar: Employees return to the office to a classic 8 to 4 week, as it was before the pandemic. For some, it will be comforting to come back to something recognizable, but it requires that everyone comes back, which may be difficult to imagine for all employee types.
- Hybrid: Some companies have announced a hybrid solution, and so far these have been the most common and preferred models, since they provide flexibility in relation to working both from the workplace and from home. Yet a hybrid solution can be quite different from one company to the next.
- - Hybrid _ fixed-definition: A fixed split workweek, where employees can work a certain number of days from home, while the rest must be from the workplace. This could be a classic 2 home / 3 workplace model.
- Hybrid _ activity-based: An activity-based hybrid model, where employees go to the office when they need to work with colleagues and where the office functions increasingly as a social gathering spot—a place where people meet, socialize and work together. Employees have no fixed workstation, and therefore we see that the number of workstations is significantly reduced compared to before. However, this model requires an activity-based layout of the physical framework.
- Full flexibility/digital: Employees have considerable flexibility and, to a large extent, are free to structure their workday themselves. They can work from home—or wherever they like—and almost whenever it fits into their everyday schedule.
No matter where you are in the process, there are a few things it is helpful to focus on in creating the optimal framework that unites your company and the staff's new work routines and greater awareness about personal preferences.
Communicate and define clear ground rules
If you have not done so already, it is important to make it very clear to employees what framework they can expect to see from now on.
Employees need a sense of comfort, security, and clarity, which clear communication about the work model and the reason for it can support. Communicate clearly about why your priorities and the framework are the way they are. In that way you lower the risk of employee frustration and insecurity from not knowing what awaits them when they return.
It is important to have clear guidelines, so employees know and understand the ground rules for their new workday. The more detailed the guidelines you can share with your staff, the easier it will be for them to be employees now.
Accept that it will take time
It is important to accept that it will likely take some time for most companies to know exactly what the future workplace framework will look like and what the best setup is for you. Your employees’ preferences and needs should, of course, be reflected in the framework you put in place. At the same time, that must be balanced with respect for business realities, so your company can continue to deliver, perform on the market and achieve its business goals.
It is important to remember and accept that not many companies will find a model that fits all employees’ new routines, preferences and needs 100%. There may be employees at the same workplace who prefer full flexibility, while others are happy for a physically return to the workplace. That is why we are already seeing how hard it is for individual companies to find a setup that satisfies all employees, which, again, makes communication all the more important.
An inclusive culture is important for retaining employees and attracting new ones
We clearly recommend involving staff as much as possible, to facilitate the reboarding process and define a work model that works as intended. Employees have become increasingly aware of how they perform best at work and why, and we recommend that you listen - neglecting your employees is costly on the top and bottom line.
Listening to your employees and understanding and respecting their different needs and preferences will be a critical factor for the company's ability to attract and retain employees going forward. Therefore, it is also extra important that you include your employees from today when, together, you define and develop a new and optimal workplace framework for your company.
Have a plan for re-establishing collegial cooperation
When employees are separated physically for so long, as many have in this context, it inevitably affects relationships and the ability to work together and the manner of doing so. For many employees over the past 1½ years, virtual relationships have been their primary—or only—relationships over the course of a workday.
It is important, therefore, for HR (and management) to focus on re-establishing these relationships and dusting them off when physical cooperation again is a reality.
For the most part, working relationships will automatically be strengthened and polished as physical presence becomes more frequent. For some, however, rediscovering cooperation with colleagues will be very challenging, including for any newer employees who have yet to meet their colleagues in the real world.
For both new and established employees, getting a helping hand with work relationships will be tremendously beneficial. Optimally, HR should draw up a plan that supports employees in this process, so it is easier to re-establish collegial work across departments. For this, clear ground rules are essential, since it will be designed differently, depending on the choice of work model. No matter the model, it is important to have clear expectations that staff also take responsibility and invest time in the efforts.
Evaluate and adjust if needed
We will all become a little wiser along the way, and therefore it may be a good idea to re-evaluate your workplace model in the fall to determine whether it is working as planned. Again, it is important to accept that there is likely no one-size-fits-all solution for a future work framework. Therefore, you will also have to expect to adjust and perhaps take into account individual needs based on the initial experience and reactions from employees.
With time come answers
No one knows yet what the best setup will be and what framework works best for the individual company. Therefore, we can also expect that many companies will test, evaluate and discuss different structures and models in the months to come, to find out what the new norms should be.
At Ennova, we are already in the process of preparing surveys that will give us answers to the question of which work models have worked for different types of companies and employee types, as well as what impact it has on employee engagement, job perception and job pressure—not to mention employee turnover. We look forward to learning more about what the effects of this will be.