None of us saw COVID-19 coming, and it has redefined the workplace. All of us, including every single one of our clients, are adjusting to remote work models. With a year of COVID upheaval and workforce behavior observations under our belts—it feels like an opportune time to consider the frameworks and tools that will best serve our employees and our organizations going forward.
Remote work has its benefits: greater flexibility for employees and expansion of talent pools, for example. But it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. An extended remote work model has potential risks if not executed and managed intentionally. It can lead to overwork, social isolation, and equity challenges within the organization. Maintaining a remote workforce, and doing it well, requires additional investments in people-focused areas like employee wellness, DEI programs, and manager training.
As companies begin to evaluate when and how to consider bringing employees back to the office, whether remote-first, onsite for everyone, or somewhere in-between, leaders need to stay focused on employee experience—with an eye toward ensuring equity and strengthening organizational culture.
1. Make intentional moves to build employee trust
Remote work can be risky for new employees, people early in their career or new to the industry, as well as employees from underrepresented groups. Remote arrangements may make it more difficult for these employees to build relationships, get feedback from peers and managers, and identify the opportunities they need to grow their careers and reputations within the company. Additionally, there is a risk of diminished workplace trust, not just between the employee and employer, but between work teams and employees themselves. When everyone is working and engaging in different ways, it introduces risk for miscommunication and missed expectations, which can erode trust over time.
Organizations can mitigate these risks by taking a very intentional, but nimble people-centered approach that includes:
1. A Well-Defined Vision:
2. A Well-Designed plan:
2. Create meaningful remote employee experiences
1. Engage intentionally:
2. Support your managers:
Related Content: Change Activation Toolkit
3. Measure, learn, and iterate:
Related content: Nimble Planning in the Next Normal
At the end of the day, those of us charged with helping shape new workforce and workplace standards want to feel confident we are moving our employees and our organizations forward. Encourage leaders to approach this next phase with a growth mindset, for themselves and their teams. Not everything will go according to plan and you very likely will make mistakes, but what matters is what you do after. Maintaining openness to feedback (even if it makes you uncomfortable or you don't agree with it), being clear about your values and priorities, and being sure to engage team members and stakeholders with different perspectives from your own will make your organization stronger and more resilient in the long run.
What we're doing is hard. And while there is no single right answer, jumping in and making people-centered changes moves all of us in a better direction.
Jess has spearheaded Propeller’s remote work plan and was recently interviewed by the Portland Business Journal to share best practices for managing a post-COVID workplace.
Looking for more strategic guidance to solidify your return to office plans? Be sure to check out our 3-part in-depth series "Moving Forward: Leading People & Organizations to the Next Normal" for tactical toolkits, recordings, plans, and strategies to get back to the office, whatever that means for your organization.