March marks one year since most U.S. companies sent their employees home from the office indefinitely. In one year, the mindsets about the barriers to working from anywhere (WFA) have changed, and corporations have proven that employees can be engaged and productive despite physical distance from their colleagues. Leaders and employees have also learned the potential pitfalls of long-term working from home, as isolation and stress are taking their toll.
As we look forward, and begin to consider more permanent WFA solutions, here are four ways leaders must adapt and grow their organizations to make the most of this shift in workplace culture while minimizing its risks.
1. Reimagine the workplace to include a hybrid – WFA and collaboration spaces.
Giving employees the option to continue work from anywhere will be absolutely necessary for companies to remain competitive for talent. Salesforce, Amazon and others have already stated that full time return to work will not be in their future.
While the evolution of collaborative technologies has facilitated our productivity, what’s missing from WFA is the creativity and energy that can only come from in person connection and collaboration. Employees must make time to come together and spark the innovation that can only come from spontaneous interactions. Companies must set norms for how and when teams connect and work together, by first understanding why they gather, and building a return to work strategy from there.
2. Make a bigger commitment to communication.
During the pandemic, leaders learned to engage with their teams at a more intimate and vulnerable level. As they showed their empathy and concern, they were able to build trust. To maintain this trust and empower their teams, leaders must continue to:
- Speak with their people directly and often – in an authentic, transparent, and inspiring way.
- Remove roadblocks to communication within the organization by pushing decision-making out and down, and
- Provide employees with tools and training for ongoing communication and local decision-making.
3. Set the stage for change by modeling new behaviors.
Leaders have a new mandate to maintain a culture that respects work/life blend. To balance this with growth and productivity, leaders at all levels must model boundary-setting, and acknowledge the equity and value of the skills and experience each employee brings to the table, regardless of where the individual sits.
4. Focus on outputs vs. face time, and make opportunities for growth and advancement accessible to all.
Leaders must hold each other accountable for creating an equitable work environment. To stave off proximity bias, leaders must acknowledge the differences between in person and remote workers, establish clear expectations for performance outcomes and visibility, then reward their people accordingly.
At the one year mark, let’s celebrate the great strides we’ve made in shifting mindsets to accept WFA as a new norm. Now, it’s time to take the lessons we’ve learned and use them to evolve our organizations to continue this growth, so we can be more deliberate, compassionate, driven and productive than ever before.