Covid-19 has profoundly rewritten the rules and beliefs of what the workspace should be before the pandemic hit the entire nation. "Pandemic Life" has forever changed the way we think, how we travel, personal interactions and of course, how we work. The impact Covid has had on today's workforce has brought many changes in the way employers and employees interact with one another. Something that started as a temporary work-from-home scenario quickly changed into a two-year mandatory remote work situation.
For many, employees were scrambling to kick start their Business Continuity Plans and determine what next steps would need to be taken considering the new dilemmas they were facing: Connectivity issues, equipment allocations, permissions for security tokens, and of course, the dreaded wait times for Help Desk assistance which were now flooded with new service ticket items.
Let's not forget about the Enterprise. What are the next steps for return to premise? What restrictions need to be put into place to protect colleagues? What steps does Corporate Real Estate need to take in order to maintain office space or continue renovations for that new flex environment everyone is talking about. But wait, we are now in a pandemic. How do you plan for flex space in a post-pandemic world? These are not easy questions to answer, but we have all learned a thing or two along the way in our transition to the new normal.
It should be no surprise that many employers were worried whether their employees could maintain pre-pandemic productivity during the work from home directive. HR and leadership teams quickly put together specific work-from-home guidelines and policies to help people managers with oversight of remote workers and provided tips to make the transition successful. In the background, however, others were working on logistical planning for an eventual return and creating workspace models for the flex concept that was created prior to this Covid-19 environment.
This was challenging because they also needed to consider all the new health and safety protocols put into place so everyone felt safe to return. They also needed to think about how your management team would deliver this information and maintain oversight as to what actions are taking place in the office once everyone was back. And of course, it was important not to forget about the employee experience when the return to office date was finally scheduled. With all this in mind, employees have grown comfortable working from home. Will they want to return to desks or continue to work from their kitchens and dining rooms? With those questions looming amongst employers, you now have the concept of launching a hybrid work plan.
As the hybrid work model is created, employees will be given more flexibility to get their work complete when and where they may be most productive. This could be in the office or from home. Creating this hybrid model also allows for a better work-life balance. It's so important to allow flexibility in our personal lives whether it's running an errand or attending an event at your child's school. The hybrid approach helps integrate the two.
Hybrid also means fewer people working on-site at the same time. This model may help some businesses who have multiple offices figure out workspace issues and offer more work options for employees in small co-working or mixed-use spaces. This also lowers the chance of a sick employee infecting others. Under this model, a person feeling ill would be encouraged to stay home and work remotely rather than coming into the office to protect others from potential illness.
So how do you adapt to these new ways of working? First you'll need to gather the right people to lead various workstreams. These workstreams will need to develop the right processes to create the best return to office plan for your workforce.
Think about your Logistical Planning – how and when to return;
- Communication Planning – Develop and deliver the basic requirements and etiquettes of using a shared space;
- Workspace Readiness – Be certain you have the proper technology tools so remote workers and on-site employees can work together efficiently and effectively; and finally
Best Practices – All those who manage people should be supplied with the proper tools to deliver clear expectations about scheduling, accountabilities and those moments that benefit being in the presence of your co-workers rather than working from home.
Creating an exceptional hybrid work experience will not only benefit employers but also the employee. Be sure to put the work into it to keep your employees engaged but still maintain those meaningful in-person interactions. The next chapter of a post-pandemic work environment has yet to be written. How and what we do along the way will determine the ending to that story.
Paula Pagano has more than 25 years of senior-level Paralegal experience, including both in-house and outside counsel support. She specializes in litigation management, eDiscovery analysis, project methodology and subpoena compliance. Over the last ten years she enhanced those skills into Departmental and Operational Management, providing the experience and knowledge to deliver on Special Projects for the Office of General Counsel which includes defining objectives, overseeing quality control, and coordinating team member and vendor efforts. Currently, Paula oversees US Operations Management for TD Bank's US Legal Department, a role that includes on-boarding and off-boarding, training, premises operations, audit management, global vendor management, and risk assessment.