After year into the COVID pandemic, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This has been a hard year for everyone. And while we aren’t out of woods yet (and we are “patiently” waiting our turn for the vaccine), one BIG question remains for employers and employees: What does the office of the future look like?

While we don’t have a crystal ball that will tell us the future, we have learned a lot during the pandemic. We have learned how to be successful working remotely and we have all seen the benefits of working remote. At the same time, the benefits of working in-person have been magnified.

There also seems to be differing opinions between employers and executives. Employees seem to prefer the remote work environment while executives aren’t ready to jump all-in on fully remote. 

Gallup reported that three in five employees working remotely during the pandemic would prefer to stay remote following the pandemic. A bit further into the pandemic, another study conducted by PWC, reported that just 36% of the workforce felt more productive at home. 

According to the same PWC study, at least 68% of executives believe employees should be in the office a minimum of three days-a-week. Sixty-five percent of executives believe being in the offices promotes collaboration, productivity and company culture.

Going forward, we still have a lot of learning to do about how to optimize the best remote and/or hybrid working environments. But, these are our top four takeaways based on our experiences in this last year:

  1. Technologies are improving.

New tools and products are being developed every day to support the growing number of teams and companies going remote and hybrid. This makes it easier for teams to remain remote as well as help organizations provide more flexible working environments. For example, we rarely used video conferencing before and now we have used Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, FaceTime, Slack and more. We have even attended virtual conferences.

  1. Building culture is hard.

Some believe it is nearly impossible to do remotely. Everyone will have their own opinion on this one, but there are things that can help. Establish routine meetings. Set up extra time before group meetings to check-in with one another and have small talk like you would if you were in the office. Avoid burnout and overworking team members through regular check-ins. Ensure leaders are clear on company culture and instill it in each and every employee interaction. Building culture doesn’t have to have to be expensive, but it does take time.

  1. Managers have learned to manage from afar.

Managers have been forced to translate their management style to remote managing through use of new technologies and touch points. In this environment, it’s much harder to micromanage (although we have seen it done!). According to a Harvard Business Review article, managers are offering more flexible “work” hours. They have found they have to be clearer on deadlines and expectations and simply check-in more often (not to be confused with micromanaging) with team members. Teams have had to work through both good and bad processes to determine what is best for them. Some have yet to figure it out, while many seem to have found their stride.

  1. Empathy is needed.

Everyone has had their own personal and professional challenges in this last year. Some folks are thriving in this new remote work environment while others are drowning, stressed and burnt-out. In our experience, teams with more empathy have been the most successful. Google confirmed these findings in a study called Project Aristotle. When employees can bring their full-self into work, and be “psychologically safe”, they are more present. More present employees work with their teams better and create a higher quality work product.

Going forward, no one has the right answer. Each company will determine what works best for them.

We have all seen the uptick in remote positions and we anticipate companies continuing to hire more and more remote roles. The cat is out of the bag so to speak. And there is no going back. 

We believe more companies will have flexible work schedules. We believe there will be more flexibility in time-of-day employees are working as well as whether they work in the office, from home or some of both. This will allow companies who couldn’t compete for talent due to their location, to have a larger pool of candidates available to hire. This will also allow parents, primary caregivers and others who needed a more flexible schedule to still pursue their career goals with fewer barriers.

What do you think? We would love to hear your thoughts! Reach out via our contact form if you would like to discuss your thoughts or challenges further.