Without question, COVID-19 has revolutionized the workplace. Over the past year and a half, the pandemic has presented many obstacles for employers, as well as some advantages for employees and contingent talent.
Since 2020, our lives have been drastically affected. Many people re-evaluated their home lives, work flexibility, or career field, with some leaving jobs due to layoffs, family needs or other reasons. Indeed, amid the continuing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies today are encountering a whole new world regarding workplace safety, vaccination, talent acquisition and return-to-work strategies.
It’s a complex world
Return-to-office strategies have become highly complex as companies are swimming in a sea of ambiguity. Safety standards, workplace best practices and data on public health and employee attitudes change often, and this obscure environment raises more questions than answers. For example, employees are now accustomed to a flexible work environment and less structure, forcing companies to adopt virtual and hybrid preferences.
The most recent data reveals that remote work has dramatically transformed the traditional workplace. In fact, remote work is now preferred by more than half of all employees. This requires a new way of looking at the structured workday and the need for adaptability within human relations.
Flexible, remote, and clear: the new normal
Procom’s recent research finds that 51% of workers desire a 100% fully remote schedule, a major change from the standard business schedules of yesteryears.
So, how should organizations think about the "new normal" as they develop a return-to-office strategy, and how does all of this impact talent acquisition?
First, employers need to determine and define micro and macro worker flexibility needs, as well as conditions for practical work/life balance and personal health.
In order to remain attractive to workers, the primary considerations for a competitive policy should include:
- Schedule flexibility
- Childcare and family leave
- Local area case rates and regulations
- Quarantine time
- School openings and closings
- Workplace safety and operational coverage
To feel confident about returning to the office, workers are demanding clear policies
Our research further found 46% of participants would feel uncomfortable returning to work unless a mandatory vaccine policy was in place. This is a distinct call to action for employers. The restructured workday has merged work and home life, with less separation than ever between them. Employees crave unambiguous communication and directives regarding active, expected, core work hours. Procom's data showed that 72% of workers cite a clear policy that outlines required staff availability as “important” or “very important” to productivity. They want clarity about vital time, or the time they are required to be "tuned in," responsive and available.
There may never again be a pre-pandemic "normal." Companies that are expecting or demanding full-time, in-office employees will not keep up with progressive competitors. Those striving to attain top talent will be forced to adapt when developing RTW policies.
Be ready to change
Since the pandemic is still relatively new, minimal data exists to support an extensively researched and proven plan. That's why it's imperative for company leaders, and their talent to remain flexible to accomplish organizational goals. Management will not inherently or intuitively have all the answers right away.
Well crafted plans, however, should take into consideration the nature of the work, how and where the work needs to be performed and external factors such as ongoing pandemic restrictions that might impact office openings.
These plans will need to be creative, intentional, well communicated - and above all- adaptable.
Hybrid work is here to stay
While companies try to determine safe policies, consider significant changes, and wonder what might come next, two things seem here to stay: a hybrid workforce and a flexible workplace.
When asked about the importance of workday flexibility, 46% of workers ranked it as "very important." On the question of remote work options, 34% desired the "freedom to Work from Anywhere."
In the past, organizations created and established work guidelines, usually requiring their personnel to be at physical locations; now, employees are setting the tone and raising the stakes.
One of the biggest obstacles for employers is striving to adjust their practices while constantly dealing with grey areas as COVID numbers fluctuate and broader societal changes occur. Schools can shut down, in which case many employees would have no choice but to work remotely. The quarantine element also throws a huge curveball at employers and policymakers. A parent who suddenly learns that a child has COVID must quarantine at home, but perhaps other workers at the office were already exposed to the parent. The inability to know or control the effects of the coronavirus requires creative and flexible organizational policies.
The silver lining
The pandemic has produced incalculable pain, loss and disruption across the world. But in all of the transformation, are there any benefits for businesses? For many executives, there exists an opportunity to potentially improve their organizations, both in terms of bottom line and brainpower.
Companies looking to maintain success with a remote workforce can decrease traditional, expensive brick-and-mortar budgets and increase investment in advanced remote-work infrastructure and technology. There are now suddenly a plethora of virtual communication platforms, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet, which foster collaboration and meeting synergy away from the office. These video conferencing services have exploded during the pandemic, revolutionizing social and professional interaction.
With technology making communication, project management, and productivity better, easier, and cheaper, and also allowing the ability to expand an organization's talent search outside of a particular location, there are major opportunities for cost savings and competitive advantages, as well as more effective product and service delivery.
A successful return-to-office strategy
Redesigning the workforce and workplace framework puts flexibility at the center of any good policy. In today's difficult business climate, companies must focus on acquiring and retaining top talent, including through remote positions and hybrid schedules; instituting clear vaccination or coronavirus testing policies; ensuring workplace health and safety standards, as well as legal and industrial compliance; adaptability to whatever changes are around the corner, and utilization of technology to do so.
At the core of a successful Return-to-office plan, according to company leadership and employees, is workday and workplace flexibility.
Clearly, the pandemic has produced a monumental shift in attitudes, priorities, and values. The stiff, pre-COVID workforce posture is obsolete, and the modern workplace is evolving with a myriad of remote, hybrid, and flexible options that are employee-focused and supportive.
For companies and their workers, returning to the office can't be a return to what was
As your organization develops its return to work strategy, discover what 1,000-plus knowledge workers said is most attractive to them and what they will not accept when offices re-open by accessing the insights in Procom's Voice of Talent report.