The pandemic changed the way many of us interacted, requiring us to hone our digital skills, coin the much-used phrase “You’re on Mute” and exposing us to a variety of interesting video backgrounds. For the most part, we learned from mistakes and supported each other during the time that health and safety were primary motivators, and it was in our best interests to separate physically.
As things have changed and we are able to reenter the physical world, we’ve lost site of opportunities that can continue to benefit us if we seize them. As a Human Resources practitioner, I do think we’ve mostly dropped the ball on helping management deal with a remote workforce. We need to fix that. As leaders/managers, we’ve often fallen victim to “that’s not how I did it” and the need for feeling in control by having our workers on site.
As companies are more frequently returning to work sites and cutting off the flexibility of remote work, I’d caution us all to reconsider and make sure we have a strong, reasonable answer to “Why?” we're making that change. I’ve heard many leaders talk about real estate and empty offices, but that’s not a good reason to change our workers’ arrangements. Where productivity and/or creativity has affected profitability and can be directly related to remote work, that’s a much better argument. But is that really the case or are we trying to make it so?
There are ways to constructively manage remote workers, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to have any overseas workers or multiple office locations within the U.S. Neither of those things are new and have been handled successfully for years! Providing flexibility in work has been shown to resonate with staff, encouraging retention and job satisfaction. With labor shortages, we must consider this. It’s also been seen as a benefit to (mostly) women (allowing for more flexibility in caregiving) and individuals with disabilities (who may better thrive in a remote office experience).
So, before we go back to what we perceive as “normal”, with workers in office, let’s look at our individual organizations to determine what is truly best for our employees, our companies, and our mutual success.