How, and Where, We Work Has Been Forever Changed
March 2020 was a defining moment in the professional work environment that I had grown and thrived in for more than two decades. Like many employers across the United States, we made a thoughtful and deliberate decision to transition to telework status. I recall packing up my laptop and a few essentials that would suffice for the few weeks I thought I would be away from my office. The future was unknown, but I was confident that we had the essential technology and capability to connect remotely to the systems that were necessary for our daily operations.
Weeks actually turned into two years of teleworking and my paradigm that we needed close physical proximity to connect, create togetherness, and sustain our culture was shattered. The pandemic demanded that we be more deliberate in engaging with each other, since the chance meeting in hallways or at the water cooler was gone overnight. The primary means of connection quickly became virtual meeting platforms. What started out as virtual calls and meetings quickly advanced into virtual training sessions, interviews, town halls . . . the list goes on. While we may have used these tools for virtual engagement prior to the pandemic, they are now woven into the daily fabric of our lives. These virtual platforms create a level of flexibility that is here to stay, in both our personal and professional lives.
For many employers, working from home was not a choice, but rather a necessary step to slow the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to work. As with any change, there were growing pains, but they quickly subsided and a newfound flexibility in not only where we work, but when we work was discovered. For the majority of workers, productivity remained strong, and many workers achieved a better work-life balance absent the need for daily commuting. With the majority of businesses now “reopened,” I see a strong preference for splitting time between working from home and in the office, as well as working asynchronous schedules. While remote work is not suitable for all jobs, for those for whom it is suitable, I foresee this flexibility being a significant driver in attracting and retaining talent. Sharing the decision-making between employer and employee on the most suitable work location is likely here to stay.
The pandemic also gave us the gift of leading with more empathy and building a culture that is more attuned to the needs of employees. With empathy, we create higher engagement and retention. Knowing someone we work with really cares about us and our success will strengthen our connections as we move forward in a post-pandemic world, where the competition for talent is fierce. We must all adapt to the changing post-pandemic conditions in order to excel in our respective industries.