Employees loved the work-from-home policies companies implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. They gave employees greater flexibility in managing the competing priorities between home and work life. Employees could spend more time with their families, better manage household activities, save money on fuel, and less time in traffic.
Since so many employees loved working at home, why are so many companies shifting back to requiring employees to come into the office? Companies like General Motors claim that they require employees to return to work to boost productivity (5). These claims tell us more about the company's ability to be productive in a remote work environment than the effectiveness of work-from-home policies. Companies that can master remote and hybrid workplaces will have a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining talent.
Hybrid workplaces give you access to a large talent pool.
Decisions like allowing remote or hybrid work can significantly impact a workforce's demographics. In executive coach David Lancefield's article Stop Wasting People's Time in Meetings, he cites that "64% of GenZ and 63% of Millennials consider their office to be their laptop, headset and wherever they can get a strong internet connection, compared to only 48% of Gen X and 32% of Baby boomers" (3). The decision to require employees to return to work will have less impact on Gen X and Baby Boomers because they put less value on remote working and have spent more of their careers working in an office.
For GenZ especially, the last two years have set their expectation on what work life should be. Many recent college graduates spent 50% of their college years taking remote classes where they developed remote working skills. Younger workers have the skills and desire to work remotely and will gravitate to organizations that give them greater flexibility.
Employees' expectations from employers are changing.
There is a growing trend of GenZ employees not seeing the same value in social relationships with co-workers as previous generations. In a recent survey by Capterra, half of workers between 18 and 25 said they found workplace friendships minimally or unimportant (1). Over the last few decades, people have been searching for work-life balance. Younger workers find that balance by creating clear boundaries between work associates and personal friendships. For this reason, they see less value in working in an office where there is more pressure to engage and interact socially with co-workers.
Adjusting your management approach.
For companies to retain their best talent, they must be willing to change with the times and create cultures that support remote workers. As a multi-unit operations leader, I learned early in my career that I did not have to be physically in front of my team to influence their performance. You can manage performance by implementing these best practices
Define Key Performance Indicators. Identifying critical metrics for your team and tracking them daily, weekly, and monthly is an effective way to ensure employees accomplish the needed tasks. Instead of focusing on how or when work is completed, focus on and hold people accountable for deliverables.
Make check-in calls. Periodically call your employees to ask them how they are doing. This replicates the management by walking around practice that most managers execute within an office setting. By doing unscheduled calls, you can get great feedback on what people are working on and how things are going.
Schedule one on ones. In addition to check-in calls, it is essential to have a routine for meeting with employees and talking about business. This allows you and your employees to prepare for the discussion and bring topics forward that will drive business results for the company and professional development for the employee.
Hold team meetings. Holding team meetings allows you to bring your employees together so that you can align on expectations, share best practices, celebrate wins, and build a culture of excellence. When holding virtual team meetings, encourage employees to have cameras on, ask questions, and require participation.
When I was the Manager of Franchise Marketing and Recruiting, we implemented a hybrid work policy that allowed recruiters to work from home two days a week. The shift to hybrid working produced a 30% increase in leads forwarded to our sales team. When we processed the change, many of the recruiters gained 1 to 2 hours back in their day, which was huge because nearly every team member was a working mom who could better balance their life by spending less time commuting to work.
Weekly one-on-ones with employees allowed me to set expectations for productivity, capture best practices from recruiters, and share those best practices with their peers. In addition, we established a cadence of weekly and monthly face-to-face meetings to encourage peer-to-peer interaction and provide a sense of shared purpose. I attribute the productivity boost to the disciplines we put in place around communication and the improved morale that working from home generated with the team.
Being successful in a hybrid workspace requires leaders to develop new skills. Instead of companies reverting to unpopular work-in-office policies, they should identify new processes and technologies to enable productive work-from-home environments.
James Hunter's book "The most powerful leadership principle "(2002) shares the value of servant leadership and the business benefits of leaders putting the needs of their employees ahead of their personal needs (2). Change is never easy. As the boss, you might be tempted to bend your employees' will to cater to your needs. This may work in the short term but tends to lead to lower productivity, higher levels of turnover, and a constant need to apply pressure to maintain the status quo. An alternative approach is to change with the times, develop new routines, and position your employees to provide as much value as possible.
Thank you for reading this blog
Dorian Cunion is an Executive Coach and Business Consultant with Your Path Coaching and Consulting. He is a former retail executive with over 20 years of experience in the retail industry. He is a Co-Active coach who focuses on helping professionals and small business owners overcome insecurities, knowledge gaps, and lack of direction. He does this by assisting clients to tap into their values, recognize their strengths, and develop actionable strategies for growth.
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Ellis, L. (2022, August 17). Americans Are Breaking Up With Their Work Friends. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/forget-work-friends-more-americans-are-all-business-on-the-job-11660736232
Hunter, J. C. (2004). The world's most powerful leadership principle: how to become a servant leader. Waterbrook Press.
Lancefield, D. (2022, March 14). Stop Wasting People's Time with Meetings. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/03/stop-wasting-peoples-time-with-bad-meetings
Shepardson, D. (2022, October 24). GM launching return to work plan for salaried workers in January. Reuters.