Eighteen months ago, many workers were forced to abandon traditional offices for a variety of ad-hoc work-from-home solutions. Obviously not all setups are created equal, but as the months went on we all learned to adjust.
In our latest look at how Covid-19 has reshaped the workplace, we’re exploring how to hold on to the best aspects of remote work after a full or partial return to the office. (If you missed the first article in the series, find out more about the 5 models one expert has identified for the post-pandemic workplace.)Whether you embraced remote work with open arms or grudging resistance, certain remote-first practices fueled productivity and should not be thrown to the wayside now that reopening has begun.
In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, four professors offer an actionable guide to help leaders retain some of the new best practices that emerged during the pandemic. Vijay Govindarajan, the Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and faculty partner at the Silicon Valley incubator Mach 49; Anup Srivastava, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Accounting, Decision Making, and Capital Markets and is an associate professor at Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary; Thomas Grisold, an assistant professor at the Institute of Information Systems at the University of Liechtenstein; and Adrian Klammer, an assistant professor at the University of Liechtenstein’s Institute of Entrepreneurship, offer up their expert advice on pandemic work habits to keep when you return to the office.
“While the crisis imposed severe restrictions, it also provided a unique opportunity to conduct thousands of experiments and innovate with new practices, some of which are beneficial in any period — pandemic or no pandemic. In addition, the crisis lowered the resistance to change and thus helped organizations get rid of deeply entrenched, dysfunctional practices that would be difficult to shed in normal times.”
The authors put together a four-step framework to help organizational leaders earmark and retain beneficial policies that came about as a result of forced remote work.
Put your heads together with people at all levels of your company to brainstorm about what worked well for everyone during 2020 and early 2021. It’s also a good idea to ensure that the process is open-ended, and that everyone has enough time to offer their feedback.
The authors lay out a formal feedback and execution process that is ideal for larger organizations: “Survey employees to understand what they did differently during the crisis and then conduct follow-up discussions about what succeeded for them and what didn’t. Distill the efforts that were successful into common organizational procedures, translating them into documentation and communicating new expected practices to employees.”
The authors argue that certain status markers in the office — a window view, inclusion in certain events, or even the hours an employee works — have become outdated symbols rather than useful metrics for organizations.
“We encourage organizations to unlearn dysfunctional practices by reducing influences of old knowledge structures that can hinder the adoption of new ones.”
This sort of unlearning is not a simple process. The authors lay out a three-step process for achieving a more fair visibility scheme:
Change isn’t easy, especially when it comes to old workplace habits. “Even after changes have been implemented, employees continue to carry deeply embedded assumptions about routines and practices from the prior era. As long as these old assumptions are ingrained in individuals’ cognitive framework and there are disagreements about them going forward, the risk of failure remains high.”
The authors suggest certain employees are more likely than others to kick up a fuss when they feel the goal posts have been moved. The solution is to communicate new norms and expectations to everyone at once, regardless of whether they are an in-office, remote, or hybrid employee:
“In order to make change sustainable, everyone must have a similar, if not the same, understanding of the reason, merits, and punishment and rewards associated with new procedures. For example, if physical, in-office meetings shouldn’t be held on days employees are allowed to work from home, make that clear. If an in-person meeting on one of those days is unavoidable, make sure employees understand that they won’t be penalized for participating virtually. Bringing varying opinions and perceptions to the surface, openly discussing divergent assumptions, and settling them will help align those expectations.”
It’s important to go beyond just identifying and promoting beneficial behaviors if you want things to stick. Be sure to promote new norms instead of allowing your company’s cuture to creep backwards little by little:
“The tendency to fall back into established routines creeps in every day. It’s important, therefore, to go beyond initial rollouts and information sessions to regularly reinforce the new practices. This involves reminding people what the new procedures are until they don’t feel new anymore. It’s almost like reminding drivers about new speed bumps and lane changes for a period of time until they get used the new quirks. Instead of hoping that employees will automatically internalize changes as new routines, organizations must repeatedly communicate their benefits while providing incentives for their adoption and potential disincentives for their non-adoption. After several trials, new routines will become the familiar ones, and change will be sustained.”
The pandemic brought about a host of changes, and not all of them were bad! By following these steps you can ensure that your organization remains productive and flexible as conditions continue to evolve.
At Blueground, we understand that flexible work fuels flexible living. Our studios and one-, two-, and three-bedroom furnished apartments worldwide are perfect for anyone who’s embracing a hybrid work style or working completely from home. Best of all, our flexible lease agreements mean that your company isn’t spending money on overpriced business hotels or unoccupied corporate housing. Find out more about the Blueground experience.