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Beyond WFH: lessons and actions for a changing workplace

At Kudos, we strive to bring insights from a wide spectrum of leading experts, both from within our company, and the wider community. This week we partnered with HR expert, Jerry Gratton of Trailblaze Partners. Jerry has also been a guest on our podcast, The Work From Home Show.

How has remote working been for your organization?

Did you realize you are a part of the greatest workplace experiment of all time?

Think about it, a vast infrastructure (encompassing huge swathes of our cities all around the world) and a whole way of working and gathering (hundreds of years in the making), abandoned in a matter of days.

It’s wild.

And from what I’ve heard from the majority of business leaders and their teams I’ve spoken with, we made it work.

Yes, there have been stumbles. It has not been ideal. Too few lunches out. Too many days in sweatpants.

But we’ve learned just how resilient our organizations (and all of humanity too, frankly) can be.

Here are some thoughts on what we’ve learned and actions we can carry forward to create an even better workplace – no matter where that is.

Culture

Lesson: The WFH era has shown organizations which aspects of their culture really matter. Those organizations where the cornerstone of their culture is ping-pong tables and salad bars (those are perks not culture, btw), are probably suffering more than those that were built around common values, aligned goals, a sense of belonging, and recognition from leadership and peers.

Action: Identify and foster the aspects of your culture that you know are driving alignment and engagement. Ultimately, your people want to feel that they belong, know that their work matters, and that they will be recognized for it.

Working from home

Lesson: I’ve been pleased by how many leaders have changed their opinion on this. Yes, WFH can mean WORK, from home. (I have been leading remote teams for decades, so this is no surprise to me. In fact, purposefully led remote teams can actually be more productive than onsite teams.)

Action: We’ll need to adjust our parameters of when and how often employees can work from home and what the approval process will be. More flexible work arrangements will be the new normal. If you hadn’t addressed this pre-pandemic, there is no excuse now. You’ll also have to think about what sort of physical and technological conditions (high-speed internet, etc.) you require and what sort of support (for tech, etc.) you’ll need to provide.

Sick days

Lesson: The lower than expected infection rate during COVID has taught us how effective social distancing can be.

Action: Gone are the days of toughing out a cold or the flu at the office. The best sick policies will encourage, not penalize employees for making the decision to keep their germs to themselves. The best will also blend WFH and sick policies together to ensure we’re trusting our employees to decide what’s best for them and the organization.

Office layout

Lesson: Ditto what I said above about social distancing, but applied to how we are when in the same physical space.

Action: When it comes to office layout – including workspaces and meeting rooms – think carefully about what it will take to make your employees feel safe and meet physical distancing regulations in your jurisdiction. At a minimum, you may need to look at staggering workdays (so not everyone is out/in on the same days). Hint: don’t stagger based on department, the last thing you need is for your entire finance team to be off sick because one member of the team tested positive, or just came in with a cold. Also, you may even need to think about eliminating desks

Talent acquisition

Lesson: If your team can work from anywhere you can hire from anywhere.

Action: Issues like having team members in different time zones mean you’ll have to think about things like work hours/schedules that allow for collaboration across the whole organization.

Performance measurement

Lesson: The best way to know if you can trust someone is to trust them. The WFH era has forced this paradigm on us; we’ve just had to trust our team members. And from what I’ve seen the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

Action: Capture that momentum – don’t lose it! Now is the time to implement changes in reporting and 1-to-1s that move towards managing results, not activity or facetime.

Connecting and collaborating

Lesson: Weirdly, many people feel more connected as a result of the glimpses into each other's lives via video meetings.

Action: We can ensure that connection doesn’t go away when we are collocated again. It can be as simple as starting your 1-to-1s with a check-in that includes non-work topics. And, for managers, showing vulnerability – that you're human, that you get nervous, you get excited, you sometimes procrastinate – can put team members at ease and increase that connection. Oh, and the best leaders show their vulnerabilities first.

The next big experiment

Can we create a better workplace – one that will marry the best aspects of the lessons from the WFH era and the traditional in-office experience? That will be the next big experiment – and I, for one, am very optimistic. I just hope we get to test it soon!

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