Return to Work

A month ago, my organization started reintegrating our working-remote employees, back into the work environment.  It was a phased-in approach.

Only certain employees, who had work that could be done remotely, were cut loose from the office tether to work from home. For employees working in the field or part of a crew, changes in work and procedures were implemented to increase safety as they continued to be based from a facility.

Dispatching employees to their homes for an undetermined period of time was revolutionary by our work processes. And our culture. Not only had it been challenging to work remotely using network applications and processes, the biggest thing was the loss of face-to-face contact for group and individual interactions. Like many organizations, our leadership and supervision models were designed for face-to-face conversations.

How do we have group meetings? We figured it out. How do we get approval and signatures for leave, payroll, invoices and other paper processes? We figured it out. Could we provide reliable hook-up to our internal network to access applications and databases? We got a large supply of adapters for computers being taken home and gave employees step-by-step guides. The pandemic interrupted our performance review process of face-to-face conversations and accomplishments and expectations. What did we do? We figured it out.

You would be surprised what you can do when faced with a challenge, even when it significantly bends the paradigm.  Our paradigm resembled a a pretzel.

We were not an organization that embraced remote working, while many businesses have been using it for years. If you have offices in different cities or counties, or projects that put teams in distant locations for clients, remote work makes sense.

With the pandemic, our culture needed to adapt, and quickly.  Technology helped make that happen. Not only has it given us tools, it has freed us. Technology changed how we worked, and that also meant where we work.

Instead of working in an office down the hall, where you usually communicate by email or chat, would it matter if that employee was in another city? Especially, if that employee already lived there? Certainly, the traditional employment situation is for the employee to be onsite, even within eyesight. Close to the flagpole as a former boss used to say.

I saw a television feature on how employees returning to work came back to very different looking office environments. The pandemic has certainly changed how employees are grouped.  Fortunately, my part of the organization did not have major changes to make, in fact we were in the midst of a remodel where we were building in more space and separation. Damn the open office concept.

A couple of years ago, the architect hired by the organization sold the open office concept to several of the departments. Open, inviting and collaborate were the selling points. The smart wave of office concepts. The architect looked over our environment, met with us, and in the end pushed his own philosophy. Some of my colleagues were polite and listened, and seemed to feel pressure for more cubes, lower walls and more air/light circulation.

The more he talked, the more starch I got in my spine. While other departments embraced the new concept, I did not, and I planted my feet firmly in the carpet. The reasons he gave for change were opposite of what employees valued from us. What may have worked elsewhere, or thought to work elsewhere, would have been hated by employees. How do I know? I listen and I observe the work they do. The architect did not work there, so why he even went the direction he did, and doubled down after initial negative feedback, is still a mystery.

Had we built to his recommendations, we would be installing costly protective panels and probably extending remote work assignments. No one saw the pandemic two years ago, but we did know our work environment.

cubicle-flickr

It is apparent that the impact of the coronavirus will be with us for a long time. The pandemic has forever changed to how we work, how we shop, how we educate, how we gather socially and our feeling of safety.

Life gives you many lessons, if you are paying attention. Planning and building a respectful and effective work environment is what good organizations do.  However good the plan, you must be able to quickly react and adapt.  That is what good leaders do.


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