You might feel like you’re getting whiplash reading the WFH news. Some articles say all employees hate the office and want to stay home forever. Others say WFH is bad for us, bad for promotions, and people really miss the office. So which is it? And as a leader, how should you take this information and build a location culture that works for your people? Here’s a four-step process for creating your work location strategy.
Consider your own biases
Talk to your team
Define the problem
Launch and iterate
Consider your own biases. Think about what YOU want. This is a surprising early action to take. Still, until you’re honest with yourself about how your own bias affects this decision, it will be hard to go into the rest of location planning in a way that best benefits the business and your employees. The work location question touches on a variety of pain points, so you want to assess where you fall on each of these and why. Your approach to commuting might be different if you feel OK paying for parking and thus drive your own car. Lower-income employees might be financially-driven to take public transport, changing their view of their morning transit. Acknowledging your position lets you see other people’s preferences in a more empathetic light.
Talk to your team. What do they want and why? The why is important. Maybe your team’s output is individual contributor, focus-type work, and there’s little need for group decision making. You’d expect this to impact how the team sees collaborative work and thus in-person schedules. Conversely, maybe you run a sales organization full of vibrant phone calls, where the noise can be an energy driver for some but a distraction for others. And looking to the future, how will remote workers feel if some people do come into the office? Lastly, how much of the team’s current perspective is colored by the pandemic, like stress over childcare due to school closings or fear of contracting the virus? These and other questions specific to your team need to be asked and answered to paint a picture of how location affects your team’s success, both pragmatically and emotionally.
Having multiple ways to get your team’s perspective is essential, as some people may not be comfortable voicing their true wishes out loud. But while anonymous polls might spur discussion, they don’t leave a lot of room for nuance. Perhaps some people hate commuting, but if they could work non-rush hour hours on the days they came into the office, that would be mitigated. Debating and discussing these ideas in different forums will help you paint a full picture of the needs and requirements for in-person work.
Define the problem. As we’ve discussed, remote versus in-person work affects many aspects of people’s personal and professional lives. Depending on your locations, age of your workforce, type of work, and several other factors, you would rank these in different priority order. Given your team’s feedback, how can you rank these and explain the rationale behind them in a transparent, meaningful, yet realistic way? The biggest drivers of remote work debate seem to be:
Distractions and focus
Individual role needs versus team/business needs
By ranking the topics relevant to your organization and transparently discussing how your team or company will approach them, your team is buying into the work location solution. By defining the problem together, you can begin to outline solutions to the most pressing needs.
Launch and iterate. As a manager, you have to ultimately do what’s best for the business, which will mean hard decisions regarding remote work policies. Hopefully, by thinking through the problem with your employees, you’ll be able to build a rational case for the right policy for your business for now. But that might change in the future. As a leader, you have to be transparent about the possibility of change but also give realistic timelines, frequent enough to be nimble but long enough to give practices time to take hold and allow employees to plan their lives effectively. You also have to be transparent about your aims. While keeping employees happy and engaged is a key goal, so is hitting quarterly targets. Some benefits may have to be changed in the future if productivity or creativity aren’t sustained without in-person collaboration.
Leaders today face an unprecedented upheaval in terms of worker location. To make strategic decisions that your team can get behind will require empathy, flexibility, and transparency. While the work-from-home landscape may look entirely different in 18 months, focusing on these three traits will allow you to not only weather the storm but thrive in this time of change.