In the spring of 2020, nearly every company across the U.S. was forced to reevaluate its technology capabilities as employees were sent home to work remotely due to COVID-19.
“A lot of companies found almost immediately that they needed to adopt new tools for their day-to-day communication," said Taryn Schawillie, a vice president with First American Equipment Finance, a City National Bank subsidiary. “We quickly learned how to use Zoom and Microsoft Teams features more effectively. These were platforms that we had access to before the pandemic but were not using to their fullest potential."
While the rush to adapt created glitches for many businesses in the early days of the pandemic, the latest shift — to a hybrid workforce with employees cycling in and out of the office — has its own challenges. Some companies will return to their former fulltime, on-site work models. But a study by Willis Towers Watson found that employers expect 37% of their employees to be working remotely at the end of 2021, compared to 11% prior to the pandemic. Many of those workers will split their time between their home and the office.
“Recruiters are often asked if there's an option for remote work," said Kamaria Rutland, founder of OTM Coaching Group, a consulting and corporate training firm. “If you want to attract and keep talent, you need to offer flexibility, including remote work."
While the details may look different for every company, a functional business with a hybrid workforce may need increased training for leaders to keep the corporate culture thriving.
Once it became clear that employees would need to work from home for more than a few weeks after the pandemic began, one of 2020's big challenges for employers was creating a seamless work experience for staff at home and in the office.
“The home office needs to be as good if not better than the main office, so companies needed to double their investment in laptops, workstations and other IT necessities for their employees," said Schawillie, whose company provides financing solutions for business equipment investments.
Internet access, and Wi-Fi connections that could handle large files and multiple family members on simultaneous video conferences, became another issue for many firms.
“Employees working at home needed the ability to access the IT department virtually, since they weren't able to address issues in person," said Schawillie.
Beyond the physical and technological constraints for managers and workers, the next challenge became how to create a virtual work culture, Rutland noted.
“Employees already know they want flexibility and balance for home and work life, so the onus was on managers to research effective ways to manage a remote work team," said Rutland. “Managers and business owners will have to continue to enhance their skills in order to meet the challenges of team building, coaching and performance management for a hybrid workforce."
As workers gradually return to the office, even if it's part-time over the coming weeks and months, it's important to create a safe workplace, said Schawillie.
She encourages her clients to evaluate their real estate footprint and set it up to be flexible to allow for different configurations as safety protocols evolve and their workforce adapts.
A collaborative workforce with employees that includes those who are onsite and offsite may be strengthened by these techniques:
Rutland identified several vulnerabilities that managers and business owners may need to address.
“Employees want to be seen and heard, regardless of whether they're working from home or in the office," said Rutland. “Leaders need to be mindful to ask for contributions from everyone and to resist the urge to get consensus from just the employees in the office."
Most importantly, Rutland said, is to be transparent and to delegate projects throughout the entire team to demonstrate fairness and build trust. Recognizing the strength of each employee no matter where they physically work can improve their loyalty to the organization and to the company's bottom line.
“Some people know they're more productive in a meeting when they attend in person, so they'll go to the office for that," said Schawillie. “That same person may feel like they can concentrate more at home if they need to work on a project. The idea is to make the workplace adaptable enough to accommodate that flexibility."
Companies that remain nimble and embrace the technology that allows a hybrid workforce to thrive are more likely to successfully attract and retain the talent they need in this competitive job market.
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