The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, with many employees now working from home or utilising a hybrid working environment. While this shift has brought about many benefits, such as increased flexibility and reduced commuting time, it has also presented some challenges when it comes to employee health and productivity.
In 2021 Dyson made the decision to tell its UK employees to continue to come to work, the company explained that its history of innovation was lead in part by collaborative creativity, and the face-to-face interactions that play a vital role in effective collaboration.
Dyson's stance predictably lead to some tension within the company, with many employees used to the conveniences of working from home at the beginning of the pandemic. This tension is not limited to just Dyson, other companies have also seen productivity fall with a working from home structure with companies such as Netflix calling their colleagues to return to office lite.
So is the answer to revert back to office working? Well, Elon Musk seems to think so. In May 2022, he ordered all Tesla employees to return to working a minimum 40hrs at the office. However his history with employee welfare has been unsteady to say the least, from mocking a disabled Twitter worker, to threatening to remove workers stock options if they joined a union, and it seems the strict 40hr enforcement hasn't gone to plan either, with many staff saying the Tesla factories don't have the capacity (or chairs) to support a full return to work. It's been reported that employee morale has also suffered.
Rather than revert back to pre-covid practises, how do employers face into the challenge of a dispersed workforce, and how do we balance our employees needs and company productivity targets?
Previous training for managers relied heavily upon visual cues, getting to know employees tendencies and asking the right questions to understand if employees are well and working effectively.
In a hybrid working environment this becomes more of a challenge, so managers need training to better interact with people digitally. From making time to check in with employees one-to-one, to ensuring contact is kept strictly during work time, managers will need to adapt their styles to meet the digital demands of a hybrid workforce.
And let's talk about the hybrid working elephant in the room...
Teams meetings, meetings and more meetings
Death by Powerpoint is still a thing, even when you're sat at your home office desk. Likewise, boring meetings and the ones that always start late aren't improved just because we're sat at home. Finally "let's keep it brief" keeps its number one spot as the most frustrating phrase of all time (at least in my book).
Managers need to ensure meetings have a specific purpose. Let's have productivity meetings, well-being meetings and social meetings. Let's keep them separate. Let's KEEP THEM BRIEF.
And talking of productivity
It's more important than ever for colleagues to feel needed, to understand what their contribution is to the company is. Explaining why they are doing the work they are doing, and showing how that contributes to a teams' success will keep colleagues on task, it will keep colleagues working hard, and it will keep colleagues.
What about office time?
When it's essential that workers return to work, what can we do to make this transition as easy as possible?
For one, we can learn from Mr Musk and give our colleagues a chair to sit on and a desk to work at. Simplicity is the best solution here, for example if you need to bring colleagues together to improve collaboration, then give them a great space to collaborate in.
We spoke about training to improve digital communications between managers and employees, could these managers also benefit from change management training too?
As more and more companies adopt to hybrid working, employees will likely flock to these companies looking for the benefits of working from home. Companies must not race to adopt to hybrid working though without assessing their individual needs and implementing a strategy that benefits both employee health and productivity.
With many companies such as Dyson citing collaboration as the main reason for bringing colleagues back to the office, perhaps the best thing companies can do is to collaborate with those returning colleagues. Understand their changing needs will lead to a happier and more productive workforce.