Companies that enjoyed progress with their remote work strategies in March, are now stalling in the dog days of mid-summer — and in the face of a pandemic that just won’t quit. After the resurgence of COVID-19 across most of the country, many leaders I speak with have cancelled their plans to reopen their offices.
Employees are not feeling safe to return, and they are not enthused about wearing masks all day. Why not continuing working from home where it is safe, and they are productive?
Employees sense the lack of confidence about the future from their confused leaders, as this recent Gallup poll indicates. It is time for leaders to wake up to the long-term business impact of COVID-19. A return to the normal office is a fading dream.
It is time for a new vision of the office—the now office–and the long-term reality of remote work. Leaders must lead. The early adapter is rewarded with improved profitable growth and a nice return on the investment. At Medtronic in Santa Rosa, we saved $2 million a year after implementing remote work long before the pandemic.
Polls also indicate that when COVID-19 eventually abates, about 50% of workers want to come into the office two-to-three days a week. Employees want to re-build relationships and have the serendipitous meetings that were helpful collaborating and overcoming obstacles. CEOs, too, need to keep their workforces intellectually aligned and emotionally attached to their company’s mission and strategies or risk their workforces feeling more like independent contractors and less like valued team members.
The use of ZOOM happy hours to maintain esprit de corps has grown old. Management needs to remember how to successfully build emotional ties among their employees. Below are six tips for rekindling your remote work success and for creating a new normal for the office.
- Double down on purpose. My advice to CEOs is never to stop speaking to your workforce about your company’s purpose, how you measure it, and the contributions employees make to that mission. When employee’s values align with the company’s purpose, those employees will give discretionary effort and treat their jobs as a passion and not “a job.” I have many examples of companies who have achieved success this way. One of my favorites is Medtronic where the company’s mission was to “Contribute to human welfare by alleviating pain, restoring health, and prolonging life.” During my tenure there, each CEO mentioned the company’s purpose at every quarterly “all hands” meeting. They would often have an innovation team to speak at the meetings about a new “contribution to human welfare” and how it would improve patients’ treatment. Our employee surveys showed that the “engagement” of employees rose significantly after these meetings.
- Use repetition. Tell your managers to over-communicate new developments and how they affect priorities and milestones. It’s a leader’s role to continually explain new circumstances, changes that had to be made, and the affects on goals and milestones. Most important is telling workers what goals are no longer necessary in light of the new priorities. Managers need to continually communicate changes and priorities and answer all employee questions about the changes until they feel exhausted. Then, the message is finally getting through. This advice is doubly true today.
- Continue to coach, train, and develop careers. While employees may have joined your company for its purpose, pay and benefits, the best employees will stay for its culture, their learning, and career development. Don’t stop doing the things that build the long-term loyalty of your workforce. While switching classroom training to virtual training may prove difficult, coaching is not. Coaching is a one-on-one process that is a must for each manager. Learn the secrets of effective leadership coaching. Online training was gaining attention long before COVID-19, and you can continue your progress. So too, continue career development discussions with employees, which include candid feedback and joint discussions of what they want to be doing three or five years from now. In my book, Hack Recruiting, I tell CEOs and CHROs that career development is less expensive than recruiting. One good way to rekindle career development discussions in the COVID-19 world is by holding engagement meetings.
- Build trust. When I launched a remote work environment at Medtronic’s Santa Rosa businesses in 2012, our advice to managers was to speak with their employees every day. We told them to think about replacing a “Good Morning” as people came into the office with a brief but significant conversation with each remote employee by text or phone call. It is a great way to continue informal relationships and learn their emotions for the day’s tasks. Trust is the No. 1 factor of team success, and in the long transition to the new normal, it will be important to maintain trust.
- Invest in technology. In order to get the most productivity and innovation out of remote work, you will need to invest in digital technology, now. These technologies include digital recruiting and learning platforms, intelligent digital assistants to instantly communicate answers through bots about common questions employees have on HR, IT and Operations issues. Investments will be needed in broadband, videoconferencing, cyber security, and digital file storage. Many of these technologies have a good return on investment. McKinsey’s research shows that companies that implement bold and comprehensive digital strategies outperform their rivals and benefit from higher revenue and EBIT growth, including the cost of digitization.
- Understand the new paradigm for the “now office.” Companies can pay for their investment in digital technologies by rethinking the office paradigm. The new strategy for management is to enable the technology, space, and time for where, when, and how individuals and teams work. When we went to a remote work environment at Medtronic, we learned that we could substantially downsize our office and rededicate much of the remaining space for project teams, face-to-face training, and high-tech conference rooms.
Certainly, you will need to keep research and development labs, manufacturing facilities, and office space for the workers who need to be there, but your remote workers will no longer need cubes.
Increasingly, the office will be the gathering place for project teams. You won’t need the square footage you once did for an office space with a new role. The real estate savings will more than pay for your technology investment. Our investment in technology and new office furniture was paid for with less than two months of our savings of ending the leases on two facilities. We saved $2 million annually on real estate. We gained hundreds of thousands more per year with the productivity increase of each remote worker.
It is time for a new vision of the office—the now office–and the long-term reality of remote work.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and to develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and cultures of innovation. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.