In many ways, I believe the U.S. has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic moment by moment. As a result, companies are approaching a social breaking point. While work-from-home culture has blurred the lines between on and off the clock, from my perspective, it has simultaneously failed to connect teams with the meaningful work and relationships they need to sustain themselves.
Rather than looking at the “new normal” as an ongoing (and, for all intents and purposes, permanent) shift, I've seen some who have turned a blind eye and stuck to business as usual. This anxious anticipation for a return to normal has left many employees facing the uncertainty alone.
Although some teams are more productive at home, uncertainty at work and in their personal lives makes productivity an increasingly difficult goal. With Zoom fatigue and what The New York Times referred to as “ambition in isolation,” our employees are desperately looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.
In response, companies must develop cohesive and constructive systems that fully acknowledge and account for the intricacies of remote work. By first accepting and then planning for changes that come with the pandemic, leaders can develop proactive strategies with the potential to increase employee satisfaction, performance and retention.
Maximize certainty and transparency.
Where we can’t hold constant for the world around us, we can at least set expectations within our own companies. Recently, I was asked to present a business update for my agency. By outlining the state of your business in these turbulent times, leaders can increase camaraderie and, subsequently, morale. By highlighting where you are financially, you also highlight where you can grow together.
Additionally, our leadership team provides monthly updates on work-from-home policies for our employees. For many business leaders, returning to the office remains out of the question. However, this open-ended plan does little to provide team members with the answers they need to sort out child care, housing and at-home workflows. With the proper notice, teams feel empowered to make informed decisions, thus reducing their stress.
Optimize productivity with mindful scheduling.
While many of our daily to-dos have stayed the same in quarantine, the manner in which we handle our days can — and should — shift to accommodate the new normal. For example, while efficiency is a huge priority for my team, there is unspoken merit in taking breaks to improve overall productivity. Breaks can help increase productivity, and I've found longer breaks to be especially impactful. While this might result in a less-traditional workday, I consider the results worth the adjustment.
Another upfront cost that deserves the investment is encouraging employees to use their paid time off. The same study that showed remote workers are more productive also found they are less likely to take time off. However, with the obvious strain on mental health created by the pandemic, the national fight against racism and isolation, reminding employees to use this benefit is an invaluable investment to prevent burnout.
Establish spaces for collaboration.
Finally, the biggest obstacle we have to account for with remote work is an undeniable feeling of isolation. Throughout the pandemic, my agency has stayed mindful of local and state regulations to open our offices with extremely limited capacity. We’ve required temperature checks and social distance requirements while tracking and limiting the number of in-office occupants. This gives our staff the opportunity to see team members, albeit in a very restricted capacity.
For businesses that have forgone offices completely — or those in areas where gathering at all remains unsafe — encourage digital collaboration sessions for your teams. The brainstorming that once occurred over coffee and lunch has become a thing of the past. Therefore, in addition to standing meetings, create collaboration sessions to provide dedicated times to offer feedback and pose ideas. The result will be more meaning in your team’s work and a rekindled creative output.
Ignorance is not bliss.
Currently, our employees are fielding uncertainty at multiple levels. Asking them to do their jobs as though this is not the case simply does a disservice to the entire company. Team members are less effective in their roles, turnover has the potential to be higher and the quality of work for your company is put at risk. Rather than continuing to force the adoption of a poor-fitted system, intuitive leaders will develop new strategies to accommodate their employees in unconventional times.