The pendulum normally swings back when we see paradigms shift. As many companies made the move to work from home (WFH) with the onset of COVID-19, this article (which lacks data, by the way) there may be some rumblings from some companies to bring people back to the office (safely, of course). Is this really a WFH issue or a management issue?
It is to be expected that WFH will not be a permanent arrangement for everyone who is doing it now. Whether due to circumstances, preference, or company culture, some people (and companies) are going to prefer to have people in offices. But, to make WFH effective, companies have to adjust how they manage people and not just pretend that the same approaches will translate from the office to home work environments.
For instance, people experience more autonomy when working from home. That can either be leveraged for faster decision making (with perhaps less consensus) or problem solving time can be built into weekly schedules. Or teams can develop new approaches to problem solving that account for WFH.
Others in the article are concerned that it is more difficult to build relationships when working remotely in that there are fewer opportunities to spontaneously interact. One company’s solution was renting a large cottage where their (small) company could get together. Of course, there’s nothing awkward about spending “voluntary” week or two in a house with your boss. I have a better idea. It uses old tech, but I think it might work. How about using that calling feature on your phone to reach out to people?
An approach mentioned, and one that one of my clients with “essential” workers has been using, is a blended one. The HR team determined how much on site coverage was needed to address employee and management issues and the staff has alternated days in the office to cover those needs and doing WFH on the others days. This has allowed for distancing, having some personal interactions, and a recognition that some work is done better at the office and other work can be done just as well remotely.
One executive in the article mentions the difficulty in training new employees, who would typically go through 6 weeks of classroom training and OJT. And, if your mindset is that is the ONLY way to train employees, then remote work presents a problem. If you are willing to innovate, then it is more of an opportunity. Just as pre-COVID not everyone wanted to work at an office, as we adjust to COVID, not everyone is going to want to WFH. It is reasonable to assume that while many people will go back to working 40 hours a week at an office, there is going to be a substantial number that do not. Companies should be looking for ways to adapt to that reality instead of forcing old squares into new round holes.