The Next Normal

Where is the best place to work?

Pre-Covid, this question used to refer to Fortune magazine’s best places to work list. As we move into the next normal, the conversation has shifted to a more fundamental question about the best physical place to work. Office? Home? Hybrid? Anywhere? As executive consultants, we are often asked about the “right” answer to this question.

It’s not easy to decide what is best for your organization. We understand. We’re having the same conversations with our team and continue to research this topic. There are many variables to consider, trends to understand, and, most importantly, people and cultures to align.

Quite honestly, it is hard to imagine we are still living in this historic pandemic moment – Pandemic Year 2. We have learned many lessons along the way and never imagined that people could adapt so quickly to working from home – figuring out Zoom and Microsoft Teams almost overnight in their newly-furbished home office spaces. People adapted and demonstrated their resilience and productivity. It was clear that working remotely allowed flexibility in schedules, saved time with commutes and increased “thinking” time.

To understand the current landscape, a recent Gallup found that 56% of U.S. workers were “always” or “sometimes” working remotely in January 2021. Forty-four percent (41%) of those working remotely said they would still prefer to work from home when states begin to lift restrictions because of personal preferences. Thirty-nine percent (39%) said they would want to return to working in an office, a number that has increased since a low of 28% in July.

With the full vaccination rate over 26% in the US and trending upwards, more and more employers are grasping at the question of how to adapt to the next normal. This question has produced a great deal of research. It is becoming increasingly clear that the future of work is not fully remote nor is it fully in the office. But rather a hybrid model that combines and optimizes the needs of business with the changing expectations of people.

However, you can see the trend in Gallup’s data showing that a growing number of people wish to return to the office over time after working solely remotely. Harvard Business Review found that employees shifted their opinion on preferences as did employers (note Google, who quickly announced remote work and is now changing course).

There were gains, and there were losses. Mostly, regarding diminishing effective connections, collaborations and learnings. These deprivations have resulted in many employees feeling anxious and burned out. Understanding and keeping the positives while noting what is not working is part of the decision.

The variables to consider for being hybrid are:

– The work: Shape the hybrid strategy around the work being performed. Evaluate the work to determine the level of flexibility, collaboration, independent work, etc.

– Some work is inherently individual, such as researching and coding, while others require teaming, such as brainstorming and strategic planning.

– The people and business: Consider the employee experience and balance employee preferences and business needs.

– We recommend that this be a conversation with your team to understand their preferences and needs, with the understanding that this be one data point as preferences change and situations change and decisions impact everyone.

– It is also critical to be clear about negotiables and non-negotiables for your business needs.

– For example, many employers are considering designating certain days as “collaboration days” and holding them sacred as meeting days.

More than ever, providing a high-performance workplace experience will depend on the thoughtful integration of space, people and technology. CBRE has identified some of the trends to consider in decision making as part of the employee experience:

– Remote work is here to stay

– The office is here to stay

– Space allocations will favor “we space” over “me space”

– Conferencing will have mixed presence collaboration

– Desk sharing occupancy strategies will continue to grow

– Employees will demand more elbow room

Finally, it is the organizational culture and values that truly shape the next normal and the approach toward any place to work. The cultures of most organizations have changed. We have shifted our norms of working and what is appropriate around decision making, connecting and problem solving. We now have a unique opportunity to be deliberate and renovate our organizational culture based upon the collective experiences, future focus and shared values.

Having a dialogue around purpose, strategy, values and norms is imperative. What are the appropriate behaviors that we want to espouse to maintain the type of culture that is right for our organization? This will be important to ask. We will be helpful as we evolve and continue to adapt into our next normal so that people can thrive.

As a business, we too, are deciding what is best for Catapult using these methods. As executive consultants, we can assist your organization in deciding the best place for your teams to work.

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