The past 18 months have put the remote-working model to the test. While many of us were more productive at home, others longed for physical interaction with their colleagues.
Employees also had a chance to be introspective during this period, with many opting to join organisations that offered more flexibility.
As employees now return to their offices, one thing managers do not need to do is revert to their old ways of managing them. Now that employees have received a taste of the flexibility that remote work offered, we need to ensure that the lessons learnt during the pandemic are applied to ensure retention while not compromising the bottom line. This means there are key areas that managers should focus on.
Maintain the distance
When companies had to switch to remote work 18 months ago, managers were concerned about productivity levels. Nonetheless, remote work did not negatively affect performance. A two-year study by Great Place to Work of 800,000 employees at Fortune 500 companies found that most employees reported stable or increased productivity levels when working from home.
Remote work allowed them more autonomy and independence, without their managers popping in to check in on them. For some, such as my creative designer friend, avoiding the morning commute and the office distractions as she worked from the comfort of her home studio improved her creativity significantly.
While physical interactions with other team members, clients and, especially, managers is crucial for morale, we need to retain some of the autonomy that remote work offers. Depending on the line of work, companies can offer a hybrid work model – where employees come into the office on certain days or are offered the flexibility to work from home when needed.
The Covid-19 pandemic has altered our work life in ways we could not have imagined, but most importantly it shed light on the importance of well-being and how it positively affects productivity. A number of my friends resigned from jobs that left them mentally exhausted and joined others that supported their health and wellbeing. Some started their own businesses to take control of their time and health.
Although many enjoyed the flexibility, some were also saddled with additional hours that often blurred the distinction between work and personal life. Many found themselves joining video conferencing calls beyond their work hours or being in touch with their managers over WhatsApp at the weekend.
Managers need to ensure well-being measurements are enforced and these can be applied in numerous formats – from providing a mental hotline for staff who feel overwhelmed to enforcing strict work hours, where no work-related communications should occur. They should also offer mandatory time-off for employees to unwind and relax many times a year.
Focus on result-based performance
For many years, performance criteria depended on how long employees spent at the office. Managers often perceived those who spent long hours at the office as more productive. But the pandemic proved that arriving early or staying in late did not necessarily equate to outstanding performance. As employees head back to the office, managers need to focus on results and reward employees accordingly.
The “new normal” is unchartered territory for employees and managers alike. It provides room for trial and error and a great opportunity to experiment on what our future office work should be like.
One thing, for sure, is that we cannot apply our old management ways to a new normal. A conversation with our team members can help us reach a balance.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.