“The crystal ball is cloudy and clear,” National Journal President Kevin Turpin told us at BIMS in an insightful Future of Work panel. “What’s clear is we’re in a period of change. As a leader, you have to operate more in empathy and truth, and make choices [from those places]. Work can get done in different ways, but you still have to do the work.”
“We’ve always changed,” said another panelist, Nick Schacht, chief global development officer, SHRM. “Some of us have been connecting from the road for 30 years. You learn to use new tools. We can hold on to things that we know. Look at the range of generations; there’s like six generations now in the workplace.
“Flexibility is one key thing. At SHRM, we’re doing three days in office, two at home. Adults will be adults. If you have a doctor’s appointment, go to that. We can add flexibility. But what is it particularly that young people want?”
“People under 30, or even 27, they have very specific ideas about where they want to work,” Turpin added, pointing to the challenges of recruitment and retention. Skills development is crucial. Can that be done remotely? “They’re trying to be a professional.” Can that be fully accomplished without in-person interaction?
“Each generation looks at something differently,” Terri Travis, Industry Dive’s VP of human resources, and the third panelist, said. “The similarity is that people want autonomy.”
Here are eight tips from this esteemed panel and other sources for negotiating this brave new remote world:
Know your time zones and cultures. “Workplaces will need to remain flexible to recruit and retain team members,” Travis said. “Video calls, messaging and other engagement platforms, or other technologies, will be an integral part for companies to keep a strong level of employee engagement with their teams spread across the country and globally. We have expanded our team internationally, and team members have the flexibility to work from where it best suits their needs. But along with this comes more consideration needed for local time zones, regional and international workplace culture and habits, and communication.”
Be intentional. “Organizations need to take an intentional approach,” wrote Washington Post tech at work writer Danielle Abril. “That means creating onboarding processes that offer several points of connection and give new employees the chance to meet both their co-workers and other people across the organization. And when employees join, managers should make sure new hires feel like they have some ownership in the company’s culture.”
Widen your hiring pool. “The world has changed,” Anne Holland, co-founder of MJBiz, sold to Emerald for $120 million, told me. MJBiz employees used to have to come to the office 10 am to 3 pm Tuesday to Friday. That seems eons ago. “After the first month [of the pandemic, working virtually] felt normal and natural… and we were able to go get the best of the best.” Turpin agreed, with qualifications. “We can hire better talent than we could before. [But] where people work from now matters, given the tax laws. We now have a 135-person business registered in 12 states. Taxes is one thing but then being up on labor laws is another. It brings a level of risk…”
Design work around people. “In essence, we need to stop designing work around location, and start designing work around human behavior,” Alexia Cambon of Gartner wrote last year. “Employees will work better, stay at their organization longer and keep healthier if they are placed at the center of work design. This is what we should be asking ourselves: If 9-5 had never been invented; if ‘office’ were a foreign term; if the concept of a meeting sounded like gibberish—in short, if today were day one of the history of work—how would you design how you work?”
DEI must have its place. “Diversity is here; it’s not just the color of our skin, but experiences,” Turpin said. “It’s something we have to embrace. It can’t just be something we’re checking the boxes on. The majority of high school grads last year were people of color. It has to be infused into how we’re running our businesses.”
Create virtual “connection points” for employees. “Is there a platform in which employees are encouraged to chat with each other?” Abril asked. “Are there regular calls? Are there opportunities to team up with employees from different teams for something that might resemble a virtual water cooler?” Added Travis: “The shift to remote work gave employees a lot more power and control. If companies do not provide flexible workplace environments, they will not be competitive in the market and will suffer from a retention perspective. We have already seen this with our recruiting efforts.”
Consider structuring unstructured time, said Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor and author of Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere. Perhaps “starting every meeting with some personal connection time, versus jumping right into the subject matter at hand.” He suggested that 10-15% of meeting time could be allowed for the group to chat freely. “Starting in a personal way increases group cohesion and group performance. You have to build in the informal to get to know one another.”
Don’t rest on your laurels. “We’re going back to the office two days a week,” Travis said. The most important question for her is, “’What is the purpose of going to the office?’ We’re trying to take the best of both worlds. We had a great onboarding process onsite and now pivoted to a great onboard experience remotely. You can’t rest on your laurels on how you execute those… You have to make sure we’re setting [frontline managers] up for success.”