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Managing the post-COVID return to the office

By September 4, 2020No Comments

While no-one could have foreseen how life and work would play out at the start of the year, many businesses are using this time as an opportunity to create new ways of working to better support staff – whether they are working at home, back in the office, juggling parenting or carer responsibilities, or home alone.

Slack’s US-based senior vice president, people, Robby Kwok, acknowledges the lockdown period has been trying for different personality types and family set-ups. But no matter what an individual’s situation, Slack’s focus has been on providing support.

“This has been difficult for extroverts who can’t see colleagues and friends. But it’s equally hard for introverts,” Kwok says. “We have 2000 employees with different individual circumstances. Our goal is to make sure people understand we really care about them and they should do what it takes to take care of themselves.”

Organisational transformation expert Janine Garner, who is also the author of the new book Be Brilliant – how to lead a life of influence, agrees it’s important not to put people in boxes and create one-size-fits-all solutions when managing workplaces, especially given the velocity of recent changes.

“I know introverted people you assume would have loved lockdown and working from home. But they are missing people and the opportunity to connect, explore and have deeper conversations,” Garner says.

“Similarly, I have extroverted colleagues who are shocked at how much they value the slower pace, downtime and chance to quietly be at home,” she notes.

As a result, it has been important to support people to make connections and feel empowered to manage themselves to work to the best of their abilities through 2020’s challenges.

Financial services software business Iress is a great example. It has 2000 staff across 19 offices in eight countries. The decision to implement Slack came from the broader employee base, rather than being driven by management. Iress’s head of workplace technology, Manqing Zhao, explains that “our users tried all the options, and told us they loved Slack.”

Adopting Slack has allowed it to streamline communication tremendously, so much so that four months after Slack’s implementation, 62 per cent of staff reported feeling more connected. Slack has supported Iress to build a mobile, flexible and collaborative environment that has been so important through the pandemic.

Supporting new ways of working

The value of a flexible approach cannot be underestimated through this period, says Kwok.

“When the lockdown started, we told staff not to worry about logging their sick time or absences,” he says. “We encouraged them to focus on doing what they needed to do. If that meant only working two hours a day, on the weekends or at night, so be it. We asked managers to be extremely flexible and supportive and trust their team to do the right thing for themselves and for the company in the long run.”

This flexibility extends to Slack’s approach to returning to the office. While some of its staff will be able to return to the office later this year, the way work is organised will be very different to pre-COVID days and most staff will have the opportunity to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose.

The company has also announced a new, distributed approach to managing the business. “We’re going to hire people living in cities where we don’t have offices, we’re going to support staff who want to move towns to permanently work from home. You can be anywhere,” he explains.

Kwok notes every business now has an opportunity to think differently about how people work together and manage performance.

“It’s easy to assume visually seeing someone at their desk or being in meetings equates to productivity. But it’s more about the output. It doesn’t really matter if something took someone five minutes or five days to produce work of a high quality. We have to retrain people on that front.”

Slack’s office design supports a fluid way of working and this will remain in a post-COVID world. Its offices are designed in the same way as its technology. Staff can move around different channels and workspaces as it suits them.

Employees have their own desk, but there are also phone booths people can use for individual video meetings. There are also lots of open spaces where you can collaborate.

“It all goes back to giving our staff the power to do what they feel is most productive,” Kwok says.

In light of the new normal, Garner recommends organisations be willing to experiment and explore hybrid ways of working as we navigate what’s likely to be a prolonged period of disequilibrium.

“It’s up to leaders and managers to explore what the new world of work could look like and create conversations that help people explore. Understand that during this recovery phase, it will be the learnings in the micro changes that are made that will contribute to a re-imagined workplace, culture and way of working,” she says.

 

Source : Sydney Morning Herald

Issued : June 30, 2020

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