Looking toward the new normal
Three approaches to consider as we move to a new work model
October 1, 2020
While you may have stopped talking about the “new normal,” there is no question most of the workforce who was suddenly catapulted into a home working environment, is wondering what work will look like post-pandemic. The answer is likely a hybrid model with employees working from home part of the time and in the office the rest of the time. Levi Strauss & Co. CFO, Harmit Singh stated at a recent CNBC@Work virtual event said, “I believe we will settle into a culture where working from anywhere will be the new norm, with work from home or office or a hybrid arrangement.”
I recently spoke to the owner of an office furniture supply company and he said that his business has dried up. It is not simply slowed down due to COVID-19 with the possibility of a resurgence once the virus has slowed, but rather his business contacts have indicated that they will be looking to unload furniture as they reduce their office footprint. This means employers are not expecting things to return to “normal.” It looks like companies are planning on a hybrid models of varying degrees.
Working from home one, two, or three, or even every day may provide flexibility, but whatever our new normal looks like, it will not come without challenges. Currently, employees are feeling burnout, having difficulty maintaining boundaries, and feeling a lack of community. These will all need to be addressed regardless of the number of days we return to the office.
Singh brings up another critical issue – employee burnout. To counteract this, the executives at Levi Strauss have mandated that meetings be shorter, meetings not be scheduled on Fridays and the last Friday of the month be an additional day off.
This aligns with discussions I have had with colleagues. I think we should follow the therapist model when it comes to the length of a meeting. Let’s start on the hour and end it no later than 10 minutes before the hour. I have been scheduling most of my meetings for 45 minutes, and you know what – we accomplish the same amount in those 45 minutes as we did in an hour.
I like the idea of additional time off because most everyone I speak with is working harder and longer hours, if only because the lines between work and home are more blurred. Over the summer months, at Drexel we have Friday afternoons off – I cannot tell you how great those Friday afternoons were. Even if I chose to work into my afternoon, I knew it was unlikely I would be interrupted and could get things accomplished. And when I took advantage of them, I enjoyed taking a long walk, a little retail therapy, an ice cream cone, a nap, or a deck chat with a friend – all means of self-care, which is so needed.
Sure we are meeting regularly on Zoom or some other videoconferencing platform, but it is not the same as chatting in the kitchen while you get your second cup of coffee or figure out why the copier is jammed. Our group has continued to meet for 30 minutes every Monday. We talk about everything from current events to personal loss. These moments are highly valuable because it reinforces our sense of community.
Each company will need to evaluate its workforce, the demands, and the stresses to determine how to best structure a return to normal, whatever that might be. But this shift to work from home has shown that most workers were productive and engaged and it has shown workers that there are huge benefits to flexibility, whether that is throwing a ball with your son in the backyard at 3:00 in the afternoon or taking your cat to the vet for a check-up on a Tuesday at 1:00 p.m., and I doubt most will want to just give that up. This means the decisions that will be made across corporate America (including non-corporate America) in the next six to 12 months will have an enormous impact on our work culture, let’s make sure we get it right. So, my suggestion to the folks sitting in the C-Suite - the best way to create a working environment that offers flexibility, support, and community is to talk with the employees and get their input. Of course, there is no way to please everyone, but understanding the needs and wants will go a long way to creating a positive and productive new normal.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor, Goodwin College
Assistant Dean, Graduate College