COVID-19 has forced the adoption of new ways of working and shifted the norm in and out of the workplace. Now organizations are tasked with reimagining their work and the role of offices in creating safe, productive, enjoyable workplaces for their employees.
Many companies around the world have risen to the occasion, acting swiftly to safeguard employees and migrate to a new way of working that even the most extreme business-continuity plans hadn’t envisioned. Across industries, leaders will use the lessons from this large-scale work-from-home experiment to reimagine how work is done—and what role offices should play—in creative and bold ways.
According to McKinsey’s research, 80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 percent that they are as productive. Many employees liberated from long commutes and travel have found more productive ways to spend that time, enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives, and decided that they prefer to work from home rather than the office. Many organizations think they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints, adopt innovative processes to boost productivity, create an even more influential culture, and significantly reduce real-estate costs. Workplaces around the United States are questioning how work should be done and the role of the office.
Although the answer will be different for every organization, business, and functions, exceptional change-management skills, and constant pivots will need to happen over time.
During this pandemic, organizations have tried to ensure that the most critical processes could be carried on remotely. Most have simply transplanted existing processes to remote work contexts, imitating what had been done before the pandemic. Organizations should identify the most critical processes for each significant business, geography, and function, and re-envision them entirely, often with involvement by employees. This effort should examine their professional-development journeys (for instance, being physically present in the office at the start and working remotely later) and the different stages of projects (such as being physically co-located for initial planning and operating remotely for execution).
Organizations should also reflect on their values and culture and on the interactions, practices, and rituals that promote that culture. A company that focuses on developing talent, for example, should ask whether the small moments of mentorship that happen in an office can continue spontaneously in a digital world. Other practices could be reconstructed and strengthened so that the organization creates and sustains the community and culture it seeks.
Workplaces should use this time to break away from past habits and systems within the workplace. A well-planned return to offices can use this moment to reinvent their role and create a better experience for talent, improve collaboration and productivity, and reduce costs. Ultimately, the aim of this reinvention will be what good companies have always wanted: a safe environment where people can enjoy their work, collaborate with their colleagues and achieve the objectives of their workplaces.