Advice for Managers Seeking the Next Normal for the Workplace
We are introducing a blog series based on an article from the Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge website, "COVID Killed the Traditional Workplace. What Should Companies Do Now?" by Dina Gerdeman. Members of the faculty contributed their advice for managers creating their next normal workplace. Today's post is by Julia Austin, an executive fellow at the Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, and suggests prioritizing face time at the office.
Managers will have to accommodate changes to work patterns in the post-COVID era. As much as some employees will crave the return of in-person social connections in the office, they have become accustomed to the flexibility that comes with virtual work—from less time to commute to more time with family and pets. I suspect many will enjoy occasional visits to the office for real-time connections with colleagues but will prefer to maintain their at-home work lifestyle.
I suggest managers put some structure in place to ensure that time in the office is optimized for face time. For example, make a team schedule, so the days in the office are most meaningful and focused on connections, both scheduled and serendipitous. The advent of Zoom fatigue has forced many teams to adjust their meeting mania to mitigate hours in front of a screen. I've seen teams reduce standing one-hour meetings to 45 or even 30 minutes, and their meetings have become far more efficient.
However, they have lost time for those casual conversations that come before and after a meeting or from just walking in the hallway or bumping into folks you might otherwise never know at work when you're grabbing coffee. Post-COVID, I encourage leaders to foster the same efficiency with meeting schedules when back in offices, but also to create time blocks, either online or in person, for the random connections that are critical for developing team culture.
Online, this could mean hosting virtual office hours where a manager's "Zoom door" is open for anyone to pop in. In the office, this could be setting expectations that folks who are on site are not just there for in-person meetings. Ensure there are times for people to just sit together and work or to have more casual connections at hackathons or demo hours, so teams can show their work in process.
Staff Report | 04/16/2021