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Darryl Wright, EY Canada People Advisory Services

Darryl Wright

People Advisory Services, EY Canada

Society is in the midst of a modern-day workplace revolution as COVID-19 completely resets how and where we do our jobs.

What started as a short-term reaction to the pandemic is quickly becoming a long-term shift for many organizations. Flexible work arrangements are likely to be a permanent feature in the future of work. Those already on or beginning their journey of redefining the future of work must consider many factors. 

Reorganizing the workforce in a way that makes sense

Old-school attitudes about productivity continue to persist. A recent EY survey found that 55 percent of organizations believe remote workers are less productive than their in-office counterparts. Remote workers may be juggling personal and professional demands — especially if they have children or aging relatives requiring care at home — so what’s important to measure are deliverables rather than traditional measures of productivity. Leaders should assign clearly-defined tasks and communicate regularly with employees to see if they’re struggling. 

As the pandemic stretches on, organizations must also assess who truly needs to return to the office. Assessing employees’ current responsibilities will help determine which employees should return — for example, employees who are client-facing or who need access to in-office systems and data. If a job must be performed at the office, then the reasons should be clearly communicated to the employee. Otherwise, many workers will expect flexible work arrangements to continue.

Leaders need to be in close virtual proximity to drive greater empathy and support.

Accommodating workers and creating a positive culture

Businesses must also listen to their staff about where they feel most productive and take steps to accommodate them. Each worker is different, and some employees may long to return to the office. If so, organizations can consider hot desking — multiple workers using a single physical workstation during different time periods — while ensuring sanitation and safety protocols are strictly followed. Otherwise, they’ll need to increase office space to allow for physical distancing and to ensure employees’ health and safety.

Workplace culture is another important consideration. It can be tough to build bonds and culture when people are working remotely, but it is possible. Companies must communicate regularly and ensure they’re keeping people engaged. Leaders need to be in close virtual proximity to drive greater empathy and support. In the recent EY survey, a large majority of employers — 75 percent — said they intended to create moderate to extensive changes to professional learning and skills development. Equipping managers and employees with the right skills to be productive in a remote environment, and with access to educational resources to respond to future changes, is a keen focus.

These types of efforts are likely to build positive morale and improve office culture, which can also play a key role in attracting talent. In the new normal, companies that become adaptable are more likely to become those that thrive.

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