An Unintended Experiment

How Remote Work Is Changing the Workplace as a Result of the Coronavirus Outbreak

April 20, 2020

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Low utilization rates in the office, access to top talent, improved virtual collaboration tools and opportunities for staff flexibility are long-held drivers for organizations to consider work-from-home strategies. Since many of us are now weeks into a “stay at home” order, this is the first time we’ve all been given a chance to try it for ourselves. If you considered a remote-work strategy before COVID-19, this moment becomes an unexpected opportunity to learn what works for your organization.

When we return to our offices, our workplace strategies will expand beyond the typical office or campus. They will include hundreds of extra remote work sites and leverage office locations for their highest value — to bring people together. In the meantime, we can learn from our current experience and bring these benefits back to the office. Here are a couple of ideas to think about:

Deeper Connections 

Strong personal relationships are critical to effective teams. Thanks to video conferencing, we now have an unexpected window into our colleagues’ lives. Having a child or a pet wander across a screen gives us more insight into who they are and helps us build deeper connections. We can embrace these unexpected, personal moments to build relationships that go beyond the current state, and carry them with us even after we return to the workplace. Today, we can practice our virtual interactive skills by shifting a face-to-face breakfast meeting to a virtual coffee to stay connected over the things that usually bring us together.

Adapting Culture

It’s also important to consider whether your culture is ready for this kind of change longer-term after the peak of the coronavirus has passed. So much of organizational culture is defined by face-to-face interactions, how people react in a crisis, and how they build trust with their colleagues. While each organization is unique, there are some key considerations.

  1. Have your teams been able to turn to each other for support, working together to meet the needs of the business?
  2. Have managers been able to let go and enable teams to perform their work without in-person monitoring?
  3. Have you been able to share stories and celebrate how people have shown up for each other despite the current disruption?

Ideally, this moment is bringing out the best of your teams and is showing that your culture can thrive and be ready for more intentional remote work.

An Evolving Workplace

Finally, this is an unexpected opportunity to think about the workplace itself. The definition of a real estate portfolio may evolve beyond a single office location or a campus to a collection of sites — including people’s homes that are supported by a real estate team in close collaboration with people and technology teams. We may consider our offices as more of an organizational hub or “passthrough model,” shifting toward more effective group space. If most of our work can happen at home, we will be drawn to the office for the social interactions and the energy we derive from when we feel like we are a part of something — and can tangibly see the direct impact our efforts have on others. In addition, being given the choice of where to work matters too. When we can expand our range of workplace options beyond only those in a traditional office, we can work where we are most productive.

Despite our resilience, and how quickly many of us have adopted to a work-from-home approach, there are still things we miss and can’t wait to get back to soon: the daily, unplanned interactions with our colleagues; the ability to effortlessly build on ideas and brainstorm as a team in one room; the unexpected insight that forms when running into someone you don’t normally work with on a regular basis. Furthermore, we benefit from a change in scenery — from selecting spaces that align with our mood and the type of work to be done — that isn’t always available within the limited real estate we have at home. And while we may approach a room full of people with some trepidation in the future, we are still social animals that rely on human contact for survival. Although the future is uncertain, it’s important to use this time to consider what’s right for your organization.

 

How are you and your organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at socialmedia@nbbj.com.

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