08 jul 2021 / Geral

But Where Will We Work?

The Future is here. And it looks different than we imagined. If the conversation about the future of work revolved around how automation and Artificial Intelligence would reshape careers and leave millions unemployed, in the midst of a pandemic, the conversation geared towards adjusting, at a global scale, to a fully remote work model. As the world transitions and learns to live with this virus, many companies are deciding how and where exactly people will work. 


Just these past weeks, we saw different companies announcing very different positions as to where people will work…. from now on. 


Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced the company will allow all their full-time employees to work from home as long as their jobs can be done remotely. Going against what the company announced in May 2020, that it would only allow more senior and experienced staff to request permanent remote work. 


Morgan Stanley’s CEO, ordered their New York City staff to return to the office by September or else. "If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. And we want you in the office," Gorman said in a conference late June. 


Deloitte, the accountancy giant, told their UK staff that once restrictions are lifted, they are free to work from wherever they want. Adopting a completely flexible approach to work. 


As for Google, Sundar Pichai revised the work plan and will now allow for 20% of employees to permanently work from home. In December the company announced a plan to have workers spend three days a week in the office. Now that so many technology workers are being offered the chance to choose how and where they want to work from, Google is relaxing its approach, and granting more flexibility to their staff. 


I believe that as we navigate these times more possibilities will emerge. The one thing that we can all agree on, is that flexibility and agility are key factors in meeting the demands of the current context. 


Moving Forward

Covid-19 brought about dramatic change in the way we work and do business. The idea that life would somehow,return to what it was is long gone. Remote work is here to stay. And on-site work will not be a thing of the past (just yet).


By now, most companies understand they will need to gear towards a very flexible work model. But transitioning to a hybrid way of working brings about a set of demands and adjustments that leaders need to ponder to make it work. How much flexibility will workers have in deciding where and how they want to work? How will the organization equip workers to thrive both inside and outside the office or elsewhere? How can the organization respond as quickly and effectively as possible to the requests and needs of their workforce? What systems need to be established that contribute to high performance, engagement and well-being? What needs to happen so that workers feel safe returning to the office? These and much more questions will arise in the upcoming months. 


Going Hybrid


A Mckinsey study of 100 executives of different industries and different countries, shows that nine out of ten organizations will combine remote and on-site work. 


According to this study, during the pandemic, most organizations saw rises in productivity, both individual and team, and employee engagement. While other organizations claim that productivity either remained the same, or suffered a decline. What can help explain this difference? The organizations that reported gains in productivity have put in place systems and ways to support moments of connection between colleagues - from opportunities to discuss projects, share ideas, network, mentor and coach.


Begin and End with a Growth Mindset


We’re all standing in uncharted territory, no one has a head start, if there was ever a moment to be ok with learning and figuring things out as we go...this is it. 


Disruptive times make up great opportunities for growth. Hockey and basketball teams will often show improved performance after losing a teammate to an injury. Why is that? Because the other team members, all of a sudden, are forced to discover new ways of working together. 


Teams that take on new challenges, face ordeals and recover from mistakes are more likely to believe in both their own and other people’s ability to develop the necessary competence and resilience. 


The way to imbue this mindset into an organizational culture is to have leaders adopting and modeling it. How? Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO spent the first months of his time on the job showing the value of a learn-it-all culture rather than a “know-it-all” culture. He shared monthly videos reviewing what he was learning and encouraging others to do the same. Of course, leaders are better off sharing not just their progress and what they’re learning, but also their failures and mistakes, which will ultimately signal to others that mistakes are the building blocks of any successful endeavor, not something to hide or be ashamed of. 


By admitting mistakes, acknowledging what we don’t know, looking at what other companies are doing right, and adopting an actively curious attitude, guided by questions and possibilities, we are more likely to persevere, and find a way to achieve our goals, even amidst all this turmoil. 


Add A Ton of Humility


A 2016 study in The Journal of Positive Psychology, created a humility score by asking people about their openness to advice, their honesty about their own strengths and weaknesses and whether they usually got excited about a friend’s accomplishments. The study showed that humility was negatively associated with depression, and anxiety, and positively correlated with happiness and life satisfaction. Also, it can be a powerful buffer to the harmful effects of stressful events.


How do we get better at humility? When someone questions our beliefs and ways of doing things, we can take a deep breath, and instead of digging our heels deeper, say: tell me more about that. 


Might also help to practice these questions: How might I be wrong? How would someone completely different than me approach this? What is the opposite way of viewing and/or doing this?


Prioritize Connection


More than a century of research proves how vital social connection is for our well-being, and while physical distancing, the safety measure imposed to prevent the spread of the virus, is not the same as social isolation, the negative psychological effect of COVID-19 has been observed worldwide. A study conducted in the US, examined people’s experiences from January 2020 to June 2020, and showed that happiness and life satisfaction suffered one of the largest declines during the pandemic. 


The growing research on the effects of the pandemic highlights particular patterns about who is doing better or worse. Some of the protective factors for positive well-being during COVID-19 are unsurprisingly the quality and quantity of social relationships. Another U.S. study reported that increases in the sense of connectedness from before to during the pandemic were associated with increases in life satisfaction, while increases in loneliness were associated with decreases in life satisfaction. Another survey of 1059 participants found that positivity resonance, or shared feelings of positivity and caring for another, explained the relationship between trait resilience and better mental health during the pandemic.


In addition to the quality, the amount of relationships one has access to, also matters when it comes to well-being. Out of the 902 Austrians surveyed once in late April 2020 the ones with larger social networks (greater number of social relationships) showed less stress and worry during lockdown. 


Just like organizations and leaders worldwide understood that their priority was to take care of the safety and well-being of their workers, they must take on the responsibility of creating systems and ways that foster connection and deepen relationships within the workplace. 


One of the ways in which we did this was by recreating a balcony break ritual in a virtual setting, bringing together people from different companies, roles and backgrounds, to chat about everything and nothing, giving them a sense of belonging and shared experience once a day. We called it Digital Balcony and people are still talking about it and saying how much they miss it. These types of programs are not a bonus type of thing in this context, they’re necessary ways of ensuring people have the support, energy and resources needed to weather the storm. 


Train People in Resilience and Emotional Intelligence


Now that mental health and well-being have rightfully been put on the spotlight, one of the kindest, but also most strategic things an organization can do is to train their people in Resilience and Emotional Intelligence. 


Google executives say the greatest challenge their employees face is mental well-being, so they are leaning on resilience training to help googlers meet the moment they’re facing.


The company’s resilience team, which had been running programs like counseling and employee resource groups, added a series of digital clips, 5 to 6 minutes long, each addressing a specific topic like sleep, breathing, parenting, or facing anxiety. In less than one month, Google had its 30,000 employees watch these videos.  


If employee mental and emotional well-being were already low before COVID-19, they have suffered a plunge in these pandemic times. With stress, anxiety and depression directly impacting engagement, productivity and turnover. Resilience training has never been more important. Any organization committed to staying in business in the next decade will need to consider how to develop resilience so that they can withstand the toll of threats and changes and emerge stronger. 


Just like the transition to going fully remote brought about its own set of challenges, the hybrid model will tax people's psychological, emotional and physical resources, and training them in resilience and emotional intelligence will equip them with the tools they need to thrive within a hybrid work model. 

Maximize Flexibility 


Last but not least, going hybrid will eventually mean that employees, not the organizations, will get to decide where, when and how they want to work. Without this flexibility most companies will struggle to recruit or retain top talent. Therefore managers and leaders will need to be prepared to hire anywhere and to broaden the scope of each role they hire for. 


People will get the chance to decide on whether to stay in their home country, to live in a different country other than the company's headquarters, while still advancing their careers, and companies have access to talent worldwide. Some companies readjust the salary according to the average living expenses of the employees home base, others don’t. 


Another thing companies can do is estimate the average cost of an employee on-site (things like office space, utilities, cleaning services, just to name a few) and grant each employee a percentage of that cost, that the company gets to save, so that the employee can use it for co-working spaces. 


These are a few of the things to consider as we move forward and globally adopt the hybrid model. Many more possibilities will emerge. And we will all have to learn to take the lead of the transformation we’re facing, and adjust the sails as many times as needed, to reach our desired Future. 

Sofia Calheiros / Leadership & Coaching