Since the pandemic started in late March, work life has seen significant changes. From working in offices to a shift in working remotely, the future of work has certainly changed and there are certainly ways that we can make this for the better. We have all learnt many valuable lessons during this time that will no doubt shape the way we work forever - from finding new ways to communicate virtually, to providing a more flexible work experience. The office experience is certainly not over - but there are many changes that need to be introduced to ensure a meaningful employee experience is created. The work from anywhere model is here to stay, but that does not mean offices will become a thing of the past either. In fact, the absence from offices has only made many hearts grow fonder of the social interaction, with 72% of participants surveyed for Salesforce stating that they miss the office and would like to return, eager to connect, collaborate and innovate altogether. 

As 2021 begins, employers have a real possibility of blending both the remote working and in office experiences to create a new work culture that works for everyone. The World Economic forum recently published an article that suggested there are 5 ways we can do this, which I have summarised below.

1. Engage employees like customers

With the rapid advancement of mobile, social and AI technology, customers now expect much more personalised digital experiences. Companies are now racing to upgrade their systems to improve customer engagement, but have left the employee experience behind in the process. During the pandemic, most workforces moved to remote working, highlighting the real absence of the employee experience that is needed to really cultivate a successful team. Companies need to find the right tools to support their remote workforce and really motivate them whilst they work remotely. There is a strong need for employers to strongly emphasise the importance of the employee experience and this ultimately starts by implementing new technology that enables their employees to connect, collaborate and innovate together. Employers must adapt quickly to the changes remote working has introduced and be as quick in their changes as they are for their customers.

2. Flexibility Is Key

For many companies, the 9-5 work day is dead. In an always connected world, it does not make sense for employers to expect employees to work an eight hour shift in order to do their jobs  successfully. Workers need flexibility in order to be successful, regardless of if that is managing a global time through different time zones or juggling their personal obligations with their professional ones. It is important that employers trust their team and understand that the work will be complete, and provide flexible options that can help improve productivity and prevent employee burnout. During the pandemic, many leaders have been empowered to change, leading to initiatives such as designated days off, no-meeting days each week, reimbursements for lunch and dinners and other well-being initiatives. With increased flexibility, employees will feel healthy and happy, ultimately resulting in better results for the company.

3. Embrace Empathetic Leadership

As many continue to work from home, the meaning of leadership has truly evolved. The skills that once made a great leader no longer work the same in 2021. Leadership means more than driving results and hitting targets - it is about keeping a strong company culture alive and serving as a lifeline to your employees whilst they work remotely. With unlimited resources and the ability to call someone through the phone, Zoom, Teams etc., there is no real reason why leaders are not leading with empathy and spending time to understand their people and what makes them tick. Employers should be using this time to learn more about their time on a deeper level. This will result in a more unified workforce and a leader that leads with empathy and understanding will always be the number one most valued source of information to all their employees. 

4. Unlock Inclusive Talent

The work from home model has unlocked many new opportunities that many companies may not have embraced previously. With the ability to hire anyone, regardless of where they are located, there are no real limitations or barriers for companies to find the right talent that works for them. Employers now have the ability to transcend the traditional boundaries and look into new pools of talent to build a more innovative, diverse and inclusive workforce. 

5. Reimagine The Workplace

If there is one thing that is for certain, it is things will never be going back to normal. But that does not mean that offices will never re-open. In fact, it is quite the opposite. With the majority of employees wanting to return to their offices at least some days of the week post-pandemic, employers have the opportunity to reimagine the magic of their workplace. The ability to incorporate elements of remote working and time in the office creates an environment that promotes flexibility, togetherness and accommodates to all parties involved.

The past year has brought a lot of change and we have quickly evolved and changed the ways we both think and learn. While this has presented challenges and difficulties over the past ten months, it has also created fantastic new opportunities for companies and employees alike to be more innovative, find more balance and create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.