Having been forced to operate in a very different way during COVID-19, the dilemma for many businesses now is how to transition staff back on site once the current restrictions are eased and a vaccine is distributed.
The challenge of navigating to a hybrid style operation will be bigger than that faced when adjusting to and facilitating remote working; the dilemma will be figuring out the right balance that works for everybody.
This was the view of Brian MacNeice, managing director of global CEO advisory company Teneo when he addressed a Shannon Chamber webinar which examined how companies are maintaining connectedness in a remote working environment and how they will rise to new challenges that lie ahead in 2021.
Some employees will want to retain their remote bases while others will want to link up with colleagues again to counteract the downsides they may have experienced whilst working from home.
“Companies are currently examining their options,” stated MacNeice.
“They are addressing issues such as how to configure a purpose-led operation, keeping their employees connected to the company’s overall purpose, regardless of their office location, a home or an on-site desk. They are re-examining team structures and the impact lack of connectedness may have had on corporate culture. They are building management capability to enable leaders deal with their new operational structure. They are, in effect, re-imaging their companies, mindful of individual productivity and getting the work-life balance right whilst availing of some of the opportunities of remote working. They are also figuring out how best to facilitate hybrid work; how many days in the office and how many at home?”
Commenting on the effect the pandemic has had on companies, MacNeice added: “There are pros and cons. In many instances, productivity has held or increased. Despite being forced to pivot into a new working model, most employees navigated it well; some report a better work-life balance.
“The downsides, however, include an increase in burnout and stress, particularly at middle to senior management level; management have taken on a lot of extra work and are finding it difficult to stay connected with their teams.
“Onboarding and rotating staff has been difficult as it is impossible to bring new hires up to speed on a company’s culture from a distance. Innovation and collaboration have suffered mainly due to the lack of physical interaction which spawns creativity.
“On-the-job learning has also been affected, particularly for younger employees who are starting out on their career paths. They are missing out on the experience of learning in a natural environment.
“Companies where management have adopted a flexible approach have coped better than those with a more rigid management style because these leaders have recognised that their role as a leader has changed; their focus is on designing and managing the environment and creating a platform for sustained performance improvement.”
Advising webinar attendees on how to manage their organisations in the months ahead, MacNeice said: “Set and communicate the direction you want for your company. Increase the level of communication across your teams. Create purpose and meaning for your employees. Build teams based on your employees’ capabilities. Share information; you can’t empower your team if they don’t have the information and, give people the power to make decisions. Empower your leaders.”
Reviewing the takeaways from this very enlightening webinar, Shannon Chamber chief executive Helen Downes added: “This was such an insightful session. The speed at which changes had to be made at the onset of the pandemic left little time for considering mission and values; it was simply a matter of keeping everything moving, adjusting the organisation to deliver positive results, all the time mindful that the virus was circulating and might impact us.
“From a business perspective, we are most definitely moving into a new phase, albeit far from where we were pre-COVID but, every setback delivers new opportunities and we witnessed the dynamic spirit of our member companies throughout 2020.
“As a Chamber, we are there to offer our support to our member companies as they navigate their new operational structures and, through our Skillnet network, we can offer the relevant training to support and empower employees to manage and improve their own individual skill set to ready themselves for the new world of work.”