As we settle into the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with the easing of restrictions, there is a feeling afoot that remote and flexible work arrangements could be ending. The question remains: how much longer should working from home go on for?
The flexibility many workers experienced amid the pandemic has made an undeniable mark. Remote and flexible work arrangements have taken a massive step towards a significant standard for worker happiness. Now, millions of employees refuse to go back.
The freedom, technology and autonomy to work from anywhere are now central to the ideal employee experience. According to a survey from the global talent mobility firm Topia, at the start of 2022, 41% of employees said the flexibility to work from home was a reason they would switch jobs, and 94% of employees agree that they should be able to work from anywhere, so as long as they get the work done.
As the world settles into a blend of in-person and virtual work, more organisations are taking a firm stance on where they feel their employees should work, once again casting the spotlight on the question of how much say employees should have in determining their work arrangement - whether they should be able to decide where and when they work, or whether their organisation should make that decision for them.
We’re learning more about the opportunities and risks both remote and hybrid bring, and one key concern is leadership development.
Organisations are now taking a longer-term view, considering how remote work could impact their ability to manage employees, foster internal connections and measure productivity. Of course, finding solutions to these questions can be challenging. Still, if companies do this for the long term, they need to change their culture, practices, processes and technologies.
This is the question that stands, as many employers incorrectly presume that physical proximity is essential in developmental relationships. But like work itself, mentoring is defined less by the medium in which it is accomplished than by the outcomes delivered. Commitment, trust, and relationship quality are the actual ingredients of developmental growth, all of which can be applied to virtual mentorship.
Employees with access to positive mentoring relationships ensue numerous benefits, and when it is a visible element of the company culture, retention and advancement of talented employees are enhanced.
But how can managers shift their approach to initiating and nurturing these relationships when employees aren’t physically present?
Virtual mentoring may require greater intentionality than mentoring in the face-to-face office, where there are fewer mentor opportunities in chance hallway interactions or informal chats; more effort to establish trust, since the full range of nonverbal cues and vocal nuance may be missing; and a more task-oriented and expediency-driven relationship, rather than focusing on relational support, as with many online collaborations, virtual mentorship can also suffer from email overwhelm and fatigue.
In practice, we believe in the following process to lead a high-autonomy hybrid organisation:
The death of in-office collaboration is driven partly by a superior remote experience with technology better suited to the environment in which it’s being used. Creating office spaces that allow employees to access virtual environments more efficiently makes their lives easier, consequently allowing them to develop predictable work habits and space usage patterns.
With the presence in the organisation being primarily virtually, the sense of belonging that employees once felt in the office space must be replaced with a sense of belonging in the virtual space. This applies especially to organisations proceeding with hot-desking arrangements. The personal artefacts that were taken away from the employees - the desk or office - must be replaced with their own personal technology that offers them a sense of ownership and belonging in the new virtual world of work.
Establishing trust is fundamental to any developmental relationship and may require even greater intentionality in virtual environments. When leaders give employees the freedom to choose where and when they work, it signals that they trust them to do the job they were hired to do. Employees create structure in their work with the right spaces and technology, thereby improving their experience. By following these steps, a high-autonomy approach to work will produce happier, higher-performing employees who will be able to find a balance that benefits both themselves and the organisation.
The nine-to-five in-office workplace isn’t coming back. Remote work is now globally pervasive, and the failure to provide that flexibility will make hiring and retention more difficult.