In January 2020, a workplace was considered a destination where people gathered to accomplish tasks and projects to achieve individual, team and company goals. Depending on their status as full time or part time, employees spent most, if not all, of their work time at the company’s location. In a way, prior to the pandemic, work is where we “lived” during the day throughout week. We spent most of our waking hours at the company and had a few hours left at home before we went off to bed.
Today, due to the work-from-home and hybrid work schedules in place, the definition of a workplace for many employees may be changing. Now, employees spend most of their waking hours at home working and a few (if any) hours at the company’s facilities. In many ways, business locations have now become a place to “visit” to meet with co-workers, customers and their managers. Some employees may even feel that going to their company office is a nice place to visit, but they don’t want to “live” there anymore. It’s how many of us feel when we go on vacation. We visit nice places, but in most cases do not relocate to these tourist destinations (who would want to leave Northeast Ohio anyway!)
As one of my friends stated to me earlier this year, “The workplace I knew before COVID-19 is never coming back. We have all changed the way we look at work, technology and company culture. Personally, I am never going back to my company’s office to do work. I like working from home and my flexible schedule. If they don’t like that, I’ll quit because there are plenty of companies that will let me work remotely if I want.”
His perspective is shared by many, which continues to challenge corporate leaders relative to defining what they now call their workplace and how they will retain and attract employees. As we find ourselves at these unique workplace crossroads, this may be an outstanding time for organizational leaders to redefine what it means to work at their companies — especially if work-from-home and hybrid work schedules remain in place. In addition, it behooves businesses to develop a new equation of how to be an employer of choice, as the competition for talented individuals is as hot as the housing market. A good place to start is to gather your management team and address the following questions:
How do we keep the people we have today?
What is our company’s definition of a great workplace for top talent in this new era?
What employee benefits will be needed to retain employees and attract qualified job candidates now and in the future?
Do our company’s paid medical leave, bereavement leave and vacation time policies need a makeover?
How will our management team establish trust with employees that we rarely see in person due to work-from-home and hybrid schedules?
How will we instill a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation at our company for employees who continue to work remotely?
What unique workplace practices, policies and/or programs do we need to institute that will give us an advantage in retaining and recruiting employees?
If hybrid work schedules or work-from-home options continue to exist under our leadership, how will we be able to motivate and inspire employees who we will not see in person on a day-to-day basis?
How will we ensure that employees who return to the office full time are not treated any differently than those working remote?
How will we measure employee performance regardless of where the employee is working, and how often will we conduct formal reviews?
Will we support a training and development program for continuous learning? If so, will it be virtual or in-person?
What metrics or feedback will we utilize to know if we are an employer of choice?
What workplace issues, such as equal pay for equal worth, are prevalent in our company today that need to be eradicated?
These questions should elicit plenty of dialogue and perspectives. A paradigm shift in thinking may be in order, as some business leaders may still be holding on to pre-pandemic practices and ideologies that simply are not a fit with today’s workforce.
I currently teach an MBA leadership course at Lake Erie College. The students in the evening class are all employed and bring different career and industry background perspectives to class. A few weeks ago, we were discussing the biggest mistake a CEO could make in 2022. The majority of the class responded without hesitation — the No. 1 mistake would be attempting to return to pre-pandemic workplace policies and practices. Their response was not a surprise.
The work world has changed, and companies that seize the opportunity to adapt to meet the expectations of today’s workforce may have a significant competitive advantage in their industries going forward. It is important to point out that one thing that has not changed at all since January 2020 — whoever ends up with the best talent in their company wins. The formula to retain and attract talent has been materially altered in the past two years. The workplace may now be a state of mind, and, if so, perhaps it is the company that provides the best work, wherever that takes place, that ends up being the winner.
We are never forced to choose where we go on vacations. Likewise, employees today no longer want to be told or forced to come back to the workplace. Yet, if they choose to do so, it will be because their corporate leaders created an inviting work environment worth an extended visit.
Pat Perry is host of the national Success Wave podcast, business book author, keynote speaker, former ERC president, columnist, NEO Business Hall of Fame member and was named to the 2022 Cleveland 500.