Like all of us, Jason Wingard, Ph.D., is looking forward to the day when our lives are no longer controlled by COVID-19. But he’s also hoping that some workplace changes that have come about as a result of the pandemic outlive the virus. In a recent Quartz at Work column, Wingard, dean of Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies and a professor of human capital management — whose research and teaching both focus on the future of work — writes that he believes “the smartest business leaders won’t rush back to the constraints of unnecessary formalities, cubicles, or commutes” once we’ve quashed the coronavirus. He highlighted four “future-of-work pillars” that he hopes will remain when WFH is no longer mandatory.
Without the boundaries of a physical office space or strict working hours, Wingard writes, employees have had to set their own availability, based on personal schedules and other responsibilities, like childcare.
And while some managers might be concerned that extending this flexibility will lead to lower productivity, Wingard has the opposite fear: that employees may work too much without the clear separation between office and home life. He cites a survey of more than 4,500 tech workers in which 66 percent of remote employees said they had experienced burnout, mostly as a result of working longer hours.
While it may seem counterintuitive, he advises leaders to avoid micromanaging their teams and encourage them to set clear boundaries between work and their personal lives.
Data-based Employee Metrics
Employers will need to focus on outputs. Instead of assessing an employee’s hours or availability, managers need to look at what they are actually producing or accomplishing. Leaders should schedule regular meetings with team members to help eliminate roadblocks, Wingard said.
The most important key to managing remote employees, he added, is trust: “Leaders must simply trust that they hired good people, and that those good people will continue to do the work for which they are being compensated.”
During COVID-19, companies took up “the mantle of social good,” Wingard writes, by making hotel rooms available to hospital workers, for example, “and they aren’t likely to relinquish it once the pandemic dissipates.”
Forward-thinking leaders will continue to make social impact part of their organizational culture, he said, by building long-term relationships with nonprofits, supporting employee volunteerism, and offering resources.
“Now that we’re experiencing a season of global crisis together,” Wingate writes, “the last semblances of formality have been stripped away… . as we’ve literally seen into each other’s homes and met each other’s partners, pets, and children.” Wingate thinks that this has created more authentic and relaxed workplace interactions.
At the same time, the lack of gathering around a physical water cooler means that leaders need to encourage “more meaningful connections through virtual lunches or happy hours, online book clubs, and exercise or cooking challenges,” he writes, “anything that gets team members talking about something other than their to-do lists.”
Michelle Russell is editor in chief at Convene.