The ongoing threat of COVID-19 has forced bosses into uncharted territory, and those who fail to properly address the continuing challenges posed risk losing staff and damaging workplace culture.
This year will be an experiment in remote and blended work arrangements, and getting it right will be a huge challenge for many workplaces.
Employers' number one priority must be to make sure their staff feel safe returning to their communal place of work. But that's not as simple as going back to the same old arrangements as pre-COVID. Companies need to rethink their workplace environments - because the new office requires a new understanding, new practices and a new work model.
The workplace in 2021 is going to look very different and structures that embrace alternative working arrangements, such as hybrid teams, will become the norm but it will also expose flaws.
Here's what your priorities should be:
- Staff wellbeing: Business leaders need to re-think which roles they need to have in the office, and plan to reduce the health risks.
- One size may not fit all: The question of who stays home and who returns to work requires a re-think by company leaders.
- New workplace model: Businesses risk creating two very different organisational cultures - an office and a remote workplace - and that can jeopardise team dynamics that inspires all of us to do our best work.
- Talent and productivity: As remote work becomes more normalised, it may become harder to retain employees. Switching back from a highly flexible environment to crowded offices, set schedules and long commutes may no longer be practical or attractive.
- Team dynamics: Many companies moved to working from home in an ad-hoc way because they needed to - but the forced reality of remote working means companies now need to carry out detailed risk assessments to ensure the correct team dynamics are in place and remote working policies reflect the new workplace.
It would be a lot easier to manage staff if they all worked the same way, but the post-COVID culture of going back to the old ways of five days a week in the office means the structure and social side of our working life is possibly gone forever.
Has your workplace fully considered the ramifications of the last year, and are you really ready for the next one?
Maureen Kyne is a workplace expert.