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Workplace communication and our post-covid strategy

Fiona Passantino, August 2021

With vaccination numbers rising, and case numbers plummeting, we’ve finally arrived. We are now at Post Covid.

By now, we’ve all been in to the office at least once to wipe the dust off the fake plants and cautiously say hello to a few old friends – the ones that never left in the first place – the lonely lunch counter guy, the receptionist. We’ve all gotten drunk at a real bar, had a live meeting or two and visited a friend who was not in our immediate bubble.

While we were out, millions of people were lost their jobs, some their entire industries. Many changed professions – from short order chef to Deliveroo biker. Some never left; those deemed “essential” (oddly not CEOs or mid-level managers) continued their work in hospitals and food stores, cleaning streets, delivering packages and wiping doorknobs until they gleamed.

cautiously re-entering the workplace in our post-covid context
Cautiously re-entering the workplace post-covid.

But for many of us, it’s time to figure out what to do next.

Will we flock back to our physical buildings, fight traffic and drink the crappy coffee from the machine again? Or continue our lives in the bunker with its pants-optional dress code and our dogs walked three times a day? Only 1 in 5 CEOs think we will resume “business as usual” in the post-Covid world[1].

No one seems to know for sure.

In general, two important interests are going to collide roughly along party lines. Leadership, by and large, would like to see people back at work. Workers are not so sure they want to give up the freedoms won by the pandemic.

How much free choice does leadership give to employees; is “never” an option? What does a “team” mean when 50% of its members are only seen on screen? For that matter, what does a “company” mean when half its members are straddling the far ends of the digital/physical divide? Will some members of the tribe “belong” more than others? Will an individual’s choice to stay remote have adverse effects on career advancement? Will young mothers likely stay home, will single young men show up? What about people with disabilities, with long commutes, or those with elderly parents?

And for global companies whose members hail from China – a year ahead, snapping back in place with long commutes to a physical office and pre-pandemic hours – to the Netherlands, where hours are strictly 9-5 and the work-life balance is sacred? How does a global enterprise present a unifying vision that is fair to all cultures, all countries and all interests?

Up to 25% of the workforce can continue from home between three and five days a week with no perceptible loss in productivity[2]. But a lot of value is not measured in productivity: delicate negotiations, inspirational moments, unexpected conversations that change a point of view, brainstorming sessions, constructive feedback and onboarding are rely on live interactions with other humans.

Meeting in that happy place will be the result of intense and frequent listening sessions, creative thinking and flexibility. How the solutions are rolled out and iterated depends on a robust communication strategy with active listening channels. Re-imagining our workplace communication.

Real, authentic two-way workplace communication enables leadership to accept the Pandora’s box ripped open by the pandemic and seek an opportunity to strengthen their culture, increase engagement, lower operating costs and increase productivity and loyalty over time.

These conversational sessions must be a safe zone, where getting at the painful truth and honest answers are the only objective. Fact-finding groups, 15-20 at a time, might fan out across the organization and conduct intensive listening campaigns to absorb, reflect, diagnose and develop a plan of action, where there are no wrong answers and no crazy ideas[3].

What sorts of changes would bring people back to the physical office? The answers are surprising. Employees want a combination of buzzing, open, collaborative spaces and quiet nooks for focus time. More plants, some growing upside down or up walls. Cafes serving top-notch coffee with a wide array of non-dairy milk and plant-based snacks. Selfie sofas with fun backgrounds to remind us of what we’ve been through. Bubble tea and moon cakes. Swaths of color, random objects hanging from the ceiling. A good downtempo groove quietly pumping in the background.

We may find ourselves needing only 60% of our pre-pandemic office space with resources to invest in a great café, smart, green, plant-filled buildings, blazing-fast internet and digital tooling to help overcome the digital/physical worker divide.[4]

At this moment in our history, we have been given a unique, defining opportunity to re-think our definition of the physical office and fashion it into something truly human-centered. 



SOURCES

[1] “Returning to the workplace after COVID-19: What boards should be thinking about”, PWC, accessed on June 27, 2021. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/governance-insights-center/library/covid-19-returning-workplace-boards.html

[2] “Returning to the workplace after COVID-19: What boards should be thinking about”, PWC, accessed on June 29, 2021. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/governance-insights-center/library/covid-19-returning-workplace-boards.html

[3] “COVID Killed the Traditional Workplace. What Should Companies Do Now?” by Dina Gerdeman, Harvard Business Review, March 8, 2021. Accessed June 27, 2021.https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/covid-killed-the-traditional-workplace-what-should-companies-do-now

[4] “Reinventing the workplace after COVID-19”, by Jeremy Myerson and Kasia Maynard. From Interact. Accessed June 27, 2021. https://www.interact-lighting.com/global/iot-insights/workplace-post-covid-19