My Take: Forging a New Post-Pandemic Workplace

April 27th, 2021

The COVID vaccine is here, and soon we will all be able to return to life, perhaps not as we knew it, but certainly without all of the fear of contagion that has dominated the past year. The question for company leadership now is: What comes next for the workplace when we can safely return to it?

Few of us know the answer yet, so don’t worry if you’re still trying to figure it out. One company I know of had a quarterly all-hands meeting last week. In it, the CEO talked about post-COVID plans. His entire staff, who had mainly worked in the office full time pre-COVID, has been working at home since last April, largely more productive than they had been before. He said to them: “We’re thinking about a hybrid model of working at home and in the office. We’re reevaluating our need for our current, large office space. We haven’t made any decisions, but rest assured, when we make those decisions, they’ll probably change.”

Everyone had a good laugh about that, but it accomplished a couple of important things.

  • It acknowledged to employees that senior leadership was thinking and talking about the future, post-COVID. In other words, the company and their jobs weren’t going away. They had made it.
  • It was transparent in the fact that the leadership didn’t have all of the answers yet, but they wanted to update people anyway.
  • It reassured employees that they were all in this uncertain time together, and they’d make it through together.

After the meeting, the company’s HR pro sent everyone in the company a survey about their thoughts regarding working from home, working from the office, what their vision of a hybrid model might look like. It sent a powerful message to employees that their preferences and concerns were being heard.

It was a giant step toward forging a post-pandemic culture in the workplace, even if that workplace is virtual. But there are more considerations for leadership, especially HR, to tackle as we move into this post-pandemic world.

Vaccine mandates. As an employer, you may have the ability to mandate employees get the COVID vaccine. Should you? This is a hotly debated issue right now. Incentives, not mandates, seem to be the more popular route for the moment.

Office space. Once you get a handle on your position about working from home in the future, it’s time to think about your office space. Can you adjust to less space if you reduce your footprint? The answer for a majority of companies seems to be yes. This means that commercial office space may be set to face some of the challenges that commercial retail space has seen.

Work schedules. If you plan to reduce your office space, now is the time to forge a new model for space utilization with staggered work schedules, team gatherings and perhaps considerations for childcare.

My take is, involving employees in these decisions is key right now. We’re all forging a new reality for our workplaces. Making employees feel that they’re an important part of the process will create loyalty, increase engagement, and strengthen your brand.

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