Preparing for the Future of Work Now

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The following article was edited and originally published on Adweek.

The pandemic has tested the corporate cultures of companies everywhere. During the initial months of the crisis, leaders realized quickly whether their cultures were strong enough to withstand the new work-from-home paradigm and sustain staff during the months that turned into more than a year of isolation.

Leaders had no precedent for how to handle the onset of the pandemic, and we don’t have one to lead us out of it either. What we do know is that if our companies’ strong cultures and core values led us through the pandemic, those attributes will guide us out of it as well.

Leaders have also learned that the return-to-office planning initiated by many companies more than a year ago has evolved into nothing less than a reimagination of the future of work.

In our office, we are addressing how we will adjust to the changes the world has experienced. Here is the approach we are taking to plan for how to come together again while continuing to nurture our culture.

We crafted a vision statement.
We began our planning by establishing a shared vision: Together, our team aspires to create a workplace environment that fosters collaboration, innovation, inclusion, productivity and flexibility to drive business growth. We come back to this statement often to guide planning efforts.

We defined and articulated clear guiding principles.

To focus on the issues most important to our team, we outlined the principles that are guiding our research, planning and process. We’ve shared these guiding principles continuously with employees, so they understand why leadership makes the decisions we do. Our guiding principles include:

  • Put people first. Our primary focus has always been the health and well-being of our employees, their families, our clients and the community.
  • Focus on the output. We cannot lose sight of delivering big ideas and business results.
  • Trust and hold people accountable. We trust that our employees will do the right thing and be accountable in pursuit of business objectives.
  • Provide flexibility. The pandemic has proven that the future of work is all about being flexible.
  • Embrace an employee-inspired, employer-endorsed approach. Success is a combination of both.
  • Optimize based on new and evolving learnings. We know there is never one final plan in our ever-changing world.

We engaged our employees to help design our future.
Throughout the pandemic, we solicited feedback from employees via surveys, group discussions and one-on-one conversations. Most recently we engaged a team-based, cross-discipline model. This group’s input helped us determine that Thursday, September 9, will be the day our workspace officially reopens. We are also implementing a phased approach to help with office re-entry (some people are ready to go back full-time now, while others need more time to prepare). To get our office up and running smoothly, leadership and a number of employee volunteers have been optimizing operations, processes and technology throughout the summer. We want to ensure our physical work environment remains a safe, inspiring and inviting destination for employees and clients alike — a place they all want to be in.

Common themes that emerged and are being used to optimize our plan include:

  • Provide continued flexibility. Almost everyone desires a flexible schedule with a hybrid working environment.
  • Support efficiency. Working from home has caused many of us to get sucked up in back-to-back Zoom meetings, resulting in less time to think and get work done. Exploring structured days, such as meetings in the morning and preserving afternoons for independent work, empowers people to block off calendars for heads-down time or declare one day a week as a no-meeting day.
  • Nurture culture. Not surprisingly, human connections and moments of community are sorely missed. Ensuring we have time for connection that isn’t related to business will be an important part of feeling like one team again.
  • Provide mentorship. By being together, we’re also benefiting from the intentional and spontaneous mentorship, coaching, learning and development that comes naturally.
  • Focus on technology. Enhancing and continuing to evolve our technology, especially collaboration tools, will create a seamless experience for people both inside and outside the office.
  • Evolve the office. The future of work means we need to make better use of our space to fuel collaboration and connection. This may include rezoning our physical space into a combination of collaboration zones, individually focused quiet spaces and flexible work stations.

We continue to share feedback and updates throughout the process.
Throughout our planning process, we’ve kept employees updated on our research, insights, considerations and decision-making. However, no matter how well planned one’s return-to-office or future-of-work approach is, life happens and leaders need to remain open to pivoting and being transparent as changes arise. Trust is paramount, and being open and honest keeps everyone vested in a shared future in which we preserve and nurture our cherished culture.