How to make work at home work?

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Post-COVID employee experience is a top priority of every HR executive. Most  executives I know are losing sleep. They are challenged to design the optimal way to bring employees back to the office and/or keep remote work employees engaged. The gamut runs from “Don’t come in until 2022” to “let’s get back 100% by September.” 

For businesses in 2021 – and for the future of remote work – what is wrong with this picture? 

Reopening is not an HR issue

How you bring employees back to the office is much more than an HR decision. Coming back to the office must be driven by your brand’s culture and values. It should be managed by all members of the Executive Team as a culture program with dedicated funding.

Do not expect a successful reopening without giving your HR Executives budgets for it. On a more tactical level, if you have a highly collaborative culture like Apple, and a leader like Tim Cook, who thinks  “[i]nnovation isn’t always a planned activity,” it makes sense to come back to the office sooner and more frequently. The Apple customer who continues to expect intuitively designed products from Apple does not care whether Apple employees are working from home

A Strategic Approach to Remote Work and Return to Office

The way brands reopen is a strategic business move. In the financial sector, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is taking a strategic approach, calling for a return to the office of at least 50% capacity in the next few months.  He was told by clients that in cases where JPMorgan lost business to competitors, “bankers from the other guys visited, and ours didn’t.” Even though he receives angry emails from family members of his employees,  Dimon expects his offices to be “like before” by September-October.

Goldman Sachs chief executive David M. Solomon believes keeping people remote while adding thousands of new employees “would hurt the training, camaraderie and work culture that develop when people are together.” He and his teams are calling for return to the office in June.

Another strategy that airlines are playing is to double down on investments in the remote workforce. If you are an airline with an 80% outsourced/work from home Contact Centers, it may be a good business decision to maintain that setup. But you need to take the next step. Support it with a new business case to invest in the overall agent experience.

What Does the Remote Work Business Case Include?

This business case starts with investment in technology and culture. At minimum, subsidize the internet speed of your agents so calls do not drop and chats are not interrupted.

On the e-commerce side, investing in the experience for agents and customers requires improving e-commerce platform capabilities. For example, allow agents to accept credit card payments via phone or chat. For a customer, there is nothing more frustrating than attempting to make a purchase on a retail website, calling to complete that purchase, then hearing the purchase cannot be completed via phone due to payment processing restrictions.

But technology alone does not improve experience or outcomes. Investment in maintaining culture is a critical support for the future of remote work. Think about the importance of creating connections among employees. As we strike the balance between work from home and return to office, include regular in-person events for employees that do not come into the office every day, or at all.

To enable the in-person events that help a strong culture flourish, think about radius restrictions for your remote workforce. Remote employees should be located close enough to come to the office when you need them. And to attend local off-sites for team building.

Last, but not least, redefine what training means for a remote workforce. And budget for it. Sending employees self-service links to train on the many software products they need to use does not always work. Instead, implement a hybrid training strategy for remote employees. This includes buddy systems, recurring training, and a testing mechanism to ensure remote agents have the skills they need to succeed for themselves and for your customers.

Finally, you need to know if this new way of working is working. The last investment in your business case is a customer and employee feedback system. This system tracks both employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction in your new remote service model. 

Remote Work Impact on In-Office Experience

So, how do you rethink processes and procedures to fit the hybrid model? Start by thinking about the everyday experience of your employees.

One simple product of this thinking is to design in-office days differently than remote work days. Ban one-on-one in-person meetings in the office. Save those for Zoom when the employee is remote. Instead, use the time you have with employees in the office (and the time they have with each other) to allow for collaborative in-person work sessions free from the distraction of personal meetings.

The Unoffice

Designing a better employee experience as we return from exclusively remote work  also includes changes to how your executives operate. Think of it as a new leadership characteristic.  On a recent podcast episode, we spoke with Miguel Martinez-Saenz, President of St. Francis College in Brooklyn. He explained that he has ditched his office in favor of walking around campus, interacting directly with his employees and the students he serves.

Think about this in the context of return to office. Consider eliminating private offices for executives, or at the very least, not making them your base camp for the day. Doing so promotes total engagement and collaboration with your teams.

Of course, some meetings are private. However, if you can create a system that allows people to sign up for personal meeting rooms, you get the privacy some meeting require. And you don’t sacrifice the engagement and spirit of collaboration that come with breaking down the walls.

The unoffice concept speaks to another employee experience need that we cannot discount as we look at the future of remote work and the hybrid in-office/remote model. It is important, especially as we navigate the back to the office transition, to make sure employees do not feel lonely in the office.

Remember, after more than a year of the “new normal,” going back to the office, even if it is a familiar place, is a significant emotional and physical transition for your employees. Use this as an opportunity to build trust, to foster communication and collaboration, and to strengthen your brand culture.

There are so many things you can do to support employees and improve experience. We at The Petrova Experience are here to help you develop a strategy to reopen your office – and rethink how you motivate and support your remote workforce. 

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