Returning To The Office = Uncertainty?

After months to a year of remote work, many have felt uncertain about returning to their office due to not wanting to pay for commuting expenses, waking up a few hours early to look for parking space, etc. We all know that WFH is cost effective, it reduces overhead and creates a happier work environment. But there are also some who feel excited and recharged to go back into the office, as there are those who are far more productive in a stimulating work environment rather than at home where there are always reasons to procrastinate/be distracted.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Some 43% of 1,046 remote workers surveyed by insurer Prudential in March said they’d be nervous about their job security if they stayed home while others returned to in-person. Yet the data indicates many of us really don’t want to go back, at least not every day. Nearly nine out of 10 workers in the same survey said they want to work from home at least once a week after the pandemic subsides; one in three said they wouldn’t work for a company that forced them to be on-site full-time.


How serious is your company about remote work?

Will staying home hurt your chances for promotion? Will leaders reverse course in a year, ordering you back? Tips on reading the risk, from professor Ashley Whillans:

Office downsizing: If your company is shedding real estate, that could be a sign that it’s committed to a flexible model of working.

Hiring from afar: Are new employees from around the country onboarding into fully remote roles? Or has the company been focusing on recruiting local talent in the past several months? If it’s the latter, executives might be switching gears.

Signals from the boss: Pay attention to what leaders are doing, not saying. “Do you see your bosses Zooming in from their offices?” Dr. Whillans asks.

Subtle perks: Is your company offering things like free lunch to those who come back? That’s a sign they want you there.

Should You Go Back to the Office? — Wall Street Journal Article

This can be a big thing to consider for employees who have relocated to another area to be closer to their family.

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Image via Entrepreneur

Here’s what others are saying:

  • “Any company that doesn’t offer a WFH option for positions that were able to be effectively executed in WFH mode during COVID lockdowns will lose significant amounts of talent. It makes no sense to impose draconian “be in the office” rules if productivity was not affected. Anecdotally many businesses found productivity went up! And if you factor in potential savings in office space, utilities, parking space, and so on, there’s even room for a 5-10% reduction in productivity and still being better off with a WFH model.”
  • “COVID fast-forwarded how we work by decades. It proved that working from home wasn’t just possible, it proved that it worked well. For myself, and many that I know, going back to an office is a deal-breaker.
    The biggest pro, for me, is it gives me back up to 2 hours per day that I would have otherwise wasted sitting in traffic. I can use that time to get a jump on the day, be more productive, or just get some extra rest when I need it. This alone has dramatically improved my quality of life.”
  • “If you desire to switch careers, now is the time.
    If you desire to go into business for yourself, now is the time.
    If you want to work for a company that has what you need, now is the time.
    If you want to go back into office to your old professional life, now is the time.
    Whatever you decide, now is the time to do it. Just approach it as a respected business partner on your way in… or on your way out.”
  • “It’s already happening in many ‘essential’ places.
    The fulfillment centers is where one can probably see that ‘Great Resignation’ taking place right now, as many workers are leaving these jobs for other opportunities, preferably ones with more favorable working conditions.
    Through the worst of this pandemic, many ‘essential employers out there only paid ‘lip service’ to combating COVID-19 at their workplace and I know one ‘essential’ employer out there in the Reno area where they initially undertook a response to alert all employees when they discovered new cases in their workforce blasting out voicemail to all employees, only to abandon it because people called in sick the next day.
    A lot of ‘essential’ employers out there treated their workforce as nothing more than ‘pawns’ in a chess game to the point that many workers got fed up and left when the next opportunities presented themselves… There’s only so much mandatory overtime people will put up with and so much abuse, like making people work in a Reno-area warehouse filled smile from California wildfires and doing nothing to monitor the air or even filter the inside air to clean out the smoke so it doesn’t irritate people’s eyes, throat and lungs as they work.”
  • “I haven’t worked in an office setting in almost a decade. WFH is way better. If you need to come into the office for an important meeting, that is one thing, but showing up everyday to sit in a designated place to do the same job in the same way you can from your home makes no sense. And if this pandemic has demonstrated one thing, it is that with the availability of Zoom and other digital interfaces, face to face sales is not really that crucial to the overall outcome of the sales process. The days of firm handshakes, 3 martini lunches and power ties are over. It doesn’t take any of that to close a deal. Offering a good service/product at a reasonable price and then DELIVERING are what makes a business/salesperson successful. Not showing up and knocking on doors. That is 20th century stuff and we’re living in a 21st century world.”
  • “Anyone quitting to prioritize their health should not be judged. There are great ways to earn a living these days without having to rely on this old paradigm of an in person 9-5 requirement.”
  • “There are a lot of unemployed people still. Particularly women (including older women), instead of countless articles focusing on how ’employed’ people don’t want to go back to the office (for understandable reasons in some cases) and nurturing of those workers, how about sending a little love to us unemployed folks?
    All I ever hear is how the unemployed ‘aren’t motivated to go back to work’ because of a $300 supplement, which barely helps me pay my health insurance. I’m ‘lazy’ because I don’t yet want to give up on my career as a C-Level Executive Assistant because no one wants to hire me for the job I’m qualified to do.
    And yet unemployed folks are being reasonable and justified in demanding they be able to do their work at home or else. (Again I’m not against this choice but with so many unemployed people maybe if you don’t want to go into the office, someone else will. Imagine how this all sounds to someone who is truly struggling to pay bills). How about my mental health and well-being? Trust me if you are an EA who doesn’t want to go back to the office, I’ll do that for you. And I loved working from home but if it’s not a choice, it’s not a choice.”
  • “If your job doesn’t require you to interface with the public, what’s the problem about working from home? I can take my work home, and only go in for meetings. I just need access to the cloud and the Microsoft Teams account. I can get access to email. Traveling to work is a cost.”
    • “I agree! It’s a mindset shift by many employers, though. People are used to physical oversight – in my honest opinion, if you don’t trust your employee, why hire them in the first place?”
  • “This is an interesting topic for those fortunate to work from home. It has been a rough year working from home but there are many positives, as well. Many companies didn’t do well in keeping company culture going during the pandemic. With jobs opening and potential flex environments, what could employers provide employees to get them to stay?”
  • “Companies that were mindful of company culture and the employee experience before the pandemic were more likely able to pivot when the pandemic hit. Companies that were/are less mindful of such things were already in a hole, and the pandemic deepened that hole. With that in mind, companies in the latter situation are going to need bigger overtures to keep employees.”
    • “An excellent point! Many organizations take their culture for granted.”
  • “I can’t get past the guy wearing a mask in his own home office. Beyond that, we are seeing people leaving positions for remote jobs, leaving the uncertainty of maybe staying remote versus a sure thing. It is worth it to some to bet on a new company versus betting on having to go back in the office. With that said, people need to work or will need to work once the government stops extending unemployment, so I think those companies who do better with office employees versus remote will do so, and other companies that have found equal to or greater success may opt for the remote.”
  • “I believe there is an impending great resignation on the horizon as everyone has been evaluating what is important to them over the past year. I also believe for those staying put, when you return to the office it will be like meeting your colleagues for the first time all over again. The people you knew and worked with are forever changed for their unique experience over the past year.
    Whether you decide to return to your current position’s office or decide to try something new, don’t forget every person experienced a life altering change in some way. Have some patience, and extend some grace. Even if you ‘know’ someone they have been fighting silent personal battles that shape who they are now. Conferences will be different, team meetings will be different, expect to learn together anew.”
  • “Existing employee can become a fast Exiting employee. What happens when they leave in droves? Honesty solicited should be both ways. If a company chooses to bury its head in the ground and not address the real reason why TALENT leaves, they will soon face the constant turnstile before it eternally known that the organization is toxic. That leads to wider gaps in consistency (in program and service) which throws off any possibility of higher level strategic planning and subsequent achievement right out the door. If your organization relies on human beings (particularly high performing ones) treat and value them as such.”
  • “Anytime I speak to someone who is ready to give in their notice I ask them two questions:
    1. Do you have a job lined up?
    2. If not, do you have 3-6 months of bills saved up in case the job search takes that long?
    I get it, you want to quit, you are tired and frustrated.
    Or you don’t want to commute 30+ minutes to work just to show a senior leader you are working.
    With the pandemic and people talking about ‘back to work’ because you know we have all been on vacation for the last year.
    You absolutely have the right to look for an all remote position. But don’t quit before you have a job.
    On average a job search can take few weeks to few months. Do you have that much money saved for bills? Or someone who can support you?
    Start with your job search. Still show up everyday at your job as if you don’t have any intention of leaving.”
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Image via PCMag

The Future is Hybrid

Image via The New Indian Express

Many working parents do attest that being able to work remotely or working from home was very labor-saving. They are able to dedicate time to work as well as be present for any schooling issues that their children are dealing with, on top of not having to deal with the stress of morning traffic. If they had a choice, they would prefer not to return to the office or in other words, the pre-pandemic Monday to Friday, 9-5 world.

However while there are many who praised working remotely/from home, there are many instances where employees miss/crave human interaction. There are some individuals who find that going into the office gets them out of their home. We all know that the thought of solely working from home full time would trigger mental health challenges as well.

Many employees are looking to a hybrid schedule — as it would be a nice middle ground for both companies and employees, especially where technology is available and accessible.

However, there are certain roles that make it impossible to work from home/remotely in the long term. Business domains, meeting clients, sales & marketing, human resources responsibilities, to name a few. Interaction can be hard if the client/candidate refuses to show their face on the Zoom camera, making it hard to make decisions without knowing their facial expressions.
Of course, you may be thinking it is possible through FaceTime but not everyone has an Apple device. Sales people don’t need to be in the office and HR has been working remotely for the past year.
Great, but have you ever thought about doing something and doing something well are two different things? Because it is very challenging to work with new grades in remote setup. Building trust and bonding is missing with the rest especially with new hires.

While it is completely understandable why so many folks desire to continue working remotely due to the convenience — it is functional, but far from optimal not only for the businesses but for all folks. Individuals who will continue to work remotely will find limited opportunities to grow in the firms as being out of sight, out of mind will have a new meaning. The interactions that happen on Zoom will never replace those that happen in a conference room or in the office, we all know that. There is concern for working parents where they will have a lot of time to tend to their kids and taking coffee breaks/bathroom breaks, but at difficult times like these, companies still seek ways to cut out those that they consider unproductive.

What we are seeing is a reflex reaction to the situation imposed upon us. There will always be some folks who perform better with greater flexibility, as well as those who need the structured environment. Just as those who enjoy the comfort of working in pajamas and those who feel more professional and productive in business casual. However, the reality is twofold. We have not yet seen the leveling out, which is a great argument for the hybrid environment. That being said, since adaption and adoption haven’t leveled out, there will be an ebb and flow. This may depend on developing new habits for productivity or even dependent upon what type of project/assignment is being worked on.

Employees are curious on how effective the hybrid model will be, since there will be those who get more face-to-face interactions with leadership may receive a natural competitive advantage for promotions. This raises a question — Will this create a divide? Where folks willing to go into the office, would volunteer to go in 5 days a week as a career development approach and the folks who prefers not to, will shift to companies with their entire workforce being remote?

The skills that we all have in our more traditional ways of working aren’t the same as the skills we need in a more flexible working environment. While many employers favored the positive impact location that independent work has had, they fear not being able to measure output the same (such as effective communication/engagement with internal staff).

A hybrid future is most likely, why? It can provide an excellent alternative for those who need flexibility, but also enjoy coming into the office. Of course many miss the human interaction, but not many miss the 1-2 hours of traffic, budgeting for gas, car repairs, etc. The next crucial step toward building a hybrid work environment will need to be led by leadership, where they empower their workers to have full autonomy over their own schedule. This is how companies will help more workers enjoy the flexibility that they deserve while providing them the support they need to make a successful transition.

Many individuals couldn’t work their ideal roles because employers didn’t offer flexibility. Moving forward, a blended approach is a great way to show flexibility — which empowers employees as there is a shared sense of trust and responsibility when employers allow employees to find a greater balance between work and life.
As work life will change, it opens up our freedom of choice. Some days/weeks, it will be better for our mental and emotional health to either be in the office or to work remotely. This is the best option to keep everyone happy, but also be ready to pivot again if necessary.

There are also pitfalls for hybrid future, meaning there will be less office space needed. As they are consolidating and closing locations in major cities worldwide, commercial real estate investors are showing desperation in demand, bellowing and pleading that there will be a return to the old ways.

What would be interesting, is to see the effect and hopeful reduction in the burnout that could happen when saying you do not have to take a full vacation (working remotely for a few days and not burning out on your Paid Time Off). Time will definitely tell, for those hoping to see the work/life balance become healthier with such flexibility.

4 Holiday Out-of-Office Templates By Recruiter, Lee Ann Chan

Lee Ann Chan, the Americas Campus & Diversity Recruiting Program Manager at Agilent Technologies (the Santa Clara, California office), has reminded all of us that while we are away during the holidays to spend time with our family members and loved ones, it is crucial to maintain that relationship — whether you are going to be away for a few weeks or even a month.

Lee Ann Chan is a huge people-person and spent several years in Acquisitions before being inspired by her mentor to change career paths and be a Recruiter, which she absolutely loves! She finds that it is an amazing feeling to help job seekers find opportunities for smart people to do awesome things, and she is grateful that she can be a part of it.

Lee Ann brings in her 13+ years of combined experience working with professionals in both the private and public industries and have placed over 1,200 individuals in permanent opportunities across the United States. The roles Lee Ann have recruited for include: Finance, Analytics, Accounting, Engineering, Human Resources, R&D, Data Science, Legal, Supply Chain Management, Security, Procurement, Facilities Management, Clandestine Service, Product Management, and Life Sciences.

In addition, Lee Ann provides career coaching services to those who are job searching, soul searching, leading and managing, or trying to find new ways to advance within their careers. She supports her clients by helping them revamp their resume, interview style, and job search strategies; make seamless career transitions out of specific industries or professions; develop powerful relationships with recruiters, hiring managers, bosses, and co-workers; and elevate their personal brand in the workplace and market.

Lee Ann’s specialties include the following: Talent Acquisition | Diversity & Inclusion Strategies | Campus Recruiting | Technical Recruiting | University Relations | Career Consultant | Career Coaching | Resume and Cover Letter Reviews | LinkedIn Training | Networking | Public Speaking | Professional Development | Social Media | Personal Branding | Program & Event Management | Relationship Management | Metrics & Data | Sourcing | Interviewing

If you feel that you are seeking for these kinds of services, please feel free to connect with Lee Ann on LinkedIn and shoot her an InMail and connect.

Below are some really insightful out-of-office templates that Lee Ann has created for employees that I will share below for you guys, which are free to use depending on what is best suited for you and your company — “while we are all finishing up some tasks and preparing for the holidays.”

Wishing you all a safe and wonderful holiday season and a prosperous New Year!


Internal Values and Effective Communication Within the Organization

While everyone is working remotely from home due to the global crisis, it is important that colleagues keep the office culture alive and maintain that effective communication. You want to limit the distractions and practice your daily work routine – such as dressing up for success, and setting your own boundaries. This will definitely reduce procrastination. Most importantly, when you set and prioritize your goals, you can accomplish so much. And this begins with having a dedicated workspace to yourself.

Smarp outlined a very resourceful article that will help improve the Workplace Communication: 20 Ways to Effectively Communicate with Your Employees.

I have also created an infographic below illustrating some of the main points of effective communication because working from home can cause things to drift and we don’t want that. We don’t want miscommunication.


Q & A’s with Colleagues

During this uncertain and unprecedented time, I felt that it is very important to know how your teammates and colleagues are doing emotionally. We are all humans. We are there to support one another and provide feedback.

When talking about improving employee motivation, satisfaction, engagement and productivity, companies have mostly been focusing on employee recognition, feedback and appreciation. However, are we focusing enough on continuous employee communication?

blog.smarp.com


I have gathered some Q&A’s from colleagues regarding how they feel about their current job, which involves their confidence level and their ideal employers. Their names will remain anonymous.


1. What do you enjoy most about your role and the work you do for your organization?

Colleague 1 (Work Readiness Instructor/Mental Health Counselor)
The management for the organization is pretty laid back and doesn’t micromanage. Upper management has an open door policy.

Colleague 2 (Basic Skills Instructor)
What I like best about my current job is having a very considerate and supporting team. As I am a mom with two very young kids, once in a while I might need to switch my teaching time slot with other instructors, and sometimes I might even need to bring my kids to work. My team members are very supportive and have never ever said no to any of my requests.

Colleague 3 (Director of Career and Community Development)
Although not for profit, I enjoy and appreciate the opportunities to learn and grow professionally. I especially appreciate the fact that the work I do focus on ONE goal. Goal of educating, seeking and striving alongside those wanting to achieve self-sufficiency and attain personal/professional growth.

Colleague 4 (Mobile Jobs Program Coordinator)

My colleagues and upper management is what I like best about my job. They fully trust me with any type of work or project that I do and give me the autonomy. In addition, I like the fact that I get to be creative to help people who are in need.

Colleague 5 (Summer Youth Internship Coordinator and Adult Literacy Instructor)
This is my first time working in a non-profit organization. I love the decentralized organizational structure of our organization. It allows me to able to collaborate with and learn from individuals from other departments more easily. Also, it enables me to develop new knowledge and skills in the cross-department tasks.

Colleague 6 (Special Projects Coordinator)

Having worked with non-profits for a long time, I like that my line of work has a real positive impact on people’s lives, and I can work with colleagues who genuinely care about what they do.


2. What do you find in your role and organization that is special and unique and sets apart from other organizations?

Colleague 1 (Work Readiness Instructor/Mental Health Counselor)
The organization has more of a family feel to it. The organizational culture is pretty laid back.

Colleague 2 (Basic Skills Instructor)
This is my first job in the USA, so it is no way for me to make any comparison. But I used to be a Chinese teacher in Hong Kong. Compared to the international school I used to work in HK, our organization doesn’t put too much pressure on me, which is good for a working mom like me. As a teacher in HK, I needed to accomplish many goals during an academic year, such as cover all the teaching contents, meeting all the teaching goals, help students pass exams, etc. In our organization currently, it is quite flexible. I have no pressure in guiding students to pass their college entrance test. I like this stress free working environment.

Colleague 3 (Director of Career and Community Development)
I have deep respect and appreciation for our organization, as it remained a one-service organization for the past 48 years. It’s all about workforce.

Colleague 4 (Mobile Jobs Program Coordinator)
Although, our organization may not be well known. However, in terms of ethics and integrity, I can confidently say that we go out of our way to give help to whoever is in need. We are known to provide jobs for immigrants or people who are having a hard time, but whether it be legal, health, or etc., we go out of our way to successfully navigate for the client so that they can get their needs fulfilled.

Colleague 5 (Summer Youth Internship Coordinator and Adult Literacy Instructor)
Flexible working schedule, caring working environment are two major areas that my current company has done differently from my previous employers.

Colleague 6 (Special Projects Coordinator)
This organization runs with a genuine purpose for the betterment of society, not just rhetoric.


3. How would you tell others about your role or your organization?

Colleague 1 (Work Readiness Instructor/Mental Health Counselor)
Our organization focuses on providing Workforce Development assistance as well as English Language Learning assistance from a Work Preparedness focus.

Colleague 2 (Basic Skills Instructor)
I would say our organization provides employees a very warm, friendly, and home-like working environment. It is a government-funded organization, so don’t expect to have a very competitive pay. But if you want to go to work happily every day, this organization could be one of your choices.

Colleague 3 (Director of Career and Community Development)
I work in an organization that focuses on providing opportunities for new immigrants to obtain a job. We provide basic training/skills so that one can find employment. All programs, events, services we provide reflect required methods/tools necessary for obtaining employment. Wonderful benefit about our work is that; we do not limit our efforts to just new immigrants but to the larger job seeking community of the larger community of NYC and in partnership with 50 plus employers seeking the right candidates daily, monthly and bi-annually with our Queens and Manhattan Job Fairs.

Colleague 4 (Mobile Jobs Program Coordinator)
It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you may be. If you need help, we will always be here to help you out with anything. We try our best to make a great impact for everyone who are in need.

Colleague 5 (Summer Youth Internship Coordinator and Adult Literacy Instructor)
My organization’s aim is to help not only immigrants, but also all individuals to get a better life here in the U.S. It is not only a workforce-training agency, but also a place that feels like home.

Colleague 6 (Special Projects Coordinator)
I would tell them that you should talk to the people who work there. They will really try to help you. They actually care about people.


4. How would you describe your ideal job? What are its qualities and attributes?

Colleague 1 (Work Readiness Instructor/Mental Health Counselor)
A good combination of supervision as well as space to work independently, be creative, a supportive organizational culture (especially from a direct supervisor).

Colleague 2 (Basic Skills Instructor)
A comfortable working environment, friendly and helpful colleagues, supportive employer, stress-free, reasonable pay, commute within 30 minutes as well as being able to further develop my strengths.

Colleague 3 (Director of Career and Community Development)
People focused/caring for the young and the old/raising others up;
Have impact with purpose on the family or the individual;
Cultivate resources from those who have/can afford them and share with those who do not.

Colleague 4 (Mobile Jobs Program Coordinator)
The upper management and core value of the company. Of course high paying salary may be ideal and nice, but if I have to force myself to get up in the morning and go to work, then that is not the ideal job. However, if the colleagues/upper management is making a positive impact in my life, then I value that more than the high paying salary job.

Colleague 5 (Summer Youth Internship Coordinator and Adult Literacy Instructor)
My ideal job would be one that allows me to meet people from all walks of life.

Colleague 6 (Special Projects Coordinator)
When it comes to my ideal job, they must meet the following:
(1) Has positive impact on society
(2) Help me grow as a person
(3) Has a strong sense of community support


5. If you could think of any of the best employers in this field of work, what is it that you value the most from them?

Colleague 1 (Work Readiness Instructor/Mental Health Counselor)
The best employers in my field of work are empathetic, compassionate, knowledgeable, patient teachers as well as leaders, who know how to delegate and show trust to subordinates. The best employers give employees room and space to learn and grow as people and professionals.

Colleague 2 (Basic Skills Instructor)
So far the best employers in this field of work, my favorite part of it is the casual, not-too-strict, kind of home-like working environment they bring to employees. Although dress code has been emphasized later on, the overall ambiance in terms of relationship between employees, between employees and employers, between students and instructors, is still very home-like.

Colleague 3 (Director of Career and Community Development)
What comes to my mind about the best employers in this field of work:
Knowledgeable about the field and committed
Have strong work ethics with ability to work effectively under different situations
Innovative and creative with purpose
Have empathy and respect for those they want to impact
Hard worker with respect for people, rules and regulations 

Colleague 4 (Mobile Jobs Program Coordinator)
The best employer in this field of work allows colleagues be in their own comfort zone due to the flexible work culture and the respect that all staff has for each other.

Colleague 5 (Summer Youth Internship Coordinator and Adult Literacy Instructor)
I am not sure how to define the ‘best’ in the field, but I am pretty sure that the current company that I work in is setting high standards for fellow organizations, which can be seen from our client retention rate and students’ feedback.

Colleague 6 (Special Projects Coordinator)
When I think of the best employers in this field of work, I like that they care about their employees and are honest to their clients.


Now that you’ve made it towards the end, you have learned that all 6 of these colleagues that I have interviewed – desire a comfortable work-life balance culture (that feels at home) where there is no pressure, but also allows the flexibility for each employee to complete their tasks and meet deadlines based on their own pace. They reiterate the fact that they value those employers who care about people and that the work they do should be something that serves their own purpose for the betterment of the organization as well as seeing professional growth in the individual. And this is why communication is very important, as employees need to feel comfortable in speaking up for themselves and voice out. This brings out transparency.

Now, it is your turn to apply yourself with these questions!