WFH: The ‘new normal’ that works
The 2021 “Great Resignation” is far from over. According to one of the largest global employee surveys, one in five workers plan to quit their jobs this year. Asked what motivates them to change jobs, being able to choose when and where to work were ranked very important by 50 percent and 47 percent of respondents, respectively.
Yet we’re seeing major companies pushing for compulsory office return policies, despite 56 percent of employees in Asia-Pacific making it clear that flexible work options, even beyond the pandemic, is in demand for sustained productivity.
Admittedly, I was worried when the pandemic first hit. How were we, at 3M, going to brainstorm and collaborate on projects if we aren’t in the same room? Was the quality of our work going to suffer? Instead, our teams came together like never before. Deadlines were met, work goals were achieved, and we remained as collaborative as ever.
In fact, studies have shown that businesses that embraced virtual work were even more productive. In the Philippines, nine out of 10 professionals noted an increased level of productivity while working from home, with more than 90 percent of them seeking additional work-from-home arrangements moving forward, signaling its growing role in job satisfaction.
The pandemic has demonstrated that employees could be just as productive and successful outside of office confines. It has also taught us to focus on quality of output, instead of hours spent in the office. Most importantly, it has taught us the need to trust employees to deliver their best work regardless of their way of working, and the importance of communicating that trust. This trust will pay off. Research shows that trust builds employee engagement and well-being, boosting business and performance outcomes.
Leadership calls for flexibility and adaptability. As such, we should find ways to create “moments that matter” regardless of whether our teams are working onsite or remotely.
This means strategically planning valuable personal and professional interactions, be it virtually or in-person, and this will look different depending on each team’s size, work arrangements, preferences, and personalities. It may include performance reviews, celebrating key milestones, team building activities, and many more. While these moments may not need to be in-person, it’s important for those involved to discuss how to recognize them in an effective and meaningful way.
I, thus, take the time to meet and collaborate in-person with my team in Korea, where I’m based. To continue building rapport with the wider Asia-Pacific region, which is also within my area of responsibility, I hold regular regional town halls and dialogue sessions. Some of us leaders also started regular virtual meetings with different teams. As a result, we have had much more face-time with team members we previously would have not met, and hearing these different perspectives have, in turn, helped us lead better.
Many naysayers of flexible and remote work often bring up the difficulty of virtual onboarding for new talent. Helping them pick up your organization’s work software, procedures, and team culture can be challenging—doing it entirely online adds another layer of complexity. Organizations must figure out effective onboarding procedures to help new employees adapt quickly, even if they choose to work remotely. This can be in the form of comprehensive employee guides, videos, and scheduling both formal and informal meetings with team members.
When managed well, allowing employees to choose how they want to work should not affect business continuity. Flexible work should also go beyond shift A or B—employees should have the freedom to decide when to come in. Besides 3M, other companies are allowing employees to choose how, when, and where they work.
Offering trust-based, flexible models of working is the way forward. It is how we can continue to retain talent, from younger workers to working parents. Juggling work and parenting is notoriously challenging. With 3M’s new working model, parents can better plan their work around child care, allowing them to enjoy parenthood without sacrificing career development.
Flexible work programs need not stop at the corporate office. Rolling out flexible work arrangements for plant employees is more challenging. While they will have to continue working onsite due to the nature of the work, production plant workers at 3M are offered other forms of flexibility such as flexible start and stop times, or shift swapping. We’ve seen great results from the launch of our new work model. As many as 90 percent of our employees across our global organization reported feeling supported in a survey conducted recently.
Instead of focusing on getting our employees back in the office, let’s find more ways to empower them to work in ways that boost their productivity.
Jim Falteisek is senior vice president of 3M Asia Corporate Affairs and managing director of 3M Korea.
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