HR Management & Compliance, Technology

Future of the Workplace: Lessons of a Digitally Heightened Model

If you’re sitting in your home office—or at your kitchen table turned home office—right now reading this article, then chances are you’re one of the many workers who were forced to go remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As for many others in your situation, remote work is now one of the primary forms of working. And for many organizations, the struggle to adapt to this new norm is real.

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Now that we’ve made the most out of this unfortunate situation, we look toward the future to see if remote work will indeed be the “new norm” or if we will eventually go back to the old way of working in an in-house location. To help us understand what the future has in store, Andy Van Solkema, Vice President of digital strategy and experience at OST, joins us to share his perspective.

Location Won’t Be as Important as Connections

According to Van Solkema, the future of the workplace will be about more than just changing where employees sit. He adds it’s not likely that everyone will just go back to work as normal following the pandemic.

“There will be a phased re-entry that accommodates the continuation of mixed remote and onsite work,” Van Solkema says. “A simple example at OST is that all meetings are considered ‘digital-first,’ even if everyone attending the meeting is in the office. Our laptops are no longer distractions but connections to the conversation no matter the location.”

Even within meetings, it will be important for employees to lean on digital repositories and communication tools in new ways, Van Solkema notes. “Employees entering the office have to realize that work is done in this mythical digital space and now physical environments only support how they accomplish this work,” he adds.

“Employees will have to be self-aware of the task and mental state space allows,” Van Solkema suggests. “I personally think of the office as a point of connection with others, to remind me of the organization I am a part of and to reset mentally with a routine. This helps to manage motivations and have a clearer sense of how to accomplish work.”

Workers Have Proven They Can Work from Anywhere

If we’ve learned anything from this experience it’s that employees across the world have proven they can be productive working from home (or anywhere for that matter). In the future, organizations that want continued success must adopt more flexible schedules as a result.

“When circumstances change, such as going from being an in-office to an exclusively remote employee overnight, so should processes and systems,” says Van Solkema. “In a time of crisis, people tend to gain clarity on goals, break rules and find new ways to accomplish what they need to do. It is important to monitor and leverage those outliers and adapt processes based on evolving circumstances and behaviors.”

Van Solkema adds that one workplace adaptation of the future is work schedule flexibility. “This is an important area for companies to recognize and one of the greatest opportunities to carry forward the integration of work and life,” he says, “not just when it’s required by COVID.” 

“Employees have proved that they can be just as productive from work and a huge reason for this is because employees have been able to stay virtually connected with co-workers,” Van Solkema says. “Getting up every day and not seeing other people drives employees to want to continue connections and discussions on work topics. Every human needs to feel connected.”

All This Change Will Result in More Corporate Change

The workplace of the future needs to be both physically and culturally different, says Van Solkema. Considering we won’t be going back to “normal” anytime soon, the way companies and organizations adapt their cultures to the changing times will allow these employers to remain successful when it comes to attracting and retaining talent in a post-COVID world.

“When getting back to the office amid COVID-19, employers will be tasked with getting employees to understand new rules that need to be followed,” says Van Solkema. “To do this, employers must first understand that this is an opportunity for them to rethink their sense of work, diving into both its physical and emotional effects on employees.”

“Employers need to understand the best forum for each specific work task and realize that collaboration, meetings and serendipitous connections can all happen both physically and digitally,” he adds. “However, it is important for there to be added intention and clear communication so that companies can enable efficiency in their teams and adapt quickly.” 

Additionally, Van Solkema says, before COVID-19, employees who exclusively worked from home often felt left out of communication. “Looking forward, organizations have to make communication between all employees, remote or not, seamless. Managing communication clarity and frequency will be one of the main challenges leadership is faced with once employees return to the office,” he adds.

Van Solkema leaves us with this one parting thought: “With remote work becoming more normalized following the pandemic, companies’ culture will have to follow suit and shape around being more flexible to employees’ work environment preferences.”