Based upon our experience in serving our clients throughout the pandemic and feedback we have received from our employees, PayNorthwest recently offered the choice to our employees: work from home on a permanent basis, work on a hybrid (some in office some at home) schedule, or work 100% in the office. The outcome of this is still TBD and the decision-making felt fraught. There is no map for any of us as we all set out to navigate a post-COVID world. So, in the spirit of sharing and walking down this road together, we thought we would share a few insights that we, frankly, stumbled on that might be helpful to other businesses faced with the same challenge. Item #1: Decide by role. Depersonalize the decision of where work can happen by focusing on needs of the role, not the person. While we really believe in seeing our employees as people, in this case, focusing on the needs of the role allowed us to stay clear and level-headed in making our decision. We also tried to stay away from the broader question, “What does the company need?” because that can be used to rationalize just about anything. We looked at each role in the company and asked ourselves: Does this role have to happen in the office for the client to be served properly? If not, then we provided the option to the employee to choose where to work.
Item #2: Brainstorm all the things that need to be decided or changed. We pulled a team together to list out all the things that we could come up with that needed to be thought through or decided on for the three options we were offering (home, hybrid, office). We came up with 62 (turns out we missed one and there were actually 63). Talking through and deciding these 63 items became the heart of our work in stepping into this post-COVID world.
Item #3: Define standards and requirements for each option and have employees actively choose and sign off on an option. Work from home was not the “do whatever, however, whenever” option and hybrid was not the “come in when you want” option. Working in the office was not the “Covid denier” option. For each option the management team specified what resources the company would provide, what resources the employee had to provide, standards of conduct and expectations for hours, professionalism, safety, etc. were. Employees where then provided an enrollment period and process to make their choice. There was no default option and each person had to make a choice and agree to the terms and conditions.
Items # 4: Set the expectation, and make room in everyone’s calendar, for in-person gatherings. All options have the expectation that some in-office time will be required throughout the year for team building, training and general company relationship building.
Items #5: Redesign company practices and routines with the new reality in mind. We know that we will now and forever have some people in the office and some not. We need to redesign meetings, communications, celebrations and other basics of traditional office life, anew. We want to eliminate bias towards employees who choose any particular arrangement, and make sure that the effectiveness and outcomes of all of our company rituals and practices are maintained, if not enhanced.
Item #6: Realign your policies with your decision. Review, revise, rewrite company policies that no longer fit the new reality. Dress code? IT security? Acceptable background appearance in zoom calls? Working while sick? All of these things take on new meanings when the meaning of “place of work” gets redefined.
Item #7: Digitize all HR processes. As a provider of a cloud-based human capital management system, this came naturally to us, but we really do have to lean all the way into digitizing our employee administration and management. Handbook acknowledgements, on-boarding and off-boarding, benefits enrollment, PTO requests, company announcements, time and location tracking – everything that previously might have been done with a piece of paper (eeeww) or by line of sight, now lives on our HR system.
Item #8: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be clear on intent. Be as detailed and specific as you can. Reserve the right to change decisions. Listen to feedback. Provide updates. Staying connected with your employees is harder than ever with so many out of the office. Finding ways to explain what you are doing and why, and taking the time to hear their questions, observations, frustrations and positive experiences will carry you and your organization through this unprecedented reset of what is means to “work somewhere.”
As we said at the beginning, we have no idea how this will turn out. But we at PayNorthwest have been working in earnest these last number of months to do the best we can at adapting to this new world and seeing we might squeeze whatever positives we can out of what was a terrible, disruptive time for people and businesses everywhere. We hope the above items spur some creative thinking on your part and we look forward to hearing from others on what you have come up with.