The widespread work-at-home transition ushered in by the COVID era has shined the spotlight on big-picture questions about how and where we work. What is the role of the office in the future state of the “new normal”?
In my view, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Approaches will vary by organization, depending on factors like industry norms, job roles, culture, geography and leadership styles. When thinking about in-person vs. remote work, it’s important to consider the “four Cs” and how they manifest in a particular organization:
- Collaboration: Truly dynamic collaboration, where individuals are seamlessly working together toward a common goal, leads to innovation. Some teams successfully collaborate via conference call and video chat, while others yield better results when they’re physically together and feed off the energy and shared sense of purpose in the room. Personality types and communication styles on a given team also affect what works best for them.
- Connection: These are the ties that bind us to our colleagues and the broader organization and help us feel invested in the culture. Technology offers us numerous ways to forge connections, but the associated feelings of inclusion and camaraderie can be largely experiential. Organizations that went remote in March 2020 on account of COVID have onboarded lots of employees since then, and the new hire experience is certainly different than for those in the office.
- Career development: More than just training, this is the opportunity to share knowledge and experience, give and receive mentoring/sponsorship, and learn from one another. It’s also building a network, learning how to navigate the organization, and developing the social capital needed to get things done internally. The ability to achieve career development outside of a shared physical workspace varies greatly by organization and depends on the culture, personalities and available technology tools.
- Client needs: Meeting stakeholder needs is ultimately what makes an organization sustainable and successful at fulfilling its purpose. In the past year and a half, we’ve seen how many organizations have been able to do that — and do it well — without stepping foot in an office. However, some clients want face time with the people with whom they’re working and consider that necessary for relationship-building. Further, some industries simply require in-person presence or face-to-face interaction to achieve their objectives.
The Sedgwick approach: Striking the right balance
Since transitioning to largely remote work arrangements in March 2020, we’ve witnessed the extraordinary resilience, adaptability and commitment of Sedgwick’s 27,000 colleagues around the world. Our colleagues have continued to take outstanding care of our clients and their employees while working remotely. Sedgwick’s unplanned work-at-home “experiment” has, in many ways, been a rousing success and confirmed just how talented and devoted our colleagues are. It has also pushed us to examine the dynamics of the four Cs in our organization and to question the role of colocation in driving inclusion, well-being and our high-performance culture.
As we think about what we’ve learned over the last year and a half and consider how to best connect colleagues to our culture and purpose, we are listening carefully to their feedback. On one hand, many are eager to regain the “intangible” benefits of being in our office — the camaraderie, shared energy, casual conversations and more. They are looking for familiar opportunities to bond with each other and create fulfilling, long-lasting relationships.
At the same time, others have shared that they want to retain the flexibility that working remotely has afforded. Not having to commute to the office offers more time for family, exercise and other pursuits — and in some cases alleviates supplemental child/elder care needs and related stress. Remote access has given teams a new level of comfort in connecting virtually, no matter where they are located. It’s also allowed us to explore new methods for sharing tools and training. In any scenario, our goal is to encourage inclusion and well-being, no matter the location and preferences of our colleagues.
Trying to synthesize all that I’ve heard from the experts and our colleagues, management team and valued clients, I believe that the key to Sedgwick’s future workplace philosophy will be striking the right balance. Rather than pursuing an “either/or” solution to working in the office vs. remotely, I envision us all being better served by an “and” solution that embraces flexibility and agility. Both office-based and remote work arrangements offer wonderful and distinct advantages; perhaps one good thing to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the understanding that we can enjoy them all when we use them wisely.
That balance doesn’t have to look the same for every job role, work group, client account or location. Thanks to our global network of talent, office spaces and robust technology, we have the infrastructure in place to accommodate a wide range of hybrid arrangements. By taking an agile approach, we can allow the tasks themselves to drive decision-making on whether in-office, remote or some combination thereof will yield the ideal colleague experience and work outcomes. In support of such a vision, we are investing in training for our front-line supervisors to help them effectively manage people and workflows in this kind of agile, hybrid environment.
Over the next couple of months, we’ll be working to phase in a more agile approach so our colleagues can perform at their very best. By striking the right balance through flexibility, we aim to retain and attract top talent, as well as set colleagues up for successful connection to our culture, our purpose, our clients and each other.
How does your organization envision the workplace of the future?