As many of us approach the one-year mark of working from home, there’s plenty to think about as planning starts for return to office and our “next normal.” Fundamentally, I believe what we learned this past year from work from home was very valuable and can be applied by each of us when planning for future successes for our companies. I am optimistic the vaccine rollout will continue to pick up pace and be more widely available, and we will again benefit from our many touch points and relationships with our employees, customers and communities.
As we plan for re-entry and our “next normal," here are three reasons working together benefits all of us.
- The decision to return to the office is cultural foremost.
A highly focused service culture is PEMCO's leading competitive edge. PEMCO has been able to retain a cohesive culture of highly tenured talent who grew professionally by working together in physical environments. Because we developed deep relationships with one another, it's easy for us to extend remarkable experiences to our customers. Over time our hard-earned, prior experiences become less relevant if skills are not continually renewed. A big part of our learning happens with and because of our corporate culture – we build and grow together.
The pace of change at work is increasing to match technological advancements and societal changes. So our individual and collective success depends more and more on being highly collaborative.
Collaboration is just one of the tangible advantages we gain by working physically together. We also benefit from nonverbal communication and frequently reach out with support and encouragement. Today's virtual environment does not include that level of human engagement.
Virtual interactions have value, but they tend to be deliberate or planned compared to what occurs in a physical office. For example, how much do we learn in the lunchroom? The hallway spontaneous conversations? The parking garage or commuting with someone else? How often do we learn by simply observing how others engage and solve something? Those short conversations? In-person connection with mentors?
Working from home can limit these impromptu but important interactions. These brief encounters often add up to wider perspectives, which helps us to navigate our future.
- A work-from-home option provides flexibility.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, PEMCO successfully transitioned from an office environment to an almost exclusively work-from-home model – in a matter of about two weeks. None of us expected to still be at home a year later. Looking forward, I assume that companies and future workforces will benefit from a hybrid model -- a combination of work from home and/or work at an office.
Like most companies, PEMCO has many different functions ranging from customer contact, fieldwork, projects to deeper support functions. Each function has a critical role and its own needs for information and collaboration. Many functions require continual collaboration while others require connection at a more measured pace.
As the marketplace and businesses evolve, so do the needs of each function. Leaders will need to consider how much office time is optimal for the business, each function, each team and each role to thrive. Leaders must answer whether they can successfully lead remotely in an enduring way. There's no long-term or permanent answer to how and where we work because what's needed now is continuously shifting. We will seek to build an approach to our return that is nimble; as a team and as individuals we will have to continue to be flexible now and into the future.
- Creativity and relationships result from working together.
PEMCO, like many others, invested in facilities and campuses designed to promote frequent social interactions both planned and spontaneous. Our collective experience taught us that communication and relationships are fundamental to creativity, success, agility and professional growth. Additionally, a recent NW Poll we conducted found that 68% of respondents in Seattle and Portland felt equally or more productive in an office setting compared to working from home.
We are each wired differently. I'm an extrovert and as hard as I lean into the virtual world and try to be deliberate with communication, I still fall short with relationship building and information that I previously got from daily casual interaction in our facilities. I find I am not alone in this challenge.
While I see merits on both sides, I'm looking forward to the time when we can once again safely work and create together in the same space. We still have many more months of social distancing ahead. Each of us will change as we gain more remote experience and as our virtual tools improve. The judgements of the merits of remote work and the information we base them on will continually evolve as we make this journey together.
Stan McNaughton is chairman of the board, president and CEO of PEMCO.