As we forge ahead into the end of 2021 the pandemic presents continued uncertainty. Will organisations that expanded their workforce into new geographies due to virtual advances move towards a fully remote workforce? Will businesses with a traditional mentality and a desire for an entirely in-person staff struggle to attract and retain talent? Will working from anywhere be the face of the future?
There will continue to be lots of unknowns, but one thing is certain, there will be a negative effect on employees, companies and even the global economy if all companies go to the extreme by getting rid of their physical offices and switch to fully remote working.
Yes, there are absolutely benefits to a certain degree of remote working. Basware has long operated successfully with its executives and teams working partially remotely and geographically spread across 14 countries and three continents. The pandemic taught us how to do this in a setup where everyone worked remotely: colleagues, customers and partners. In a company like Basware, which has a global footprint, this has without a doubt further lowered the boundaries between geographies. In that sense, it has made the world seem smaller by delivering easier access to people around the world through remote collaboration tools. We have all come closer to each other now, but in a sense, we have actually moved farther apart from each other.
Personal interaction through a screen will never be the same as in-person interactions and the motivation to walk the extra mile for your colleagues and the company will be on a completely different level when you only interact with them on the screen. The relationship becomes more distanced and the feeling of being part of a team with colleagues you want to help, contribute to and celebrate achievements together with, is much more difficult to obtain. Human beings are herd animals. That sense of belonging especially plays a huge role in company culture, and subsequently in commitment and performance.
The war for talent, or ‘the great attrition’ as some tend to call it, is raging right now. It’s more important now than ever before to ensure that employees feel a sense of belonging. What sense of ‘team’ can truly be formed via a computer screen? Humans can only build trust, loyalty and connection through in-person social interactions – the chats in the elevator, in the hallway between meetings, during team buildings and everything in between.
Once established, those are invaluable to the company because, paired with in-office working, they breed efficiency and accountability. Nothing can replace two people looking eye-to-eye. Psychologists have conducted countless studies on the importance and intricacies of facial expressions and body language. And those form the basis of soft skills. It’s imperative that we not devalue soft skills; just the opposite, we need to facilitate environments where employees can cultivate and build upon their soft skills and take cues from human behavior. It’s difficult, for example, to read between the lines through a computer screen or phone line. An employee could interpret a distracted look from a colleague in a video meeting as a look of dissatisfaction or disagreement.
It’s paramount to a company’s success for employees to have some face-to-face time. It really comes into play during the early phases of a project or campaign – a time in which the team needs to brainstorm, debate the pros and cons, gain alignment, develop a plan of attack, etc. Once the plan is formulated and meetings become more status-based and follow-up-oriented, the virtual world is just fine.
There may be individuals from both sides – C-suite executives and employees – who disagree because they point to the successes they’ve had since March 2020. But then and now are very different. In the first year of the pandemic, a fully remote work environment had a positive effect on productivity because, first, everyone was forced to move to remote work given the extreme amount of uncertainty; with that uncertainty came a lot of internal drive and dedication to make it work. Second, for the most part, teams and individuals were continuing larger initiatives versus starting from scratch. But that was more than a year ago. Now, some of the inertia has evaporated and businesses again need face-to-face interactions to efficiently start new projects, programmes and activities.
Like much in life, it’s all about creating the right balance. Business life will never return to exactly the way it once was. There will be less business travel, but there shouldn’t be zero. Businesses should absolutely keep physical offices. At Basware, employees working in their respective offices three days a week is a good middle ground – with necessary exceptions. Plus, it is facilitating and encouraging social and team-building activities in small groups where appropriate.
For example, the Benelux team started ‘walk and talk’ meetings to promote camaraderie in a fun, healthy and socially distanced way. Employees documented their strolls with selfies and journaled a fun fact they learned about their colleagues during their team meetings. They then pass that journal along to the next group to read about the shared experience. They came up with this idea themselves, indicating the eagerness of employees to see one another.
As a global company, the possibilities vary greatly around the world with local health and safety guidelines.
Rarely in life is balance a bad thing. When it comes to how we work together after the pandemic, the balance between face-to-face and remote working is the only sustainable way to continue to work efficiently and have fun while doing it.
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