New working culture gives more freedom to employees
The COVID-19 pandemic transformed working life to the point of no return. This is excellent news for employees, as the culture is more flexible in terms of where, when and how people work. Employers, for their part, need the ability to trust and listen to employees and find out how to make them flourish.
Before the pandemic, the transformation of working life had been biding its time, and the restrictions finally triggered it. Thanks to digitalisation, remote working had been possible in many sectors for years, but supervisors and managers had their doubts: Would work get done if people stayed at home? As we now know, yes, it did, and at least as well as before.
Everyone noticed how remote work frees up employees’ time and resources. Working at home turned out to be more efficient than in an open-plan office, which had become commonplace at workplaces.
It is important to take into account the unique needs and situations of individuals in order to support a good work-life balance.
At first, the lack of social contacts felt like a downside to remote work, but soon, the time and concentration benefits tipped the scales in its favour. Employees learned to enjoy working from home or, for instance, from holiday homes, which forces employers to find new ways to attract their employees back to the office.
Be that as it may, working culture changed so dramatically over the two years that instead of rules on employee presence, today’s workplaces need open dialogue between management and personnel on the pros and cons of hybrid work.
“It is important to take into account the unique needs and situations of individuals in order to support a good work-life balance. If people are forced to come to the office every day, some of them are more likely to change jobs than to obey,” says Katriina Grönqvist from Great Place to Work.
Remote work breaks ground in new fields
Of course, jobs and tasks vary immensely in terms of how well they are suited for remote work. For example, IT organisations preferred remote and hybrid working models for a long time before the pandemic.
“In the health sector, for instance, organisations are now trying to find the right balance between remote and in-person work and drawing up policies that are reasonable. Healthcare organisations have to think about questions such as their clients’ digital skills and data security,” says Anu Järvensivu from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, who has studied working life for a long time.
Division of tasks into remote and in-person work could be done in many sectors that have traditionally relied solely on in-person work.
She adds that the share of remote work could be increased, such as in control room tasks, which could be performed remotely up until the point when it is necessary to perform maintenance tasks on the site. Thanks to advanced technology, similar division of tasks into remote and in-person work could be done in many sectors that have traditionally relied solely on in-person work.
“Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, I want to mention transportation and traffic operations. The more autonomous, remotely controlled vehicles we have on the roads, rails and even in the air, the more tasks in these professions could be performed remotely,” Järvensivu says.
Colleagues here and there
Hybrid work arrangements are a combination of remote and in-person work, offering employees the best of both worlds: from unhurried mornings in the peace and quiet of one’s own home to the power of the work community and inspiring interaction at the workplace. The hybrid model allows employees to choose the best place and time for working.
“For example, why would you come to the office if you only had remote meetings on that day? It makes no sense for experts to sit in an open-plan office with their headphones on, attending remote meetings. In these cases, it would be more sensible to stay at home and work remotely, if possible,” Järvensivu points out.
Working hours may also change if employees work more according to their own timetable.
In other words, employees could work at the office as necessary, such as when they need to work on something together with their colleagues or promote a specific project together. Planning new things and all kinds of brainstorming are particularly fruitful when people are in the same space.
Working hours may also change if employees work more according to their own timetable. However, when employees who work remotely or within hybrid arrangements are setting up their daily schedule, they should also take into account their colleagues who are at the workplace. Nowadays, it has become fairly common that employees who come to the office are disappointed to find the office empty.
“Even if you could work remotely every day, you might want to consider visiting the office more often for the sake of your colleagues who work there. This should at least be discussed in the work community,” Järvensivu says.
Redefining the work community
As a result of hybrid work, the structures of work communities are reshaping, as people become part of several work communities that are formed on different bases and actively build networks across organisational borders.
“Stakeholders, such as customers, are understood more extensively as colleagues. On the other hand, an employee can have a strong sense of community with people who work in the same workplace, even if they work in different tasks,” Järvensivu explains.
Employment relationships have become shorter while careers have become longer.
In the future, diversified employment will make work communities even more complex. In practice, this means that employees will not stay with the same employer for the full duration of their careers.
Employment relationships have become shorter while careers have become longer: young people change jobs actively, and pensioners may continue working as independent professionals even after their retirement. People can have several sources of income, temporary work has increased and more and more employees run a small business in another field alongside their own job.
“Diverse ways of working and careers will certainly increase. In Finland, there has traditionally been a clear line between employment and entrepreneurship, but this line will become more blurred in the future. We will have to think about questions such as who is responsible, who pays and whose time will be used,” Järvensivu says.
Workplaces now: peace and quiet and social spaces
Hybrid work has already affected spatial arrangements at workplaces. The planning of workplaces requires new ways of thinking and a shared vision within the work community. Employees who are used to working remotely might not even want their own workstations, because they come to the workplace for the purpose of meeting others.
“When I visit our Tampere office, I work on my laptop in the coffee room the whole day, because when I am present, I want to be easily available the whole day and meet people,” says Järvensivu, giving an example.
If employers want to attract employees back to the workplace, they should design spaces that offer something the employees do not have at home.
However, the layout of working spaces should pay attention to different situations in life, because there are those who prefer to work at the workplace. In addition to spaces for social encounters, workplaces should have quiet working areas, because not everyone can work at home without interruptions. For example, employees with small children typically need a quiet place for concentration at the workplace.
If employers want to attract employees back to the workplace, they should design spaces that offer something the employees do not have at home. How does a pool table in the coffee room, a massage chair in the lounge, a shared gym or a trendy cafeteria sound? Spaces can also be shared with other companies.
“In an office hotel, each company has its own work rooms, but the meeting rooms and lunch and break rooms are shared with others. People meet each other in the shared spaces, which can increase the appeal of the workplace or create a new network of expertise across company borders,” Grönqvist describes.
Trust steers companies through the change
When employees are given more freedom to define the framework for their work, the employer must learn to listen and trust the employees instead of giving them orders.
“Trust is the most important resource in a work community. At the best workplaces, everything is based on strong trust between the management and employees,” Grönqvist says.
A good manager also leads by example and uses their personality.
A good manager asks questions and listens to the answers. A good manager also leads by example and uses their personality. For example, if the workplace encourages employees to work remotely, the manager could also have some remote work days. Or if the number of dedicated workstations is reduced, the manager could also work in the shared room with the other employees every now and then.
Grönqvist emphasises that the most important task of a manager or supervisor is to make employees and their needs the centre of attention.
“The hardest business decision is to care about and look after the employees. That encourages them to give their best to the company.”
Looking after employees in hybrid work
In hybrid work, managers must stay in contact with their teams more systematically, as they are not meeting face-to-face daily. Digital questionnaires are a good monitoring tool, but they are not enough. Employees’ coping and performance should be ensured weekly one-on-one.
Just like employees, managers need feedback on their work and support for their development. Workplaces should provide managers with extensive support and training opportunities, as they are in a particularly demanding and important position right now.
Employees can be given anonymous surveys on managerial work.
“For example, employees can be given anonymous surveys on managerial work. Good questions for collecting feedback are, for example: ‘What did I succeed in and what can I still improve’,” Grönqvist suggests.
If something alarming comes up in the employees’ responses, it should be addressed right away.