SIG session: How will companies balance work-from-home vs returning to the office in a post-pandemic world?

home working

With COVID-19 and other crises like the California wildfires top of mind for many of us, a big question remains: What will work look like in the future? What are the best practices for an agile work environment? 

As part of the September SIGnature Event that took place this week, a panel discussion titled “Nuances of the Post Pandemic Workforce” helped answer some of these questions. 

Moderated by Dawn Tiura, President and CEO of SIG, the panel members included:

  • Amy Fong, VP, Sourcing and Vendor Management for Everest Group, a procurement consultant
  • Rajeev Karmacharya, Managing Director, Strategic Sourcing and Category Management for the mortgage firm Fannie Mae
  • Greg Tennyson, CPO for VSP Global, which provides access to eye care and eyewear

Read more of the key findings from the SIGnature day filled with best practices and insights for procurement professionals in the COVID-19 pandemic age. 

The workforce spectrum

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there always existed a spectrum for the workforce — a range from fully in the office 100% of the time to fully remote or working from home 100% of the time. 

When it comes to where organizations plan to be long term in the wake of the pandemic, Fong noted that at least half of organizations plan to implement some sort of hybrid version. 

“The majority of organizations, or at least half, expect to be some kind of hybrid of work from home and office spaces,” Fong said. “The follow-up question is always, ‘Will we or will our service providers save money on that model?’ And I think the jury is kind of still out on that. …  Corporations can probably save 10-25% long term. Those savings aren’t short term though. It’s going to take a couple of years.”

Karmacharya added that the workforce is still in a bit of flux in terms of when and how employees will return to the physical office. He said that this process will be voluntary, phased and not begin until at least early 2021.

When that process does begin, the panel members agree that the work-from-home model will be here to stay — not necessarily at the same level as what we are seeing today, but certainly some employers will opt to keep some employees as work-from-home long term. 

In some instances, certain roles even do better when working from home, Karmacharya said. This phased process will certainly continue to illustrate the need for agile work environments. 

Agile work environments

As Fong noted, agile means that not only do various employees work remotely moving forward but also agile in the sense that some newer concerns exist, such as data security, compliance and employee well-being or burnout from overwork.

With employees using their own internet at home, there are added risks to security of information. With employees working from home, issues could arise where it feels like some never leave the office and may be checking in on email and projects even after their typical shift ends. 

While these exist as some of the main concerns, Fong has seen in organizations to date amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus has been less on the issue of actual productivity of employees from home.

Karmacharya agreed that productivity itself has not been an issue for his organization or team — but moreso concerns about collaboration and assimilation.

Agile work environments need to support the well-being of the employees but also the culture of the organization. Building and maintaining a culture with a workforce that is largely at home can be much more difficult than when employees are engaged in-person and assimilated in an office setting. 

Employee communication and flexibility

When it comes to employee engagement and communication, Tennyson said that his organization has picked up its cadence of communication through regular leadership calls, all-company calls and greater access to leadership for all employees. 

However, Tennyson warned the focus of a one-on-one call must not only be business-focused moving forward. Rather, it should be focused “on the needs of the individual. I’ll start my one-on-one calls and say ‘How are you doing, how was your weekend?’ Try to make it more personal where you engage the individuals and determine how the leadership team can help,” Tennyson said. 

Karmacharya and Tennyson both said their companies introduced flex scheduling so that employees can fit work around their lives. For example, some employees may work with their children for a couple hours during the typical workday to ensure they get their schoolwork done on a computer for e-learning. 

“It’s interesting when you have a conversation with the individual. They’re very committed to getting the work done. They just want the ability to adjust their schedule to manage the day,” Tennyson said. 

Diversity and inclusion

A final but nonetheless just as important topic discussed during the SIG panel was diversity and inclusion. 

Tennyson said VSP recently hired a diversity and inclusion officer. When asked how VSP “sold” the benefits of diversity, Tennyson referred back to the agile work environment. 

With employees no longer needing to be “geo-fenced” to a building, organizations can now hire talent outside of their immediate geographical area. This allows you to have not only diversity of thought, but people with different backgrounds and geographical locations, even across the globe. 

“You think about diversity and inclusion, you can now hire talent outside of your immediate geographical area. It’s opened up our borders from a hiring perspective. That’s a major plus for talent enrichment, diversity of talent certainly,” Tennyson said. 

Increasing the diversity of thought and inclusion is always a plus and must not be overlooked even during the times of crises such as a pandemic.

With more diverse, non-geo-fenced employees coming in, the boundaries are no longer there. The key component is that even though this is a forced change, we can now look at it as an opportunity and no longer a constraint. It opens up the possibilities for companies from a talent perspective and from a diversity perspective, Tennyson said.

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