POST 172. June 23, 2021. CORONAVIRUS. Morgan Stanley chief executive James Gorman said: “If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office.”…”remote work can “dramatically undermine” the character and culture a company is attempting to build; and “virtually eliminates spontaneous learning and creativity.”

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“The boss of a US investment bank is cracking down on employees reluctant to return to work as restrictions ease.

Morgan Stanley chief executive James Gorman said: “If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office.”

Speaking at a conference, Mr Gorman said he would be “very disappointed” if US-based workers had not returned by September.

It comes as a number of banks have taken a tough position on home-working.

Jamie Dimon, the boss of America’s biggest bank JP Morgan, recently said he wanted US staff back in the office from July. Meanwhile Goldman Sachs bankers were instructed to report their vaccine status ahead of returning to their desks this week.

Mr Gorman said on Monday that Morgan Stanley is not yet setting a minimum number of days that US staff will be required to be on-site.

But he cautioned that may change if employees do not return by Labor Day, a US public holiday on 6 September.

“Make no mistake about it. We do our work inside Morgan Stanley offices, and that’s where we teach, that’s where our interns learn, that’s how we develop people,” he said.”” (A)

“We are certainly all cheered up at the news of several functional vaccines, but it seems likely that these will only slightly accelerate the pace at which we return to “normal.” It’s expected that many in-person business activities will not be able to resume in full before at least the second quarter of 2021…

All this leaves a heavy burden on those planning for offices reopening to set a precedent and create strong protocols for keeping staff safe and comfortable. This is why the biggest blunder you can make in bringing your staff back is not taking time to carefully consider best practices and safety measures.  It is also vital to plan for any unfortunate possibility such as Covid-19 cases within the office. Nothing will erode your employees’ trust in you quite like an outbreak in your office.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC has provided guidelines for offices in reopening which includes plans for risk assessment, testing, preventative measure, and contact tracing. Their guidelines and protocols are extensive, and should be carefully studied by anyone who is managing the reopening of an office….

Managers, it may come as a surprise, but most members of your staff probably weren’t counting down the days until they could return to the office. No, the coffee isn’t that good.

The biggest blunder I’m hearing a lot about is a failure to recognize that staff members may not want to or be ready to return to the office full time without the flexibility to continue to work from home…

Being flexible about schedule and allowing your staff to explore new models for hybrid work from home and in person work is a safer bet. A hybrid work-from-home and office model has many benefits, allowing for safe practices such as limiting numbers who are together in-person and creating “pods” or smaller team cohorts. It is also inclusive of individuals whose health may be more vulnerable or who are less comfortable with working in person….

The final major blunder that I’m hearing about over and over again is the lack of understanding, gratitude and support that many workers are feeling as they transition from work-from-home back to the office, or as they continue to work diligently from home…

The slow and sometimes stop-and-start movement toward the new “normal” will continue to take its time. So if you are a manager and considering bringing staff back into the office, you would do well to take your time as well. Ask yourself the tough questions. Is it safe? Is it necessary?  How can I make staff feel secure and valued? In the answers to these questions lies a roadmap to safely finding your way to a happy and secure workplace.” (B)

“Too many are asking whether we will go back to normal. To me, the problematic word is “back.” There is no going back to pre-COVID times. There is only forward—to a new and uncertain future that is currently presenting us with an opportunity for thoughtful design.

COVID-19 introduced dramatic changes in how we worked, most notably in forcing many people to work remotely. Of course, that brought benefits and it brought challenges. We are social creatures who need to be together some of the time to feel connected and to generate new ideas and solutions. The question going forward is not whether remote work will continue, but rather, when does remote work make sense?

Conceptually, it’s simple. Working from home works best for relatively independent tasks, when knowledge is codified and can be easily shared from a distance. Being together matters when tasks are interdependent, require sharing tacit knowledge in fluid ways, and coordination needs are not scripted or predictable. An honest assessment of the kind of work your employees do should yield a prescription for the degree to which you are dependent on proximity for quality.

Designing future work arrangements needs to be based on what the work requires from us, not on our preferences or the length of our commute. For some companies, the work is conducive to a mix of home days and office days. But a hybrid approach will not work if it’s left to individual choice to come in when people feel like it; it must be structured, so that people are together in predictable ways for the parts of the work that present the most interdependence. So conceptual simplicity gives rise to operational complexity to sort out the mechanisms for deciding and designing these new arrangements in a way that give us joy and productivity alike.

To get started, organizational leaders need to commit to telling the truth about what the company needs, while engaging people in the hard work of creating solutions together.” (C)

The following is a list of suggested practices for businesses to consider during the reopening process as they return employees to in-person work after an extended period of working remotely. The following are suggested practices for employers across all industries and are generally applicable to office settings. Prior to implementation, all practices and policies should be evaluated to ensure that they are compliant with federal law and guidance, as well as state and local law…

COMMUNICATE WITH EMPLOYEES BEFORE FORMULATING A PLAN TO RETURN EMPLOYEES TO IN PERSON WORK…

COMPLY WITH STATE AND LOCAL ORDERS REGARDING RETURN TO WORK AND CAPACITY LIMITS…

FORMULATE A RETURN-TO-WORK PLAN BASED ON EMPLOYEE COMMUNICATION AND BUSINESS NEEDS…

ANNOUNCE RETURN-TO-WORK PLAN TO EMPLOYEES AND ENCOURAGE FEEDBACK AND COMMUNICATION…

END ANY FURLOUGHS OR TEMPORARY LEAVES OF ABSENCES FOR EMPLOYEES…

RETURN EMPLOYEES TO IN-OFFICE WORK…

CONTINUE ENCOURAGING EMPLOYEE HYGIENE AND SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURES…

CONTINUE ENFORCING PERSONNEL POLICIES REGARDING EMPLOYEES WHO ARE SYMPTOMATIC OF COVID-19 OR RECENTLY HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH OR EXPOSED TO COVID-19…

EVALUATE WHETHER TO ADOPT A VACCINATION PROGRAM…(D)

“As we get closer to what all of us hope is the end of the pandemic, companies are faced with a new challenge: how to bring people back to work. It’s not a small thing to consider when and how to get your team back in the office safely–or whether that’s something you should do at all.

That’s exactly the question Google is tackling with a new set of policies rolled out this week in a blog post by the company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai. Google’s workforce has been almost entirely remote since the beginning of the pandemic, and the company had previously said that it was planning for its employees to return to the office in September.

Now, however, the company has changed its stance and will allow employees to choose where they want to work. If they want to return to the office, they can. If they want to relocate to a different office, they can. Or, as long as their role allows it, they can continue to work remotely–forever. That means if you want to go live in a cottage on the beach for a year, it’s no problem…

There’s something brilliantly simple about this approach, summed up in those three words. Google’s plan is to be flexible in setting up work structures, in order to give employees a choice. Sure, there are plenty of details around what that looks like, but the plan is simple. Give people flexibility and choice.

To be honest, that’s rare even among companies that pride themselves on having a people-oriented culture. Free lunches and a yoga studio are a lot different than telling employees they are free to work wherever they think they can work best. They’re a lot different than decentralizing the way people collaborate and allowing them the flexibility to make a decision that’s best for them–not just convenient for the company.

I’ve never been shy about criticizing Google over any number of its policies, but in this case, I have to give the company credit.

While most companies are trying to figure out the quickest way to get back to the way things were before Covid-19, Google is looking to the future and recognizing that there’s really no good reason to go back. Instead, Google is building into its culture a completely different way of thinking about how its teams will work together.

“The future of work is flexibility,” wrote Pichai. “The changes above are a starting point to help us do our very best work and have fun doing it.”

That should ultimately be the goal–figuring out how to “do our very best work.”  Besides, having fun while you’re doing it is also a nice bonus.” (E)

“Fourteen months after coronavirus confined the world’s office-workers to their homes, companies are embarking on another great experiment — how to get their teams back together, in-person, at least some of the time.

It’s a task that is briefly uniting the titans of global finance and leaders of nimble startups, all of whom are having to plan for staff coming in two or three days each week, at least for now. Driven in some places by Covid concerns and in others by a desire to embrace workplace change, hybrid work is the new center ground — at least in the short term…

Peggie Rothe, Leesman’s chief insights & research officer, says not all companies are ready to embrace the findings. She sees a division into three broad buckets: companies that are already taking action and redesigning working practices; some that intend to but haven’t started the process yet; and those that simply have not started thinking about it yet.” (F)

“CEOs are worried. JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon told shareholders in his annual letter that onboarding and mentoring of new employees will not easily be recreated virtually; that remote work can “dramatically undermine” the character and culture a company is attempting to build; and “virtually eliminates spontaneous learning and creativity.” (G)

As more organizations explore returning to work after covid vaccinations are more widely distributed, executive leaders must consider how this presents significant risks to retention, performance and DEI.

As organizations decide when and how to return employees to physical workplaces, some still favor a “hard return” — a mandatory return to an on-site location for most of the work week. For many, health and safety has been the initial priority, but executive leaders must also consider the potential risks to retention, performance, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“Forcing employees back into nonflexible work arrangements could leave organizations vulnerable to talent being actively poached by employers that offer the kind of flexibility employees have come to expect during the pandemic. Employees have proved they can be productive when remote and are now challenging employers to articulate why they should return,” says Brian Kropp, Chief of HR Research, Gartner.

More and more employees favor flexible work conditions. Over half of employees (55%) say that whether they can work flexibly will impact whether they stay at their organizations. Among employees who are currently working remotely or in a hybrid arrangement, 75% say their expectations for working flexibly have increased.

Today, more employees have work method flexibility than temporal and locational flexibility. For instance, around 71% of employees indicate that their job allows them to use personal initiative or judgment, but only 25% say that their role allows them to work from anywhere they want.

Gartner research shows that performance improves when employees are given flexibility over where, when and how much they work. Additionally, 76% of employees report that there has been an overall improvement in culture since the shift to remote work.

Business leaders should strive to create a more human-centric work design to help employees sustain high performance while minimizing remote work fatigue in the hybrid world.

Gartner research shows that the number of high performers in the average organization increases in environments where employees have choice over where, when and how much they work.

Forcing employees to return fully on-site is also a risk to diversity, equity and inclusion because underrepresented groups of talent have seen vast improvements in how they work since being allowed more flexibility — and could be lost if flexibility isn’t an option.” (H)

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