The world of work is at a reset moment

Modern team meeting, group work and social distancing, coronavirus, returning to the office

Article by Vanessa Gilardi, Head of HR at RBC Wealth Management International

There was no textbook for responding to a global pandemic, but it has proved to be an excellent test of agility – of both businesses and their people.

Overnight, we were forced to become a more tech-savvy workforce, to maintain service levels for clients and keep the corporate culture alive. We had to learn how to nurture remote relationships while dealing with huge personal pressures and our resilience has been pushed to levels we might never before have considered manageable. 

New ways of working

While challenging in many ways, working from home has created a significant, positive, shift towards new, healthier work practices and more supportive, empathic and collaborative teams. We have learned that the equation of productivity isn’t: number of hours = high performance. Instead, it has opened us all up to trust each other to be productive away from the office, and even occasionally move mountains to get the job done.

Oddly, in many ways our working relationships have actually become more personal, as we have shared more of our lives, homes and ourselves, and navigated the difficulties of the past 18 months together. Empathy across the workforce has given us all a more personal view of the people behind corporate titles, and playing on the same level field has helped to reduce traditional hierarchies.

As leaders, we have had to adjust too. There are critical differences in managing people in the office and remotely, in terms of communication and culture.  Instead of a focus on productivity and professional development, there was an immediate need to focus on the wellbeing of employees, and rightly so. Each of us has been affected by this prolonged environment in some way, and at RBC we’ve put even greater focus on protecting and caring for mental and physical health by expanding benefits, and offering access to support, training, live events and membership to wellbeing resources.

We have also encouraged teams to have much more frequent ‘check-ins’ to make sure colleagues weren’t struggling or feeling isolated. Providing platforms for colleagues to open up, be vulnerable and learn from others was an eye-opening experience for many and helped reassure people that they were not alone in the way they were feeling. Acknowledging the struggles employees have gone through over the past year, has allowed them to be open and more confident in bringing their authentic selves to work.

What does the future hold?

Companies pivoted successfully to remote working for the past 18 months, but the transition back to the workplace is likely to be far more challenging than the sudden evacuation. Leaders need to understand that for many employees, the question of “why do I need to return now?” is paramount.

We have all adapted to a new routine and it is difficult to justify changing that if the benefits are not made clear. It is not enough to rely on past advocacy of the office space, particularly when companies have continued to thrive with a remote workforce. 

The benefits of the office environment

However, the drivers for returning to the office are much bigger than individuals or an ‘allocated desk’. I believe that we need to consider the office as a base that enables the power of the collective, the inspiration we get when working with people and the wellbeing and co-creativity that happens when we are together.  

Communicating solely via a screen inhibits our emotional connections. Going back into the office may at first seem an unnecessary effort when you can just hop on a web chat, but the office environment helps us to recognise the value of these connections.

And when we are back together, we need to continue with the empathetic dialogue and environment of authenticity and vulnerability that has developed naturally during the pandemic. I’ve seen countless examples of leaders and people managers becoming more approachable by virtue of being more connected digitally and everyone being in the same boat. As an unintentional consequence, we’ve broken down some generational silos for good, which will particularly benefit younger generations in the workforce. We must not lose these benefits.

2021 is a reset moment. We have the opportunity to embrace change, recognise that disruption is continuous rather than episodic, and see it as a catalyst to continually adapt and drive forward corporate culture and our own professional development.

About the author

Vanessa GilardiIn her role, Vanessa supports business strategies delivery with HR solutions and people management counsel while skillfully navigating complexity within matrixed corporate environments. She is passionate about researching new trends and testing new ideas and concepts in the workplace. Vanessa earned a MBA from Liverpool University and a Master in Law from City University London.

When she is not working Vanessa publishes content on A Learning Story, an Instagram account for quick learning bites and digestible content and interviews with entrepreneurs in the digital space. She also cares deeply about nature and enjoys creating zero waste beauty products.

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