I don’t want to alarm you, but for most organizations we have entered the dreaded Q4, the Fourth Quarter. The Year-End. Crunchtime. If you didn’t have time to create a work from home plan before COVID hit, now’s the time to plan for next year.
In our work with people and their organizations around the world, we are often asked what 2021 will bring. If the last six months has taught us any lessons, it’s that nobody’s crystal ball is functioning with a high degree of clarity. That said, we are seeing some trends that should be considered when planning, setting goals and just trying to navigate the next six or nine months:
Workplaces will vary wildly even within geographies/industries.
Everyone seeking a “new normal” had best prepare to be disappointed. Because COVID-related regulations will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, it will be hard to go back to exactly the way things were before, and a lot of companies are recognizing they may not want to. Some small companies will insist on “everyone in the office” as soon and often as possible. Others will recognize that people may have found some advantages to working from home and not having to commute, and will have more people away from the office.
Accommodating remote and flexible work will be the norm.
Because people may not be comfortable going back to the office, or can’t because of child care, health, or other issues, each organization will have to figure out for itself how to accommodate these challenges. More workplaces will be part-time remote, and that means a steep rise in “office hoteling” or other unusual ways to meet without incurring the cost of large office spaces.
There will be continuous consolidation of communication technology.
One complaint we aren’t hearing from people is that they don’t have the tools to get the job done. We’re actually hearing that they have too many tools. WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Google Meet. People are exhausted trying to figure out which tool to use when, and corporate IT departments are starting to hear the complaints. Additionally, more tools don’t help if people don’t know how to use them. More on this in a minute.
Rapid (and chaotic) deployment of enterprise tools like Microsoft Teams will be a problem.
To be fair, a lot of employers dove into the deep end to get people tools so they could get their work done. Now that the dust is settling a bit, they are trying to consolidate by using “integrated” tools like Microsoft Teams. It makes sense because it eliminates multiple tools, and it’s relatively inexpensive if the company is already using other Office products. The problem is that Teams is (as kindly as I can put it) a work in progress. While parts of it (high-def video, file sharing, screen sharing) work very well, their decision to use an “apps” approach means features people took for granted in Skype—like a world-class whiteboard, the ability to upload multiple presentations, and polling—are not intuitive, and many organizations don’t permit them at all yet. It’s improving rapidly, but it will be a frustrating start for most companies.
Individual skill gaps are widening.
People who were using technology often and well are adjusting to new tools fairly quickly and adopt many of the features. The problem is that those who were using technology begrudgingly, or at a basic, functional level face a wider and wider skills gap. It’s hard to be a valued member of the team if you’re not able to communicate effectively, or are perceived as “technology-challenged.” Leaders and organizations need to make sure tutoring, peer coaching, and training are available. Individual workers need to speak up if they are struggling and proactively get help before they get left behind.
We’ll see more hybrid teams, with the default no longer going to the office.
A moment ago, we mentioned that there will be more flexibility and less standardization of the workplace. Right now, hybrid teams exist (some people permanently in the office, others working remotely) but the default behaviors (like meetings in the conference room with others dialing in) have generally favored those in the office. Project work, special assignments, in-the-moment coaching, and other advantages tend to go to those in close proximity to the boss. As more of the team works remotely and the managers have experienced what it’s like, this will shift. The best example is the growth of webcams in the office. Prior to COVID only remote workers used them.
As with any prognostications, your mileage may vary. This is what our clients are telling us and what makes the most sense at the moment. It could all change with a news cycle.
But if you are thinking you want to be better prepared, may we suggest our Remote Leadership Certificate Series. This is a terrific way to make sure your leadership team is equipped with the skills they need to lead remote and/or hybrid teams going forward.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.
I don’t think that the traditional office environment will fade forever, but if there’s anything this pandemic has shown us, it’s that remote work is entirely feasible. Of course, businesses have to make certain accommodations to ensure that this is made as seamless as possible.