By Jeannie Finkel, Cetera Financial Group
Before the pandemic, many industries resisted the idea that work could be done primarily from home. They hadn’t fully suited up for extensive remote work. That left many scrambling last spring, and employees had to quickly figure out how to stay connected, collaborate with co-workers and show they could be productive despite working from the kitchen table or spare bedroom. This put a strain on both employers and employees alike as they struggled to adapt to a new normal.
One year later, many challenges remain, but a much greater number of companies and workers have found their stride in the remote workplace.
We at Cetera have learned a thing or two about how to help employees navigate these circumstances while continuing to do good work.
• Leaders need to be honest about challenges and keep the lines of communication open. When we increased the frequency of our all-hands meetings and set aside part of the time for open discussion, participation hit an all-time high. Employees needed an outlet for their questions and to express their concerns.
• Being flexible is crucial. There’s a need to adapt to the new rhythms of the workday, without working around the clock. If you’re a morning bird, you shouldn’t expect your colleague who works later in the day to respond quickly to the email you sent at 5:15 a.m. And she shouldn’t expect a quick response from you at 9:30 at night, knowing that is close to your bedtime.
• Managers must encourage and enable self-care. It is important to acknowledge the mental health challenges employees face under these circumstances. Remind your reports to take breaks, just as they would if they were in the office. It’s OK to run errands mid-day or go for a walk on a beautiful day. That’s also a good reminder for managers like me, who don’t always model the best work-life balance.
• Trust is the foundation. Most employees will do their job well without constant monitoring. Being clear about the expectations and building strong relationships are effective motivators for most employees and are the foundation of any accountability system.
• Digital innovation is helpful, if used correctly. Technology is a lifeline for businesses to connect with their employees, but training and support are needed to ensure effective use of digital tools for collaboration and data tracking. Digital competencies are as important going forward as industry knowledge and making best use of the technologies at our disposal can help us to be efficient and, ultimately, find greater work-life balance.
• Hiring, recruiting and onboarding may never be the same. Now that remote work has become the norm, a job’s physical location may become less important as more candidates expect employers to accommodate a desired work environment. Nearly every “office” job will require digital proficiency and comfort with working remotely. Gauging those competencies in the recruitment process will help you find the right person for the role. Embracing remote work could even help companies broaden the pool of candidates, draw talent from other parts of the country and diversify their workforce.
By re-imagining the office — with more progressive work-from-home policies and employee well-being programs that support a better work-life balance — companies are more likely to find, and keep, employees that go the extra mile to deliver results.
We are still adapting our approach to remote work as we respond to employees’ feedback. And when our offices open up again, many of the lessons learned will continue to shape our policies and processes. It will take continued effort to provide the support and communicate the vision for what is likely to be a permanent hybrid work situation. To achieve the right work-life balance for our employees, managers and leadership will need additional training and must take time to unplug themselves.
The past year has certainly tested us, in good ways and bad. We will all need to stay resilient and continue to adapt to the new normal. One thing that won’t change in the year ahead is the need we all have for balance in our lives and the importance of self-care. Let’s get off to a good start and go for a walk today!
Jeanne Finkel is chief human resources officer for Cetera Financial Group in El Segundo, CA.