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Remember when work was a destination? Well, a lot has changed since early 2020 when the pandemic began. Work has become a thing, not a place, and many traditional aspects of work like commuting, assigned seating, and fixed work hours are now a thing of the past for many workers.
The driving reason for the change? After more than a year of working in new and more flexible ways, things have been slow to return to the way they were, especially for white-collar workers. However, for many, things not going back to normal is just fine.
According to the Ernst & Young 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey, 90% of participating employees cite flexibility as their top demand going forward. And companies that aren't taking to heart employee requests for more remote and flex opportunities — such as Apple, which recently revealed its plans to call employees back to the office at least three days per week — are getting slammed with employee pushback.
As a result, we're in new territory, where work can include almost any combination of traditional offices, hybrid work weeks, new work arrangements, including "hot desking" — (or desk sharing), and even WFHF (Work From Home Forever) scenarios.
One great example of what contemporary workplaces are beginning to look like is The Bookkeeper, which offers accounting solutions to small businesses in Raleigh, North Carolina. It has changed from using a traditional brick-and-mortar business model to a highly flexible, hybrid environment.
"Our office has become more of a flex 'drop-in' space, where staff can come to collaborate or meet clients in person, but with full-time work-from-home still allowed as an option," explains owner Courtney Barbee. "It's working surprisingly well, and everyone seems to be really happy with the arrangement."
If all the upheaval unsettles you, that's understandable. It's a lot, especially since the rules are being written in real-time. But change invites opportunity, and we've got suggestions for how you can make the most of whatever kind of work situation you find yourself in.
Here are four tips for managing this new work landscape:
1. Plan ahead
If your employer offers a hybrid option, taking stock of your schedule and commitments in advance can help you d
esign your week efficiently. Keep your WFH days for responding to emails, executing your assigned tasks and participating in online meetings. If you have any personal commitments, schedule them on those days and then make up the hours at other times during the workday, for instance, when you'd be commuting.
If your week includes brainstorming sessions and other forms of collaboration, however, or if you need to check in with a multitude of stakeholders, working onsite will facilitate faster communication and easier collaboration. This approach is exactly how Janelle Owens, HR Director at Test Prep Insight, an online education company in the test prep space, handles working effectively under the new conditions. "I schedule my week around personal obligations and events, and then go into the office on days that it makes sense for me while working from home the others," Owens says. "Honestly, I love it."
2. Arm yourself with the right equipment
Working in more than one place makes it hard to answer big questions like Where do I keep my favorite coffee mug, work sweater, and my stash of tampons? Some folks manage it by having duplicate set-ups at both the office and at home. If you work more agilely, a portable supply locker can make it easy to get set up, or a personal organizer can equip you with everything you need (chargers, pencils, paper) wherever you find yourself working.
3. Address issues early
Minor hiccups won't completely undermine your productivity, but an avalanche of "micro concerns" can. Prevent potential setbacks by synching apps on your office computer and home laptop so that you can easily access files and other information on the go. If you've got a cubby or space onsite, stow away all of your personal items before you leave the office so you don't waste time wondering who's looking at them when you're elsewhere trying to work. The idea is to stay on top of minor details and challenges so that they don't balloon into time-consuming distractions.
4. Participate in online activities
We know: You're tired of Zoom and just want to get off your screen at the end of the day. But since interacting with colleagues is an important way to boost alliances and productivity, it's important to stay connected to teammates and supervisors. So, log on to the group trivia game and swing by the virtual coffee break every so often.
5. Be honest with yourself
With all the variables that go into this new era of work, it's time for a gut check regarding time management and output. "It's important to reflect upon how you're spending your time, managing your day, and even your own mood," says Brittany Ihrig, content and social media marketer with tl;dv, which makes software that records meetings and tags important segments.
Otherwise, it can be easy to develop bad habits, like shopping online when you should be working. This and other forms of procrastination are easy for employers to discover via time management tracking software, even if you are online and meeting deadlines. You'll save yourself a lot of grief if you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to this new way of working and then create strategies to keep yourself efficient and focused.
The real message here is that today's concept of work demands agility — and that you might have to be more involved than ever before in both designing your own best practices for working and methods of accountability.