Skip to Content

5 Lessons Companies Can Learn from Their Remote Working Experience

5 Lessons Companies Can Learn from Their Remote Working Experience

As some organizations are welcoming employees back to the office, they are also increasingly conscious of providing the best possible employee experience.

“Back to normal” is supposed to be a comforting phrase, especially when you’ve gone through the level of disruptions businesses across Canada and around the world have faced over the past couple of years.

For some people, though, “back to normal” might not mean a simple return to the environment and experiences they had known in the past.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 forced many organizations into setting up tools and processes that allowed the majority of their employees to work remotely for the first time. As disorienting as that change was at first, it also created new habits, routines and even expectations around what employees feel they need to bring their best selves to their jobs.

As some organizations are welcoming employees back — even if it’s only some of the time as part of a hybrid work model —the office might look different to members of the team. Comparisons with the way they worked at home are inevitable.

Just as the most successful organizations define themselves on the quality of the customer experience they deliver, they are also increasingly mindful of providing the best possible employee experience. One naturally helps the other.

When employees feel they’re working in an environment that lets them communicate clearly and collaborate well with their peers, for example, they will probably be in a better position to serve customers well.

That’s why the quality of the working conditions a business offers could play a critical role in attracting the best talent, nurturing their loyalty and reducing the risk of employees joining the “Great Resignation” or leaving for a competitor.

Take the time now to reflect on what worked well (and what didn’t) when remote work was new to your team, and begin to identify the foundation for an employee experience that blends the best of both worlds. Be transparent with the team and involve them in what the future of work looks like at your company.

Some of the most common lessons might include:

1. A little personal space can go a long way to boost productivity and quality

Before the pandemic, many organizations were remodelling their office space to focus on “open plan” designs. Cubicle walls were dismantled in favour of long communal tables, and extra boardrooms were replaced with whiteboards on the walls.

An open plan design can still be a great conduit for brainstorming and maximizing the time spent with coworkers. Working from home, however, meant some employees might have found themselves better able to focus and pursue deep work. Talk to the team about the potential value of breakout rooms they should book in advance or other private spaces for when the occasion demands it.

2. People need to understand the ideal purpose of specific rooms, spaces or floors

Some companies used to have a “sick room,” which might have included a daybed for employees to lie down when they weren’t feeling well. However that same sick room could serve employees in multiple ways that improve their wellness, rather than simply a temporary retreat.

Use employee feedback to determine wellness habits they’ve already cultivated at home or new ones they would like to try. This could boost the utilization of offices that might otherwise have been left empty. Some examples include a prayer room to observe religious practices, a quiet space for meditation or even a place for working mothers to pump milk.

3. Spaces furnished with comfort in mind can cultivate a greater sense of connection

For the past two years now, many employees might have gotten used to participating in team meetings from their couch, where they sank back into cushions and sat cross-legged. Why make them return to meetings where everyone is separated by a long boardroom table and stiff chairs that are better suited for typing?

You don’t have to turn the office into a rec room, but sofas and softer lighting can create a better atmosphere for having thoughtful or even tough conversations. You’ll also want to set up monitors and other equipment in ways that make it easy to bring in attendees working remotely, rather than spending extra time bringing them out of a supply closet somewhere.

4. Options that accommodate employees’ interests and personal development can pay off

All those months spent in quarantine inspired many of us to take up new hobbies, or return to pursuits we had abandoned when commuting all the time made them difficult. The best return-to-the-office strategies will take into account the range of activities employees want to do that show they’re real people, not just team members. This goes beyond simply having a fitness centre on site.

Your office may not have space for everything, so get input on what would be ideal. Maybe an unused office could be soundproofed and booked to practice a musical instrument. If you had an office kitchen, maybe it needs some extra equipment or tools for employees who started cooking more healthy meals for themselves at home.

Perhaps an employee lounge should have some extra tables for employees to knit or create scrapbooks.

You could even just make sure policies clarify that a breakout room could be booked to study a new language as well as get traditional work done.

5. You need to be ready and willing to remodel or renovate occasionally

In some cases working from home meant setting up office space that never existed before, even if it was just a desk in the corner of your bedroom, or some extra lighting to look good on video calls. It was up to employees to decide what needed to change, and how.

You could do the same thing as you return to the office. Use any regular employee survey or check-ins you conduct with the team to take the pulse of whether the current environment is meeting their needs. From there, get more data by talking to others, perhaps even using company town hall sessions to achieve a consensus on the general direction of changes you’ll make.

Rather than look at “back to normal” as the end of a journey, think about how you could position this period of transition as a moment to reset and ensure employees can achieve success from anywhere. That’s not just welcoming — it’s maintaining an employee experience that everyone will appreciate.

Get timely updates and fresh ideas delivered to your inbox.