If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that work can look radically different. We’ve discovered new technologies, new processes, and new habits that allow us to be productive while also staying sane. Experts are spending a lot of time predicting which of these new changes will stay around in the new normal.
But it’s also worth looking at the old ways of working that need to be discontinued. There are old ingrained norms and habits that made work life less enjoyable — yet we never managed to break free of them. The time is ripe for a reset on these workplace norms.
Here is IDI’s list of top workplace woes that should be discontinued in the new normal of working.
1) Long and Painful Meetings
During the pandemic, the number of meetings rose by 12 percent, but the average meeting time declined by 20 percent. Teams have increased communication, but also increased the efficiency and value of their meetings. Could the days of long and boring meetings be over?
The way we do meetings has changed. Companies should be careful not to go back to old habits, just because people are back in the building again. Short check-ins over Zoom or messaging apps allow your people to return to work quicker than drawn out meetings in a conference room.
At the same time, think twice about eliminating in-person meetings altogether. These meetings provide much needed social interaction that has a value that can’t be overstated. Your people are likely craving in-person social interactions, and meetings may be the only time that people on different teams connect with each other.
Now is a good time to evaluate how to make your meetings more efficient and effective. Consider the right cadence of meetings, and think about changing the format. Does it make sense to make some meetings asynchronous and handle them through messaging apps instead? Can you trim the fat on longer meetings and limit them to 15 or 30 minutes?
2) Mandatory After-work Events
Recently, my team at IDI met up for dinner at Black Rock restaurant. We worked hard to align our schedules and find a time that worked for everyone. It was the first time our team had been together in person since the beginning of the pandemic — and for some of the newer folks, it was the first time we ever met in person.
Your employees may be eager for some social time together. Take advantage of opportunities to foster those relationships and cultivate a positive culture. But also be mindful of the new work realities: more and more people are working on nontraditional schedules.
Because many employees are working flexible schedules, it’s important to be considerate about scheduling mandatory events — especially during after-work hours. That doesn’t mean you should never schedule those events, but to be thoughtful about how many you schedule, when you schedule them, and whether they should be mandatory or not.
3) Set Work Hours
During the pandemic with many companies working entirely remotely for the first time, we discovered that we can be just as productive — and sometimes more productive — with a flexible schedule as with a traditional 8-5 schedule.
As we come out of the pandemic, many organizations are allowing employees to maintain that kind of flexibility, because it means greater employee engagement and more job satisfaction.
Sandy Carter, VP at Amazon Web Services, includes this message in the footer of every email she sends:
TRULY HUMAN NOTICE: Getting this email out of normal working hours? We work at a digitally-enabled relentless pace, which can disrupt our ability to sleep enough, eat right, exercise, and spend time with the people that matter most. I am sending you this email at a time that works for me. I only expect you to respond to it when convenient to you.
For an increasing number of organizations, this is the reality of work. And the latest generation to enter the workforce expects companies to provide this kind of flexibility.
4) Coming in Sick
If you’re sick, stay home. This has been a mantra that many managers and coworkers have recited for years. And yet, we feel compelled to show up even when it’s better for us to stay out of the office.
But if we’ve learned one thing from the pandemic, it’s that we can get work done from home. Thanks to video conferencing, remote access, and new work-from-home policies, it’s harder than ever to justify coming into work and exposing others when you’re sick.
Chances are, you can take time off when you’re sick. But if you really are needed, the new normal makes it possible to show up for work while also protecting others from your germs.
5) Work-Life Separation
One of the realities of the pandemic was that sometimes you just can’t separate your personal life from your work life. And many companies realized that it doesn’t have to stand in the way of getting work done, or of being a professional person.
In the past, employers expected their workers to bend personal lives around the workday’s demands. The future of work will look more like a dance, as employees flex both their personal and professional lives around each other. That might mean kids are visible in the background during virtual meetings, or you’re taking calls in the car between doctor appointments.
“We aren’t robots,” Kari Altizer says. “Before, we thought it was impossible to work with our children next to us. Now, we know it is possible — but we have to change the ways in which we work.”
6) Old-school Benefits
During the pandemic, employers provided greater support to their employees by offering some innovative benefits. Greater flexibility, mental health support, and company-wide days off are just a few initiatives that many companies adopted in order to take care of their employees.
As we return to a new normal, many workers will be looking for these kinds of benefits to continue after the pandemic — especially Gen Z employees. Companies that adopt nontraditional benefits will have greater success hiring and retaining top talent.
For nearly 18 months, workers enjoyed a degree of autonomy and independence they had never experienced before. Employers had to trust that their employees were working, and that they would be as productive as possible, even with family demands and limited technical resources.
Although we’ve seen firsthand that employees can do great work autonomously, it will be tempting for managers and directors to tighten the reins when people return to the office.
Your workers will expect not only to continue working remotely, but to enjoy a degree of independence and autonomy even when they’re at the office. It will be important for supervisors to be present and available without micromanaging.
Do a Start/Stop/Continue Analysis
When you experience a seismic shift like the one we’ve just been through, some things will need to change for good. Now is a prime time to conduct a start/stop/continue analysis. This kind of analysis helps your company to take a fresh look at your activities, policies, and priorities. Are they still working? Do any of them need to be discontinued? Is there something new that needs to be started?
As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s critical to look at our workplace policies with fresh eyes and cast a vision for the way we want to work moving forward. Many things should stay the same, but it’s time to let go of the norms that no longer work — and perhaps never did, if we’re being honest.