When the pandemic hit, most knowledge-based industries jumped into a remote working model with hardly a second thought.
ARTICLE | 5m read
December 18, 2020
Physical workspaces became digital, technology took on greater prominence, and leaders began tailoring employee experience to suit an era few could have predicted. Now, 44 percent of IT leaders believe that the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated digital transformation by more than a year.
It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. But necessity can yield some mixed results. Many organizations report productivity increasing through the pandemic, as well as burnout. Workers are fatigued, yet many wish to make work-from-home permanent. As remote work morphs from a quick fix into a potentially permanent solution, businesses need a playbook. This isn’t a binary choice between a central office and a kitchen table. It’s about flexible work, and arming leaders with tactics to determine what should be left behind, and what could ensure long-term success.
Case in point: Fieldwork by Citrix recently spoke with LaMonte Johnson, Director, Strategic Real Estate Planning at Atrium Health, as well as Jenna Geigerman, Director of Real Estate & Strategy at Citrix, as they both weighed out permanent pivots to their work models. Here are two fundamentally different companies, from totally different sectors—one healthcare, one technology—yet both are already benefiting from a flexible work approach.
Below, we’ll walk you through Johnson and Geigerman’s four steps to implementing a successful flexible work strategy.
The first part of rolling out a successful long-term strategy involves taking stock of where the business has been most impacted. Many of these areas will be easy to identify.
“If you look at the corporate services side, the majority of our team members were in the office five days a week,” Johnson says. “That's separate from the team members who work in a care facility; for example these are teammates in finance, HR, operations, etc. All of these people were in a physical environment before COVID. Then everything changed: eight thousand-plus people switched to working from home in March, and we've continued with that.”
Geigerman reports similar changes at Citrix. But she notes that there have been both negative and positive effects.
PEOPLE DERIVE ENERGY FROM PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENTS. BUT IT'S NOT PRODUCTIVITY THAT’S IMPACTED, IT'S COLLABORATION AND INNOVATION FROM IN-PERSON INTERACTIONS.
Director of Real Estate & Strategy
“If you were a part of a globally dispersed team, you feel more connected now that everyone is remote,” she adds. “The experience was uneven before, so the pandemic has been an equalizer. You’re no longer split between conference rooms and remote boxes.”
Both Johnson and Geigerman mention surveys as a ready way to measure employee preferences—whether those teams are remote or reporting to a workplace. Johnson says they’ve conducted a few surveys at Atrium Health, asking questions like, “How is your work-from-home experience?” and “What do you need to be more effective?” Through these surveys, his team has found areas to improve—but they’ve also uncovered more value in remote work.
Remote Atrium Health employees report missing in-person collaboration, as well as not being able to see each other face to face on a regular basis. “But they just do not want to come back in the same capacity,” Johnson says.
NUMBER ONE, PEOPLE RESPONDED THAT THEY WANTED TO BE SAFE. AND THEY FELT SAFER WORKING FROM HOME. PEOPLE FOUND A BETTER WORK LIFE BALANCE. AND PRODUCTIVITY WENT UP OR REMAINED THE SAME.
Director, Strategic Real Estate Planning
Citrix has taken a similar approach, conducting regular pulse surveys to get a sense of what employees are thinking. Geigerman’s team collaborated with HR on a survey to gauge employees’ comfort level with returning to the office, which is being sent out to sites as they prepare to advance to Phase 3 occupancy.
“It would be great to have a crystal ball to better understand why people will come to the office, and if they'll come to the office,” she says. “People are saying they want flexibility.”
The next phase of creating a long-term flexible work strategy is determining what resources can be reprioritized. “We're looking at a drop in shared locations, as well as scheduling resources for the office, for efficiency and safety reasons,” says Johnson. “We ultimately want our team members to be able to collaborate and work efficiently and comfortably, even if they don't have a dedicated space in the office.”
He has concluded that in 2021, Atrium will think more creatively about real estate—which in practice might mean allocating more resources toward supporting Atrium’s strategic vision. “These cost savings will go back to supporting medical initiatives, which is always our first priority,” he says.
Geigerman, meanwhile, draws on a core tenet of Citrix’s culture to inform her approach to these complex decisions. “We've always been a company centered on data,” she says. “We had already started working on sensors to understand user behavior—which rooms are being booked, and why—so we can build more of what's working, less of what's not. Now we're looking at sensors to understand how collaborative spaces are used and mapping user preferences to create spaces of opportunity.
“We're going through some design exercises to ideate on what it would look like,” she continues. “starting with tweaking existing spaces, since we can’t overhaul the entire portfolio at once. But we’re also looking at opportunities to build something new, based on an ideal future of work scenario.”
And optimization isn’t just an inward goal, says Johnson. He knows that this decision could have implications for the patient as well. “Even though many of us don't interact with [patients], they have to be top of mind. And we must keep in mind that if we can better optimize our use of resources and space, we can better support our mission, which is to improve health, elevate hope, and advance healing for all.”
For employees to successfully work remotely long-term, communication and teamwork need to be taught and constantly reinforced. “Culture is a big priority for us,” Johnson says. “For current employees, our culture is very much ingrained, but it's a big consideration for new hires.
“I know HR is prioritizing this, with our team supporting,” he adds. “And IT continues to learn and grow and determine how to better support our teammates. It's a big change for us, but it's the right direction.”
Geigerman agrees. “One of the gifts of the pandemic is that HR, IT, and Real Estate—along with Legal and Security—are working more closely together. HR is helping capture the data to inform our approach. IT has had to be very intentional about supporting people in a remote environment, providing tools to support a different type of work.”
“Look at all the facets of the crystal,” she advises. “Make the best decision you can with the information the team has at any given time and be OK with being wrong some of the time.”
The pandemic has wrought more sudden structural change than many organizations have ever faced. But for digitally mature organizations, this challenge has also presented an opportunity.
As your business navigates this precarious new territory, the remarks and recommendations from Johnson, Geigerman, and more to come can aid your transition from remote work to flexible work. But also note that what works for you today may be old news tomorrow. Adaptation will always be your most effective strategy.
“We're still learning,” Johnson admits. “And we're going to continue to learn."