“The largest social experiment ever conducted” is now behind us. Allowing millions and millions of people to work from home would never have been possible without the arrival of the coronavirus. We quickly forget, but before the corona crisis, the majority of businesses had a negative view of remote work. In this new reality, we are still searching for the right working methods. What would be the appropriate employee empowerment?
The experiment did indeed work. We are now reaping the benefits of one and a half billion people who have worked from home. For many, remote work is a gift, offering solutions in terms of work-life balance and productivity. While leaders were hesitant about remote work for decades, questioning what their employees would do all day, the “experiment” has shown that, in general, productivity has not suffered; on the contrary, employees have less commuting time and can better integrate work and personal life. Although the transition due to COVID-19 was sudden, the discussion about remote work has been ongoing for much longer. As early as 1986, a sketch by Dutch satirists Van Kooten and De Bie depicted “the telecommuter.”
Workplace innovation is more than an intranet
The experience of working in an office and having direct contact with colleagues has changed drastically. Contact is now facilitated through computer screens. Establishing good connections is widely recognized as a success factor for organizations, so significant investments are made to maintain that connection. Simply put, an intranet is no longer sufficient.
Marco van Gelder, a consultant at Veldhoen & Company, has been assisting organizations with their workplace and work arrangement challenges for many years. He also conducts research on these topics at Tilburg University. He thinks workplace issues are complex, because no one owns the subject, everyone has a different opinion, and the views on workplace innovation are widely divergent. Moreover, in the past, people had to shape their lives around work, whereas now it can be the other way around. They can now organize their work differently. Isn’t that the greatest force that determines what work will look like?
No more One size fits all
Marco says, “It is a fact that we cannot go back to the old situation. Employees were often told that they could not or were not allowed to work from home, and now they have proven that they can. That argument from upper management has disappeared. Now, employee qualities are coming to the forefront that were not previously seen. We lived in an office culture for a long time, with set rules, dressed neatly, and daily traffic jams. Now you hear a different discussion: why should I go to the office? What is important about work and what is not? Employees have realized how much time commuting to the office consumes and how the relationship with home changes. The genie is out of the bottle.”
The challenge is that there is no “one size fits all” solution available. Each company has its own culture, which is also reflected in the attitudes towards remote work. However, a group of companies is emerging as leaders, where we can learn from best practices. In workplace innovation, the underlying idea is that the model where a manager tells employees what to do is coming to an end. Marco explains, “Often, employees are much better educated than their managers, especially in terms of their field of expertise. They are capable of taking on managerial tasks, which changes the role of the traditional manager. The ultimate goal of workplace innovation is to seek a win-win situation: effective and efficient collaboration, with profitability in mind, within the context of the organization.”
Watch the podcast
Please note that the podcast is spoken in Dutch with English subtitles