Decals on the floor inside an elevator show where to stand. It is protection against the coronavirus at Hudson Pacific Properties, a big office landlord in Los Angeles. Over 14 months of pandemic lockdown, Rebecca Jacobsson sometimes has attended two video gatherings at once. Getting back to in-person office work is proving an uphill task. The elevator door opens, guess who is coming in, my boss. Supposing I say this, hey boss don’t expect to see me 5 days a week. A magic trick pulled off […]
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Shifting to remote work should not be the only focus of work redesign. A policy declaring that people must work remotely, or even one saying they can work whenever and wherever they want can have issues. It can easily become pressure to work longer hours and be available 24/7—leading to burnout over time.
There are two important elements of the initiative studied by Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen. The are; training managers to shift how they approached their roles and how they can help their teams to identify and reduce low-value work.
First, managers need to express support of employees’ personal lives and to clearly articulate performance goals and expectations. This help managers to focus on monitoring results rather than “face time” at the office.
Secondly, structured team discussions helped overloaded employees identify changes they could make as individuals and teams. This work redesign approach ultimately changed everyday work practices. Such as, reducing the number of meetings or the number of people required to attend them, and increasing the ability to work remotely. It also help with the identification of low-value work that teams can reduce and still hold work hours steady.
These changes improved well-being and work/life integration for employees and managers. There was an increase in job satisfaction, and the company benefited from reduced costs associated with turnover among valuable employees.
But such benefits arise only when employees feel they can choose where and when they work – not by mandating some particular mix of remote and in-office work. It is also critical that managers and coworkers respect workers’ personal and family situations. In other words, the benefits documented come not from a policy allowing remote work per se, but from gaining a sense of control and support.
No One Size Fits All
The exact mix or blend of remote and in-office work may depend on the work being done and the personal lives of the workforce, but working at home exclusively only works well for some employees and roles. However, the research shows that having some say in when, where, and how they work is highly valued by many employees, and can be good for a company’s bottom line.
The work redesign approach deployed in this study did not set up formal policies laying out how much time was expected in the office. It does not also require individuals to get permission from their managers to work from home. Instead, it encourages regular conversations about how people hoped to work and how the team could coordinate to do its best work. Thereby, setting the stage for adaptable and customized ways of working.
This is the perfect moment to launch a work redesign initiative like the one researched. This can be done by inviting teams to discuss and learn from how they adapted during the pandemic and how they struggled, and to imagine what might work well for them. Erin and Phyllis created free training resources from their study, including a facilitator’s guide to implementing this kind of work redesign program.
Erin L. Kelly is the Sloan distinguished professor of work and organization studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Phyllis Moen holds the McKnight endowed presidential chair in sociology at the University of Minnesota. They are the authors of Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It.