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CIOs need flexibility to drive post-COVID-19 work experience

CIOs need to embrace flexibility to drive post-COVID-19 work experience
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Despite the extensive obstacles and devastations caused throughout COVID-19, one silver lining to emerge from the rubble, is the global shift experienced from working in an office to working from home. This shift has shattered long-held beliefs about the relationships between work environment, productivity and responsibility.

About the author

Suzanne Adnams is Research VP at Gartner.

As a result, the post-COVID work environment now demands radical flexibility in work policies, changing work patterns and how the office supports different working requirements. In response, CIOs can lead workers and support the organization by implementing flexible work models that meet evolving employer and employee needs.

Embrace flexible work patterns

Global research data collected throughout 2020 from all areas of the business highlight the changing expectations about the post-COVID work experience, with results pointing out that a return to a pre-COVID work environment is not desired.

Employees feel strongly about having this flexibility, with half the survey respondents indicating they would leave their current employer if they are not offered a work-from-home option. Moving to a flexible work environment, however, introduces new variations of work patterns that were not part of most workplaces in the pre-COVID experience.

These emerging work patterns that we continue to hear about and discuss include the employer office, home office and hybrid, however we’re also seeing a seeing a fourth pattern - borderless - taking shape in some organizations, with its own unique characteristics.

The borderless pattern represents truly remote workers (employees, freelancers, contractors or gig workers) who are not in the same locality, region or perhaps country, and who work on a different schedule and arrangement. Organizations moving into a flexible work environment should expect this pattern to emerge and be relatively small at first, with the potential to increase over time, as organizations become more comfortable with the flexible work environment.

CIO actions:

  1. Set a leadership example for the IT organization and model good planning practices by working with other senior leaders to understand workforce expectations and attitudes.
  2. Collaborate with HR to develop surveys and feedback opportunities to collect data from employees, managers and executives to inform the flexible work strategy and planning.
  3. Use that information to determine the proportion of the workforce falling into each of the four patterns, so you can develop a set of flexible work policy guidelines and design space that is functional and purposeful.

Communicate new workplace expectations

Findings from current surveys reveal that clients expect that 57% of their workforces could work entirely remotely and 63% could work remotely at least sometimes. Business leaders must plan for the home office to be the primary workspace for more than half of the workforce in the post-COVID work environment. This dramatic shift in work location means that working from home can no longer be considered an exception to the normal workplace.

As organizations make this transition, current remote work policies which were developed on the premise that working from home was an exception that required special criteria, justifications and approvals, will no longer be effective for guiding decisions and conducting workforce planning where location and schedule flexibility are the norm.

Retiring the legacy remote work policy and replacing it with a new flexible work policy sends a clear signal across the enterprise, to management and workers, that the work environment is changing to accommodate new patterns and expectations.

CIO actions:

  1. Discuss radical flexibility with HR and enterprise leaders, and how to apply this approach to benefit the workforce and to support management decisions.
  2. Work with HR and the IT management team to distinguish this from any legacy practices and thinking by defining new terminology and definitions for flexible work.
  3. Avoid surprises by consulting with finance, HR, facilities and legal to identify any regulatory or contract obligations that need to be considered before planning and implementing a flexible work policy.

Determine functional purpose of space

The traditional office was designed to function for a single, dominant work pattern: employees commuting into the location, sitting at a workstation, doing their assigned tasks within a set schedule and commuting home. Amenity places such as lunch rooms and other work and social function areas, when available, were viewed as secondary spaces but not necessities. In the post-COVID-19 workplace, the employer location requires a significant redesign to accommodate new work patterns.

The post-COVID-19 office design should not be focused on replicating a workstation environment of the past, but instead designed to deliver a range of alternative work experiences. Some examples of creative use of space would be adding the potential use of “green spaces” as a restorative antidote to the cabin fever/social isolation of a home office. With business travel significantly reduced or eliminated, workers report that they miss the reflection and thinking time that travel provided. Consider creating retreat spaces similar to travel lounges to recreate that environment and experience.

CIO actions:

  1. Apply radical flexibility to the design of the work environment to focus on the reasons that employees will want to leave their home office to come into the employer location. 
  2. Work with IT managers and teams to identify the types of interactions, meetings or experiences that cannot be addressed virtually or within a home office.
  3. Consult with facilities to configure a variety of special purpose areas designed to deliver the employee experiences that will keep IT teams engaged, productive and high performing.
Suzanne Adnams

Suzanne Adnams is Research VP at Gartner.