WFH: The ‘new normal’ that works

WFH: The ‘new normal’ that works

By Jim Falteisek, Senior Vice President, 3M Asia Corporate Affairs 

and Managing Director of 3M Korea

The 2021 ‘Great Resignation’ is far from over. According to one of the largest global employee surveys, one in five workers plan to quit their jobs this year. When asked about what motivates them to change jobs, being able to choose when and where to work were ranked very important by 50% and 47% of those surveyed respectively. 

Yet, we’re seeing major companies pushing for compulsory office return policies, despite 56% of employees in Asia-Pacific making it clear that flexible work options, even beyond the pandemic, is in demand for sustained productivity. 

This begs the question – why are so many companies still adamant on employees returning to the office, even when talent is at stake?  

Admittedly, I was worried when the pandemic first hit. How were we going to brainstorm and collaborate on projects if we aren’t in the same room? Was the quality of our work going to suffer?

Instead, our teams came together like never before. Deadlines were met, work goals were achieved, and we remained as collaborative as ever. 

In fact, studies have shown that businesses who embraced virtual work were even more productive.

Approximately 6 in 8 Thai professionals reported a similar or increased level of productivity while working at home. Consequently, 6 in 8 wish to have more work from home arrangements in the future. This may be an increasingly significant consideration in determining employee job satisfaction or their decision to change roles.

The pandemic has demonstrated that employees could be just as productive and successful, independent of the office. It has also taught us to focus on quality of output, instead of hours spent in the office, a rather archaic method of measuring performance anyway. 

Most importantly, it has taught us the need to trust our employees to deliver their best work regardless of their way of working, and the importance of communicating that trust. 

This trust will pay off. Research shows that trust builds employee engagement and well-being, boosting business and performance outcomes.   

After spending months in remote work and subsequently rolling out a flexible, trust-based work model across our global organization called ‘Work Your Way’, here’s how we were able to not only offer flexible, hybrid or remote work, but take these work models to new heights. 

Carving out “moments that matter” starts with the top

Leadership calls for flexibility and adaptability. As such, we should find ways to create “moments that matter” regardless of whether our teams are working on-site or remotely. 

This means strategically planning valuable personal and professional interactions, be it virtually or in-person, and this will look different depending on each team’s size, work arrangements, preferences, and personalities. It may include performance reviews, celebrating key milestones, team building activities and many more. While these moments may not need to be in-person, it’s important for those involved to discuss how to recognize them in an effective and meaningful way.  

I thus take the time to meet and collaborate in-person with my team in Korea, where I’m based. To continue building rapport with the wider Asia-Pacific region, which is also within my area of responsibility, I hold regular regional town halls and dialogue sessions. 

Some of us leaders also started regular virtual meetings with different teams. As a result, we have had much more face-time with team members we previously would have not met, and hearing these different perspectives have in turn helped us lead better. 

Invest more resources into making virtual onboarding a success

Many naysayers of flexible and remote work often bring up the difficulty of virtual onboarding for new talent. Helping them pick up your organization’s work software, procedures, and team culture can be challenging. But doing it entirely online adds another layer of complexity. 

This is an understandable perspective. However, I argue that companies are still scratching the surface when making their virtual onboarding a success. 

Here are ways to improve virtual onboarding processes. Organizations must figure out effective onboarding procedures to help new employees adapt quickly even if they choose to work remotely. This can be in the form of comprehensive employee guides, videos, and scheduling both formal and informal meetings with team members.  

Additionally, dedicated networking programs for new joiners can help them make connections and learn more about the company culture much faster. Our ‘New Employee Opportunity Network’ (NEON) is a global community that accelerates the connection and growth of new employees to provide them tailored networking, development, and leadership opportunities to empower these new joiners to actively influence our strategy, culture, and results.

The future of work – let employees work their way 

When managed well, allowing employees to choose how they want to work should not affect business continuity. Flexible work should also go beyond shift A or B. Employees should have the freedom to decide when to come in. 

Besides 3M, other companies are allowing employees to choose how, when and where they work.

Offering trust-based, flexible models of working is the way forward. It is how we can continue to retain talent, from younger workers to working parents. 

Juggling work and parenting is notoriously challenging. With 3M’s new working model, parents can better plan their work around childcare, allowing them to enjoy parenthood without sacrificing career development.

Flexible work programs need not stop at the corporate office. Rolling out flexible work arrangements for plant employees is more challenging, but an important mission for us. While they will have to continue working on-site due to the nature of the work, production plant workers at 3M are offered other forms of flexibility such as flexible start and stop times or shift swapping.

We’ve seen great results from the launch of our new work model. As many as 90% of our employees across our global organization reported feeling supported in a survey conducted recently. 

These findings say it all – instead of focusing on getting our employees back in the office, let’s find more ways to empower our employees to work in ways that boost their productivity.