COVID-19 Will Fundamentally Shift Office Culture in the Future. And That Might Be a Good Thing.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. Schools are closed, and parents, including myself, are now doubling as educators in their own homes. Restaurants, salons and many other businesses that were once a part of daily life in the U.S. have been shuttered, while concerts as well as entire sports seasons have been cancelled. And as a result of all this disruption, millions of people have lost their jobs.
No one knows when things will get back to normal – or whether what we’ve long considered “normal” will really exist. But as someone who is hard-wired to find silver linings in every situation, no matter how dire, I think we as employers must accept that even in these unsettling times, there are lessons to be learned and some aspects of this new abnormal that we should embrace.
One of the silver linings, I think, is a realization that we can do more of our work remotely. Don’t get me wrong, wealth management is a people-centric business. While we’ve been able to shift operations so the majority of our branch personnel can work from home, doing this long term isn’t ideal. Our value is in the personalized advice we give clients, and that advice thrives on the relationships advisors build with their clients. But what we’ve learned is those relationships can be fostered in a digital environment. We’ve seen our advisors use technology to stay connected with clients in new and creative ways, and I think that will only continue, even after things go back to the way they were.
Another plus is that remote work has shown us more than ever how interconnected work and home life are. I can’t tell you how many video calls I’ve been on where someone’s pet, child or spouse has made an appearance – whether planned or accidental – and it’s absolutely brightened my day. I feel like I know my colleagues so much better than I did before. And while some people feel the need to apologize for those interruptions, I’m encouraging them not to!
Life happens around us every single day. Before the pandemic, employees were still getting calls about sick kids they needed to come pick up or a loved one they needed to drive to an appointment. Those demands are just a little more visible to colleagues and managers today. They certainly have been in my world! A few days ago, I was on a video call with 14 members of my team when my 5-year-old son kept knocking on my door. When he finally came in, he told me that the toilet was plugged and he thought he should just keep flushing to see if it got better. Of course that resulted in toilet water spewing out onto the floor! So, my team was treated to a view of me frantically running through my house to find the mess. As I grabbed the plunger and unplugged the toilet, my son, shoes on, walked through four rooms of the house tracking toilet water every step of the way. I’m sure my team got a glimpse of that, too!
The question is, how do we take this knowledge that our employees have entire lives outside of the office and do a better job of supporting them there as well as at work?
At RBC, we’ve adopted more flexible work schedules. After the past seven weeks, it’s become even more clear that not every employee has to be in the office every single day. Enabling a greater portion of the workforce to work remotely will not only aid in ongoing social distancing efforts, but it will also promote greater flexibility for employees who, for a multitude of life circumstances, can’t always be in the office from 9 to 5. We’ve also added mental health support resources for employees and their family members; and back-up child and elder care for our people in recognition of the demands they have outside of work. That kind of support will be even more critical in the coming months as the lines between work and life not only continue to be blurred, but for many, collide.
Lastly, I hope that the new prevalence of remote work will result in a more equitable experience for employees who are remote, or who work outside of their company’s headquarters location. In the U.S., RBC Wealth Management operates 170 branches across the country, but we are part of a large global organization, which means we’re on calls with colleagues from across the world. More often than not, those calls involve a large group gathered in a conference room at the main office with a handful of others dialed in from different locations. Those of us in the room are having this very collegial experience, while the people on the line can’t hear because we’re all shuffling papers, etc. Now that we’re all in the same remote boat, I think we’re realizing what a poor experience the people dialed in are having on these large calls. I hope this realization will prompt us to strive for a more equitable experience and maybe even embrace more video meetings in the regular office setting. I know that’s a change I will personally be making when we all return.
[Related: Optimistic Options in Light of COVID-19]
So in the coming months, whether we find ourselves back in the office or still reporting for duty in our yoga pants, I hope that employers take this as an opportunity to learn from the disruption and create an even better working environment for their employees rather than settle back into some of our old ways.
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.
Shareen Luze is the Senior Director, Human Resources at RBC Wealth Management, where she is responsible for the development and execution of strategic human resources strategies and initiatives for RBC Wealth Management – U.S. Shareen and her team support the RBC Wealth Management – U.S. business through design and execution of HR programs that support employees and give them the tools they need to succeed.
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