Flexibility has become a central ingredient of the post-pandemic workplace


Kate Brett started working as director of development for WXPN in January when pandemic restrictions kept employees at home. Fortunately, she returned to the office full time last month.

“In the kind of work I do, it’s beneficial to collaborate in person with colleagues,” said Brett, 40, of Northern Liberties. “Working from home made everything 10 times more difficult. Instead of being able to drop by someone’s desk and have a five minute conversation where you work out something, it took three days to zoom in on the calendar.

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She found the hours of online meetings exhausting and lacked the energy to collaborate in person. She also prefers a separation between home and work. Brett, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, longs for the structure and routine of going to the office.

“It benefits my mental health more from having to leave my house, take the subway, be in a different environment and interact with people,” said Brett, who also co-hosts the mental health-focused podcast. Mind in sight.

As companies prepare their return-to-work plans, employers and employees need to put into the equation the unique mental health benefits offered by each style of work. All plans are weighed against the health risk. But while the pandemic has proven that some workplaces can operate successfully remotely, some workers, nonetheless, still yearn for the collaboration and socialization that comes with showing up at a desk. Other workers never want to go back to work again and like being able to do laundry between meetings.

While there is one conclusion that can be drawn so far in the post-pandemic workplace, one size does not fit all and flexibility is key.

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Brett is among the 63% of respondents a LinkedIn poll who cited collaboration as the main reason for returning to work. According to the survey, which was conducted between May 22 and June 4, socializing with colleagues and clients was close to 62%, while the expectation of doing focused work, enjoying the benefits at work and advancing faster in a career were tied at 47%. .

For those who reported a positive experience working remotely throughout the pandemic, 49% said they thought they were safe from COVID-19, 45% felt less stress without the anxiety of a commute and 34% felt happier at home, according to the survey.

A preference for remote work is especially strong among millennials and Gen Z, according to an article by May Citrix Systems report, a working software company.

About 90% of respondents born after 1981 said they had no interest in returning to full-time work after the pandemic was over. More than half prefer a hybrid model that allows them to work from home most of the time, while 18% want a hybrid model that allows them to work more from the office.

FMC Corp. chose a hybrid model when its 450-500 employees gradually returned to its downtown headquarters in June. The plan included employee feedback through live webcasts and conversations with department managers.

“It allows employees up to two days of remote work, whether at home or another remote location, and three days in the office,” said Ken Gedaka, vice president of communications for FMC. “We’ve heard that flexibility is something employees are very interested in. “

The company also added flexible hours to meet individual employee needs. For example, a parent might bring a child to school and come home later, then stay later at the end of the day. Employees who prefer to work in the office for four or five days can do so. Beyond the pandemic, the CME plan recognizes a shift in trends in the workplace.

“You can see where the general working environment is going with companies that advertise a lot more flexibility for employees,” Gedaka said. “We had to listen to these trends and take action. “

Jeremy Tyler, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said that “employers need to be aware that this will not be one size fits all for employees.”

“There will be people who are very excited to come back and others who will feel stressed about having to come back, potentially full time,” he said. “Both parties need to work together, communicate and understand each other’s position.”

Megan Whitman worked for Comcast for five years, currently as Head of Customer Experience. When the company created its return to work policy, employees were asked about their preferences. Whitman’s department has chosen to remain aloof for the foreseeable future.

“Before the pandemic, I was out all day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” said Whitman, 31, of Brewerytown. “I don’t do that anymore. It’s good to reduce the journey time and have more flexibility in terms of small breaks throughout the day.

Whitman feels more productive now, although she recognizes the need to create stronger boundaries between work and family life. Her dog Sadie and cat Riggins keep her company and she spends a lot of time with her colleagues on Zoom, but she understands the need for in-person socialization.

“It’s so easy to get into my [home] office and watch stuff when it’s 9pm or a time when I wouldn’t normally work, ”she said. “And I have to make a special effort to go outside so that I don’t see any human beings or leave the house other than to walk the dog.”

With so many people having spent a year and a half working from home, the transition to an office five days a week could be intimidating, said Thea Gallagher, clinical psychologist and co-host of Mind in sight with Brett. A transition period would give everyone time to adjust.

“Sometimes we fear change and transition,” said Gallagher. “Employers and employees shouldn’t make decisions out of fear because you don’t get along, collaborate, and work together to find what’s best for everyone. “

With just seven employees, the Center City Nochumson PC law firm is now back in the office full time, but employees have the option of working from home once a week.

“When people were working exclusively remotely, we were doing really well,” said managing partner Alan Nochumson. “But part of the right is to work together and to be physically here. Especially from a training point of view, because we have a younger workforce, this is important.

Now that Brett is back in the office, she reflects on how things are different from when she was working from home.

“As with any big change, there are times when things are missing, including being able to walk my dog ​​for lunch and saving money on take-out coffees,” she said. “But when it comes to my mental health, I’ve noticed improvement before, just by going into a space where I can interact with others collaboratively, get real-time feedback that isn’t in a vacuum, and have feedback. authentic energy exchanges. Most important to me, my home is once again my sacred space, untainted by the daily stressors of work.

The Future of Work is produced with support from the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of project donors.

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