Will Your Workplace Be the Same When You Return?

July 22, 2021 Staff Writer

 As we think about getting back to “normal” at work, what will we discover about our workplaces? It’s likely that we’ll find that they’ve changed forever.

A recent McKinsey report indicates that some companies are cutting their office space by 30 percent after positive experiences with work-from-home initiatives. They plan to create flexible workspaces for the days when employees are in the office. Reducing the number of workers in an office will have an effect, McKinsey reports, on restaurants in downtown areas, and teleconferencing will impact the need for business travel.

During the pandemic, companies operating warehouses, call centers, and manufacturing facilities, among others, increased their use of automation and artificial intelligence, a shift that experts expect to increase as companies redesign work processes involving jobs with mostly routine tasks. Counterintuitively, jobs that involve a high level of human interaction, will be the ones most often eliminated by robotics and AI.

So where does that leave the average association trying to serve its members and fulfill its mission? There are two perspectives for answering the question. The first is the perspective of the association staff – how your decisions will affect how and where your employees do their jobs. The second is the perspective of your members – how you can help them address changes in their industry.

Association Workplaces

According to the McKinsey report, jobs that require computer-based office work, moderate physical proximity to others and a moderate number of human interactions can be successfully completed in a remote setting. Most association work falls into this category, with a few exceptions that might include meetings and government relations. McKinsey identified certain tasks, such as negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, and onboarding new employees, that can lose effectiveness when done remotely.

During the pandemic, some associations have found that they miss working together in an office and have returned to in-person work. Others have eliminated their offices altogether and have required everyone to work from home, renting meeting space when their work requires in-person interaction. Still others have put office expansion plans on hold and have migrated to a hybrid approach that requires less space because only a portion of the staff is in the building at any one time.

Of course, every association will have to determine what is best for their organization. In making that decision, here are a few considerations:

  •     Safety – Are you providing a safe environment and how are you communicating that to your employees? What will you require from employees in order to maintain a safe environment?
  •     Policies – Have you reviewed your staff policies to reflect your new environment? Will you require masks or vaccinations? Will you allow wary employees to distance themselves from others? Can they stay at home? Will you ask medically fragile employees to disclose their status in order to work from home? Have you developed HR guidance for employees who move away to another city, state, or country? How will they manage healthcare, income taxes, and personal time off, for example?
  •     Flexibility – Will you allow employees to make their own decisions about returning to the office? Have you developed plans to replace employees who leave their jobs?
  •     Technology & Security – How will you support your staff’s IT issues and what will you require of them to maintain security? Who pays for internet access at home? Who pays for laptops, tablets, and phones? Who pays for a home office?
  •     Onboarding – Do you have an onboarding protocol for new employees? Will you use different in-office policies for new employees than for established employees?
  •     Member Relations – How are you making your staff available to members?
  •     Meetings – How do you plan to return to in-person meetings and conferences safely? If attendees get sick during your conference, how will you handle your response?

 Helping Your Members Succeed During the Transition

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Once you’ve made key decisions about how to handle remote work in your office, you have a larger philosophical question to confront – how can your association help your members succeed?

The pandemic has rocked some industries like travel and hospitality to their core. Similarly, the increasing use of artificial intelligence is threatening jobs in other industries where AI can handle repetitive tasks and replace workers. Many employees have left their industries altogether and aren’t planning to return, making it difficult for businesses to reopen. 

If the industry you serve is experiencing radical change now or will in the near future, what are your plans to help? In extreme cases, you might have to help your industry consolidate both members and associations. The newspaper industry, for example, has changed radically in the past 20 years, eliminating an increasing number of jobs and newspapers. Newsroom staffs have been slashed, advertising has cratered, and profit margins have disappeared. As newspapers have gone out of business, newspaper associations have responded to the decrease in membership and revenue by merging and eliminating staff positions.

Could that be your association?

With the response to the pandemic still disrupting “normal” business, every association can benefit from evaluating the health of the industry it serves and planning a response for the best and the worst. Your association might serve an industry on the rise, but it not, you might need plans for helping your members pivot in response.

PROPEL’s WorkXO Culture Assessment

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Regardless of the specifics of your return to the office, you need to consider the impact it has on your culture – the collection of words, actions, thoughts, and “stuff” that clarifies and reinforces what is truly valued inside your organization. 

At PROPEL, we use an assessment that takes your employees 15 minutes to complete. The results come back to you within days, not weeks, and the platform allows you to slice and dice the data any way you’d like. 

The WorkXO Culture Assessment captures what it’s like to work at your organization – the patterns, the experiences, even the contradictions inherent in how you do things. It’s based on years of research, testing, and feedback from nearly 100 organizations. WorkXO helps associations focus on what’s working for them and changing what’s not.

What Are Your Next Steps?

We think that a culture assessment is the logical first step to defining and nurturing your culture during radical change. The results can be the starting point for critical conversations that can change your organization, and incentivize your employees by asking if they’d like to have a great place to work. It’s amazing what people will do if they can affect positive change.

Of course, you might not be ready to spearhead the change your organization needs. PROPEL is ready to help with the change part, if you need us. We can help you communicate the key aspects of your culture internally so everyone is on the same page and can hold each other accountable. We can also help you effectively share your culture externally, for branding or talent acquisition. We’d love to talk culture with you. Contact us to learn more.


Photo by Brandon Holmes

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