As the pandemic woes fade a bit in our rear-view mirror many people are left with some uncertainty about the best way to move forward in their work life. Creating the most effective work schedules can be confusing, for executives and employees alike.
Should we tell everyone to start coming back into the office like they did before the bottom dropped out of our routine? Do we allow employees to decide when they want to come into the office? Is it best to create a flexible hybrid work schedule?
The Wall Street Journal reports: “There’s a little bit of a tug of war going on right now. Employers are not having an easy time of it.”
Many organizations have taken a fairly soft approach to designing new policies, fearful that too rigid a stance on in-office work could harm morale or lead to turnover.
Surveys have shown most employees are willing to work in the office at least a few days a week, and many employees say they see benefits of being in an office.
To find out how some local nonprofits are approaching this dilemma, I asked three executive directors about their practices, their concerns, and how it’s all working out.
>> Since 1974, Hospice of Santa Barbara (HSB), has been providing compassionate care and support to those impacted with serious illness and the bereaved in our community. They are the second oldest hospice program in the United States.
David Selberg, CEO of HSB explains, “We have been slow and steady with bringing our counseling clients back into in-person counseling. As the months have moved along, more of our clients are requesting in-person sessions and many of our counselors are back in the office doing face-to-face therapy.
“Support groups are either hybrid (Zoom and in-person) or 100% Zoom. Samantha Lockett, our director of Operations, and I are planning that 2023 will continue to be hybrid service delivery for our counselors, seeing some folks on Zoom and some in-person according to client needs.
“All our care managers in the Patient Care Services Program have been seeing patients face-to-face through most of the pandemic, exercising appropriate state and county Health Department protocols, as well as CDC guidelines.
“Essentially, in 2023, we will be encouraging employees to come back into the office partially during the week and also working remotely from home.”
Lockett expanded a bit on Selberg’s comments: “It seems that this hybrid work dynamic is here to stay. We will continue to carefully balance the needs of our community and our clients with the preferences of our staff.
“Everyone’s world changed during the pandemic, and we have always taken that into consideration as a staff retention strategy. It’s a difficult job market out there for employers and retaining staff is of the utmost importance, especially as staff can consider working exclusively from home which has proven to be a viable option.
“Also, since HSB is considered ‘healthcare,’ all staff and clients are required to wear masks. Therefore, remote work and videoconferencing counseling sessions have been advantageous to those clients and counselors who want to avoid wearing masks while meeting in our offices.
“HSB is an employee-minded organization, but with the shift to more and more clients wanting to be seen in person, we also have to maintain our client-centered approach to service,” he said. “It’s a balancing act, and thus far we’ve been able to serve our clients where they are, while also preserving flexible work schedules for our staff.
“David has been instrumental in striking this balance through ongoing internal dialogue and a multitude of client and employee considerations. It can be difficult to make everyone happy, but I truly believe David and our team have done a wonderful job of navigating a smooth return to in-person work for clients and staff.”
>> Since 1899, Family Service Agency (FSA) has been working to strengthen and advocate for families and individuals of all ages and diversities, helping to create and preserve a healthy community.
Lisa Brabo, CEO of FSA, said, “I have found that employees are interested in flexibility in their work situations. Therefore, in order to attract and retain staff, we provide as much flexibility as possible while also maintaining effectiveness.
“One form of flexibility is remote work. How much remote work is possible is determined by the specific staff role and the most effective approaches for fulfilling that role. We develop a specific plan for each employee based on their position.
“For example, generally speaking our Family Support Services staff work four days a week in-person and one day a week remotely, whereas our school-based staff generally work in-person every day.
“For those staff who work remotely as part of their overall schedule, FSA has guidelines that support quality and productivity.”
>> Friendship Center was originally founded by the Community Action Commission as a day care-pilot project for elder and dependent adults in Friendship Baptist Church. The popular program grew, and in 1979 they moved to their current facility across from All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.
Friendship Center provides innovative activities and programs that honor individuality, promote socialization, and foster a compassionate community for aging adults. Caregivers receive respite support and education, enabling them to achieve balance in their lives.
Heidi Holly, executive director explains: “At Friendship Center some of our staff may work remotely at times with prior approval and contingent upon assigned duties and tasks. Remote work can contribute to higher morale, employee trust, and retention.
“Since we provide direct adult day services, serving seniors and their caregivers on site, we are a hands-on business model. Nothing can replace the ability to connect with your clients and your team members that comes with being physically together.
“Furthermore, being together in-person gives your staff the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from mentors and leaders while immersing and observing first-hand your mission at work.”
A recent article in Forbes warned: “The thing we’re forgetting is that this is not the end of this massive experiment. We’re still in the middle of it. And those saying, ‘It’s over. We’re all going back to how things used to be,’ they’re getting a lot of pushback and resistance from their employee base.”
Forbes goes on to advise that flexible and hybrid work is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Companies that are experimenting rather than returning to pre-pandemic norms are the ones succeeding. The most successful executives are the ones who are setting the overall guardrails in terms of what they’d like to see and then they’re getting out of the way.”
The results of a study on the future of work by Fast Company reminds us there are clear benefits to working together in person. This recent study found that communication, creativity, and job satisfaction were optimized when employees came into the office a few days a week.
Their concluding question was: Given the dueling benefits of remote and in-person work, how should companies strike a balance? Each organization will have their own answer to that, but it will take an openness to seeing things differently and creating a new reality.
>> Striking a balance is the key to a thriving workplace.
Every organization seems to be struggling to find that magical balance between promoting a flexible work schedule and continuous productivity. The pandemic has dramatically shifted our traditions of work in ways that we are still trying to comprehend. Staffing shortages plague many organizations, resulting in a new paradigm of evaluating work schedules to retain employees.
Employers in all sectors are wondering how much trust they have in their staff to allow them to work from home and how they can measure productivity. Of course, the potential for flexibility depends on the nature of the job. However, this is definitely a time for all organization leaders to look with clear eyes and open minds at new possibilities for living out their mission.