Balancing the modern mixed office

In today’s competitive job market, retaining talent and keeping staff engaged, productive and happy are more crucial than ever. Finding the right balance to maximize productivity, provide an ideal work/life balance and do what’s fair for all employees remains a huge challenge.

A recent article in Forbes outlined findings from a survey of 255 HR professionals in large U.S. companies suggesting additional flexibility was a major way to incentivize employees. For instance, the managers surveyed said allowing employees to decide for themselves whether to attend certain meetings could immediately boost satisfaction and productivity.

Letting go of long-standing meetings and allowing employees to shape their own days can be tough, though. It’s important to ensure flexible schedules and the option to forgo meetings are applied as consistently as possible. Yet, with employees on different in-person schedules, uniformity is difficult.

In my business, warehouse staff need to be on site loading and unloading product, and drivers need to be on the road. Yet, HR, accounting, marketing, sales and customer service personnel can get the job done via phone and Zoom. That’s just the reality of their job functions. We need productive, satisfied employees in all these roles to achieve our quarterly and annual goals.

If we had forced a full back-to-the office policy, we anticipated losing at least 10 percent of our valued workforce, as they can easily find remote positions elsewhere. So, we opted to maintain a completely flexible approach for all team members who can perform their job in either environment. This approach is both for quality of life and job satisfaction for employees and for retention. Additionally, we’ve hired nationally over the past two years, so a back-to-the-office initiative could not be evenly applied to all staff.

To address the no-option dynamic of those who have no choice but to be physically present, we are staying hyper-focused on improving employee engagement efforts and fostering a culture of appreciation with new incentives and recognition programs — such as our COE Warrior program, or a quick shoutout in my weekly companywide emails.

Moving toward optional meeting attendance for those who work remotely is tricky. Meetings can sometimes be the most effective way to share information and exchange ideas. Even if companies offer recorded meetings, there needs to be a structure for employee feedback.

Our leadership team’s priority for all staff — in-person or remote — is to ensure they are heard and feel they are a part of the process. A prime example is our “Start, Stop, Continue” surveys, where employees can recommend processes that are working and those that are not, or an idea they have. We have also established a quarterly 30 Minute Refresh, where I visit one of our warehouses and conduct a companywide meeting, laying out goals and answering pointed questions on-site.

Could meetings one day become completely elective? Never say never. But, for now, we’re still seeing benefits to the interaction of purposeful, well-planned meetings and large-scale events. Some of our team just returned from the largest annual event in our industry, and the vibe at this in-person conference was upbeat and exciting. Folks were genuinely engaged and happy to be face to face.

Zoom meetings may not have the same social impact. The intangibles of tone, seeing facial expressions and sharing banter and jokes still hold immense value, and there’s satisfaction in solving problems as a team. ●

J.D. Ewing is Chairman and CEO of COE Distributing

J.D. Ewing

Chairman and CEO
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