Work will never be the same

Steve Cadigan, former LinkedIn CHRO, says COVID changed the dynamic between employer and employee forever

Learn how to create work policies that work for everyone in the new world of work.

As the pandemic stretches into its second winter, organizations worldwide are examining their work policies. Workflow recently sat down with Steve Cadigan, former CHRO at LinkedIn and author of Workquake: Embracing the Aftershocks of COVID-19 to Create a Better Model of Working, to get his thoughts on the new world of work. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are best practices right now for companies around hybrid or remote work?

We’ve passed the point of most leaders recognizing that we’re probably never going back to normal. We’re going to have to cope with a new reality that is about us reacting and adapting to an evolving situation, not coming up with a decision. Because the ground is not firm.

[Read also: The impact of hybrid work on gender equality]

What business leaders are having to account for is each employee’s personal assessment of what’s a safe work environment for them. Some might say: “No, I’m not coming in for the meeting with 20 people because my kids have an immunocompromised condition.” We’re seeing those kinds of decisions creep in, which is putting leaders on their heels.

The best practice today is not to make a decision. One team works from home, one team can go ahead and do hybrid. Leaders will listen and get feedback and adjust and course-correct and adapt.

Do most employees want to go to an office anymore? Or do they prefer to work from home?

When people say they want to work from home, that doesn’t mean they want to work in their home. What that means is they want to get work done, just not in the office. For a large majority of people, it’s “I’d love to go to a shared workspace, I just don’t want to commute and I don’t see the value of being in the office as much.” That is the big reveal of the pandemic. We thought all the time spent in the office was super valuable, but for many of us, that thinking has been revealed to be hollow.

The groups that are suffering the most are new college grads and new hires. They don’t have the normal channels of meeting people and building relationships. That’s problematic for them, they feel frustrated. They’re also not building those deep roots that lead to engagement and loyalty because they’re not viscerally connected. That’s going to be an interesting demographic to watch as this plays out.

Are we any closer to figuring out how and where people will be working after the pandemic?

I think we’ve got a long way to go. It’s going to be rocky because I don’t think we’ve hit a point where people really know what they want. People’s career paths are going through a metamorphosis right now. People have so many choices of where to work and how to work. It’s going to be hard for them to figure out what they want to do. And that’s going to be frustrating for leaders who want clear answers. This is going to be messy for a while.