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Opinion Editorials

Post pandemic what does ‘ideal worker’ even mean?

(EDITORIAL) A global pandemic has forced companies to challenge their thinking around what an ideal worker looks like, and if the office is that important.

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office life and ideal worker

“As a smart person once said, never let a good crisis go to waste. Let’s not waste this one. Instead, let’s work together to ensure that a silver lining of this vast and frightening pandemic is a new definition of the worker as someone who’s ambitious, focused, and committed—but who must also balance work obligations with caregiving responsibilities. When 30 million kids are out of school, employers can’t just ignore that.”

There’s an incredible explanation of the fallacy of the ideal worker that dates back to the Industrial Revolution (late 1700s) in this Harvard Business Review article.

Many of us have been looking far and wide for the bright side on this whole COVID-19 aka Global Pandemic aka Coronavirus situation. No commute! No spending $15 on lunch because you added guacamole and a drink! No business casual (at least on the bottom, wink)! No rushing out the door with wet hair! No excuses not to work out or cook at home (ok, for some this has been a great time to make homemade sourdough bread…that might not be happening for many of us too.)

In groups of friends and co-workers that are still safe and healthy, there has been lots of discussions about how hard this has been (moving fully to remote work while also losing childcare) which makes sense because we are grieving our old ways of living. At the same time, there’s a sense of gratitude that we are home and safe and we’ve put pressure on ourselves to adapt and adjust as quickly as we can for our livelihoods depend on it.

For those that haven’t lost their job in the swift drop in the economy, workers can rejoice that they’ve done it! They learned new software tools (or at least different ways to use them like Zoom, MS Teams, Slack, FaceTime and now Google Meetups and possibly Facebook Rooms), they made meetings happen with children and/or pets on their laps, they were able to keep their composure in front of the camera (many tears shed off camera) and most likely, complete their highest priorities and projects.

It is time to re-define the Ideal Worker as well as office life and move away from the late 1700s and acting like we don’t have both parents working out of the home. Can we please accept that the old school requirements of being in an office 8:30am-5pm (or earlier and later) doesn’t necessarily depict a dedicated, competent, reliable worker? Can we please re-define the work week? We’ve now experienced that by letting people work remotely, they (statistics prove this) are actually more productive and work more. What if (bear with me), we didn’t worry so much about time punching but clearly outlined work responsibilities, projects and timelines and trusted our employees to complete them.

This is a big task to ask, no doubt. This may put a lot of additional strain on managers if they are not equipped to deal with their teams in a virtual environment. This would require everyone’s communication styles (phone, email, IM or a meeting) being addressed up front because as we work on teams, if we all worked whenever we felt like it or it worked around our those we care for (children, elderly parents, community members), it may be difficult to connect and/or get on the same page.

An idea here wouldn’t be to go all the way to completely random work schedules but what if there were some hours agreed upon the team that you would be online and available? But other than those set hours, you could figure out your work style and the hours that you are most productive to complete your tasks. Would this then allow you to also get in your exercise, self-care and all those things that provide you with joy and allow you to rest and rejuvenate from work?

Many in the corporate world have felt for years that there are too many meetings but what if a regular meeting was set to check in, review and discuss issues and always more focused and fuller of purpose and intent. What if you threw out the 40 hours/week requirement (gasp, we know most of us are working more than that anyway)?

Would we be trading in our current expectations and get more than we asked for if we just took the rails off the whole office culture? We may find that we have become so accustomed to this system (where we basically block off our schedules and give our work boundaries certain time of the day) that it would be difficult to blur the lines of work and home too much more.

Right now, they’re are all jumbled, and it seems many are looking forward to sorting them out. There are lots of companies asking themselves these questions as they look to bring people back to office spaces. You may argue that the “water cooler” conversations are a waste of time, but for some people that is part of what brings them joy to work and they love connecting and discussing ideas with their colleagues.

Managers, Directors, CEOs, COOs, etc., I’m begging you to ask your employees what works well for them and really try to put your people first as you plan your steps forward. Yes, profits are necessary and revenue matters, but this has been a traumatic experience and you must take care of your people first. You may find that the majority are fine coming back to the office if they are allowed to have a little bit more flexibility in hours to meet the other demands of life (and missing traffic never hurts).

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

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Opinion Editorials

Remote work or no work? Concerns about WFH vs. returning to office

(EDITORIAL) There is an ever-growing divide and concern between employers and employees regarding policies over work in office or from home.

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Work in office with headphones on, making use of flexible four-day workweek.

When the pandemic started and work from home become the uncomfortable-at-first norm, no one knew exactly where the idea of remote work for office jobs was headed.

We know now, and the office just isn’t all it was cracked up to be.

From better views and healthier lifestyles to huge decreases in childcare costs, transportation, and wardrobe expenses, many workers say they’re not interested in going back, and some bosses aren’t happy. Other managers and owners aren’t giving their employees a choice. The remote exception is gone.

In March, Apple CEO Tim Cook told employees to be prepared for a return to their campus in a hybrid model this week.

“We will begin the hybrid pilot in full on May 23, with people coming to the office three days a week — on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday — and working flexibly on Wednesday and Friday if you wish,” he said in a memo sent to staff in April.

Cook is not alone. Across corporate America, management is insisting employees return to the office.

Even President Biden chimed in during the State of the Union speech saying,

“It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” Biden said. “People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office. We’re doing that here in the federal government. The vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person.”

A Good Hire survey of 3500 American managers shows 75% of managers want a return to the office even though they said productivity did not decline during work from home. 51% believe their employees want the same thing. However, a Future Forum survey by slack found just 17% of employees want to return to the office daily and only 34% of employees want a hybrid model.

The reasons for the disconnect are plenty.

Mother.ly contributor Beau Brink shared in a column last July about the impact Work From Home has had on her employee resource group for people with disabilities, neurodiversity, and invisible illnesses.

“Even though 2020 had been hard, the upside was that we were managing our conditions better.”

Women bore much of the weight of moving work out of the office when the pandemic started.

Overall, women lost a net of 5.4 million jobs during the recession caused by the pandemic—nearly 1 million more job losses than men.

When some who had lost their jobs found new work from home employment, they also found a new perk. A raise because they no longer had to pay high childcare costs.

Employees cite better health as a reason they want to continue working from home as well. COVID numbers ebb and flow, but it’s more than that, they say. They’re able to work out, eat a more nutritious diet, and set a more casual, less stressed schedule.

In her mother.ly column, Brink brings up the fact that the company she worked for actually did better in the transition to working from home. As the Good Hire survey showed, most companies saw the same success.

“Why any CEO would push for a move backward in the name of collaboration makes my head spin.”

The why’s are many. And indicative of a possible shift in how we view work.

If most work moves to remote permanently, are employees entitled to the same benefits they’ve seen in the past? Are they actually employees or contractors?

Those questions will have to be answered. We were on the path to having to answer them before the pandemic.

Remote work isn’t new. The pandemic just pushed it to the norm, but even before COVID, technology changes were opening remote opportunities for employees.

In the Good Hire survey managers who said productivity actually increased also showed a distrust of remote work in general.

Right now though, the survey says,

“As long as there is a talent and labor shortage, employers will still have to be flexible, and even in 100% back-to-the-office situations, workers will still be able to negotiate some remote working scenarios.”

For over two years forced remote meant comfy clothes and fresh air. Will that change? We’ll see.

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Opinion Editorials

Shady salary transparency is running rampant: What to look out for

(EDITORIAL) Employees currently have the upper hand in the market. Employers, you must be upfront about salary and approach it correctly.

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Man holding money in the dark representing false salary transparency.

It’s the wild wild west out there when it comes to job applications. Job descriptions often misrepresent remote work opportunities. Applicants have a difficult time telling job scams from real jobs. Job applicants get ghosted by employers, even after a long application process. Following the Great Resignation, many employers are scrambling for workers. Employees have the upper hand in the hiring process, and they’re no longer settling for interviews with employers that aren’t transparent, especially about salary.

Don’t be this employer

User ninetytwoturtles shared a post on Reddit in r/recruitinghell in which the employer listed the salary as $0 to $1,000,000 per year. Go through many listings on most job boards and you’ll find the same kind of tactics – no salary listed or too large of a wide range. In some places, it’s required to post salary information. In 2021, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act went into effect in Colorado. Colorado employers must list salary and benefits to give new hires more information about fair pay. Listing a broad salary range skirts the issue. It’s unfair to applicants, and in today’s climate, employers are going to get called out on it. Your brand will take a hit.

Don’t obfuscate wage information

Every employer likes to think that their employees work because they enjoy the job, but let’s face it, money is the biggest motivator. During the interview process, many a job has been lost over salary negotiations. Bringing up wages too early in the application process can be bad for a job applicant. On the other hand, avoiding the question can lead to disappointment when a job is offered, not to mention wasted time. In the past, employers held all the cards. Currently, it’s a worker’s market. If you want productive, quality workers, your business needs to be honest and transparent about wages.

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Opinion Editorials

3 reasons to motivate yourself to declutter your workspace (and mind)

(EDITORIAL) Making time to declutter saves time and money – all while reducing stress. Need a little boost to start? We all need motivation sometimes.

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Clean work desk representing the need to declutter.

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few years. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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