After more than a year of working from home, people are finally starting to get back to the office. As businesses begin to reopen their doors and employees start readjusting to their old schedules, many questions are being raised about the reintegration process. How does one manage the post-pandemic expectations of employees? What new policies or procedures can be implemented to ensure employee safety? How do business leaders redevelop their companies’ cultures?
To navigate these changes in the workplace, change management is an essential practice for employers to understand and implement in their organizations. According to ASQ, change management is defined as “the methods and manners in which a company describes and implements change within both its internal and external processes.” Due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, however, understanding the kind of changes that will need to occur in the workplace can be particularly tricky.
Recently, we sat down with Dr. Jake Smith, an instructor in the Flores MBA Program, to hear his insights on how business leaders will now have to adopt some sort of change management to effectively run their organizations in a post-pandemic era. Dr. Smith received his Ph.D. in Business Administration with an emphasis in management from LSU after spending nearly 10 years working at Russell Investments in both the U.S. and Australia. His research interests include organizational behavior, strategic management, and organizational culture, making him an excellent source for insight on the topic of change management.
Are there any research findings on change management in the past year that have particularly interested you?
JS: In the early research that came out during the pandemic, we started seeing the pros and cons of the work-from-home arrangement. One positive outcome is the ability to be a bit more flexible with your work schedule and be more productive at home as long as your job is still completed. The other part of that is that we’ve seen people actually putting in greater hours than they previously would have. They’re working more, not less, from home, which could be due to a myriad of reasons. It could be that people working from home seek job security during the pandemic. If you’re fortunate enough to have a job that allows you to work from home, you’re likely to do everything you can to keep that paycheck coming in.
Productivity has increased, but stress has as well. That’s kind of the unintended consequence of everyone being at home. You may be working from home, but you may not have an office space. Even if you do, you might have kids at home and a dog that won’t stop barking when you’re in a meeting, so there’s not much you can do to control your environment around you. It allows for people to have more flexibility and less work-related stresses, but now people are working longer hours to compensate for that.
How will companies have to shift their cultures to align with the post-pandemic standards of the workforce?
JS: I heard from many professionals leading teams that they didn’t know how to develop a culture in this new environment. Previously, we were all in a workspace together. Now, everyone is on Zoom, and you can tell that everyone is tired from Zoom fatigue. So now the question stands: How do we go about getting our culture back? Culture is only realized through human interaction. When you’re not interacting with your coworkers on a regular basis, you’re not going to be as much a part of that group’s culture.
I don’t think that they’re really ‘standards’ as much as they are ‘expectations’ from workers to have flexibility. For example, there have been a lot of firms who didn’t really want people to work from home. They’re spending a ton of money on office spaces and technology within a physical location, so they wanted to justify that expense. In the post-pandemic workplace, however, more people may begin to ask if they can work from home more often. I think more managers and business leaders will be willing to provide that flexibility, especially if they’ve had positive experiences with those employees working from home in the past.
What policies and protocols do you think companies will have to implement in order to make their employees feel safe at work before transitioning back to the office?
JS: Give them the option to work from home, especially if they were already doing good work from home. Depending on government regulations, employers will have the choice to bring workers back into the office, but I think employers that mandate a return to the office might create some issues for themselves. Giving your employees the option to return on their own time might be the better, more empathetic solution.
What has your experience been like as a university professor? How has it been shifting from in-person learning to online learning and back again?
JS: When we first left campus in March 2020, it was a struggle. I was inexperienced with Zoom, so I decided to pre-record lectures in an asynchronous format. I didn’t like that as much because all students were getting was a video, some discussion boards, and a couple of projects with feedback. I had time over the summer to strategize about how I was going to do this in the fall. I wanted to have a consistent classroom environment for my students. It’s up to the professors to make those sessions more engaging, so for me, it was both a challenge and an opportunity to find ways to make class fun and interactive.
Looking forward to next year, I’d prefer to have all of my students back in person. I’ll still leverage the ability to post video lectures online and use my online platform, but the only time I anticipate using Zoom in the classroom is when I bring in guest speakers, as they could be from anywhere in the country.
What makes you hopeful during times like these?
JS: Sometimes events like these can bring out the worst in people, but sometimes they can bring out our best, too. I’ve seen a lot of the best in people throughout the past year. I think from a work perspective, some of the companies that were initially hesitant to allow people to work from home now have gone through it and can trust that their employees are actually working. They now have plans in place for how to effectively communicate to them. It affirmed to a lot of people that everyone kept working, everyone pitched in, and everyone was able to keep this thing afloat.
I’m hopeful because I’ve seen my students become very resilient and continue to work incredibly hard, despite the world falling to pieces around them. Everyone has been going through things, but I’ve seen people helping each other amidst all the chaos. People have been finding new ways to support their neighbors and local businesses throughout this past year. We’re now sort of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
The LSU Flores MBA Program provides you with a flexible path to advance your career. Our nationally ranked program currently administers a traditional, two-year, full-time program, a one-year, full-time program for business majors, a part-time online (no residency requirement) program, and an Executive MBA Flex. For more information, visit mba.lsu.edu.