The devil in the post-pandemic details

As we contemplate a return to the office in the coming months, there’s lots of discussion around a hybrid model that blends remote work with office-based work. At first glance, that seems easy enough to implement, but on closer inspection we quickly see the challenges that lie in the detail.

Does a hybrid mean everyone of our staff can do some work in the office and some work at home? Maybe, but some roles really don’t lend themselves to that blend. Consider our creative teams. They don’t work off laptops. The work they do requires more powerful desktop computers and a range of peripheral devices. This setup can’t easily be moved back and forth between home and office, even for those staff who own vehicles. For those relying on public transportation, it would be an impossibility. And it doesn’t seem right that the company should have to double our hardware investment to accommodate their working at both home and office.

So those staff, presumably, won’t be eligible to participate in a hybrid model. In that instance, they may still be given the choice over where their role is located, and that choice may depend on factors like commute distance and difficulty, child-care options, spouse’s work circumstances, and personal preference. I can see that many may choose to work from home all the time based on those factors, but that doesn’t mean it’s a choice the individual is happy with.

Our employees have had dramatically different experiences with remote work through the pandemic. A couple of examples spring to mind: one young woman, who would describe herself as being very introverted, has said working at home is a blessing that brings more efficiency with fewer social distractions. Another member of our team describes working at home exactly the opposite — an enforced isolation away from the energy, spontaneity, and team spirit of the office.

I see these two as defining the ends of our spectrum, with the rest of the team falling somewhere in-between. Before the pandemic, we really didn’t consider where people fell on that spectrum in designing their roles. All our jobs were based in the office. That’s simply the way it was.

I imagine many companies will have some roles that can be designated as home- or office-based, and other roles that can be considered flexible. But designating roles as one or the other is also a challenge. If someone is designated as working from home, are they being given equal access to the natural relationship building and camaraderie that occurs in the office, and that can be such a key tool in positioning oneself for promotion? Are they being given equal opportunity to demonstrate their suitability for promotion as someone who is in the office every day? Or most days?

In designing our new structure, it will be important to get employee buy-in, but that doesn’t mean asking permission for whatever we deem as best for the business. It feels to me like we need broad input, but clear decision-making to shape the final plan. Given how new this is, we will also reserve the right to change, pivot and adapt.

For car dealerships, a lot of this might not seem to apply the same way as it does with office-based businesses. As retailers, you’ve been open throughout the pandemic and have been navigating a very different (and more complicated) set of realities to stay open, stay onside of a changing regulatory environment, as well as a fast evolving customer base.

At the same time, much of it may apply. Can your BDC and business office staff work remotely? Many likely do now. Can that be expanded? Can product advisors work on a hybrid model, in the dealership for part of the week, and remote for other parts of the week? Providing that flexibility could assist in hiring, retention and team development.

Is it far better that we are now considering the very different needs and individual realities of our staff as we plan our post-pandemic structure? Absolutely. Is it complex? Yes, to say the least. This column has only looked at the tip of the iceberg.

Getting this right will give businesses of all types a chance to build stronger teams, better customer service, and improve financial performance. But getting it right won’t be simple, and there will be a few missteps along the way to finding your own formula.

About Niel Hiscox

Niel Hiscox is the President of Universus Media Group Inc. and the Publisher of Canadian auto dealer magazine. Niel can be reached at 289 338-0166 and

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