How to foster workplace productivity in a post-pandemic environment

Now that hybrid work schedules have become the norm for office workers, the best way to ensure productivity is making sure they are happy and feel a sense of connection to the company, and to each other.

That’s the consensus among suburban companies who’ve had to navigate post-pandemic work environment shifts. As for how to do that, they say trust, communication and making intentional decisions are key.

Giving trust

First and foremost, employees need to feel they are trusted, said Mike Mejia, human resources manager for Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick Inc., an engineering firm headquartered in Elgin.

The firm has 97 employees spread across five locations in Illinois — about 65% have chosen to return to the office, 25% work in hybrid mode, and a small number work fully remotely, he said.

“It starts off with treating our employees like adults and trusting them to the fullest,” he said. “We don’t have supervisors who are micromanagers and constantly checking in.”

  Civil Engineer Conor McGarvey and Project Engineer Kate Kash Schulstad discuss a project at Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick Inc., Thursday in Elgin. Joe Lewnard/

At Schaumburg-based Zurich North America, managers get support to make sure they are, in turn, effectively supporting their teams, said Tracy Lampert, the company’s head of employee experience and culture.

“We believe in the importance of well-being and allowing people to take care of themselves, because if you can take care of yourself, that’s really good for everyone.”

Employee retention

  Mike Mejia is the human resources manager at Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick Inc., in Elgin. He says having satisfied employees ensures higher retention rates, which in turn boost productivity. Joe Lewnard/

Having satisfied employees ensures higher retention rates, which in turn boost productivity. Generous benefits, ample paid time off, performance-based bonuses and help in paying down student loans are all ways to keep employees happy, Mejia said.

This year, Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick also launched a new “lifestyle” spending account that allows employees to spend up to $2,000 per year for physical wellness, such as gym membership and exercise equipment; financial and family wellness, such as child care and pet care; and emotional wellness, such as counseling, massages and music subscriptions.

Perks at Poly-clip System in Mundelein include monthly office visits from food trucks and rewards for employees with exceptional performance, said Nicholas Wennerstrom, the company’s human resources director.

For the latter, the company uses the gifting website Snappy.

“For example, if someone goes above and beyond for a customer, we give out a Snappy award like houseware, Bluetooth headphones and other things,” Wennerstrom said.

Charity work

Fostering a sense of community boosts employees’ desire to be productive, and getting involved in charitable activities is a great way to do that, the employers said.

For example, last month’s all-employee meeting for Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick set aside a couple of hours for workers to decorate “superhero capes” for kids in foster care. At last year’s meeting, employees put together care packages for mothers going into shelters. “It’s a bonding experience,” Mejia said.

Zurich North America also provides plenty of opportunities for employees to get involved, Lampert said.

For example, its employees recently visited Palatine school students through the Junior Achievement of Chicago nonprofit, which prepares young people for success. For more than a decade, employees have done volunteer work for Little City in Palatine, which provides services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Lampert said.

Effective communication

About 30 employees of Poly-clip System work with a hybrid schedule in Mundelein, home to the German company’s North America headquarters, and another 30 or so employees in sales and service work remotely, Wennerstrom said.

Ensuring employees are productive hinges on having effective leaders who regularly communicate via phone, email and intracompany chat, he said. Employees who work remotely must keep their cameras on during virtual meetings, which keeps them accountable and enhances communication.

“Communication is vital to our operation and, really, any operation,” he said.

It’s also beneficial for employees to have a chance to set work aside and simply chat with one another, so Poly-clip System offers regular virtual “happy hour” time, sans the alcohol. Wennerstrom said he plans to introduce the Sporcle app to happy hour, so employees can have fun with some friendly quiz competition.

Clear communication includes letting employees know exactly how they can move up the ranks, Mejia said.

To that end, Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick has established a “pathways to success” road map that outlines exactly how employees in each position can earn promotions, such as by obtaining continuing education certificates, having a certain level of experience, and being involved in specific types of projects. “It takes the politics out of promotions,” Mejia said.

Intentional decisions

Zurich North America has about 10,000 employees throughout the United States and Cana, about 65% of whom have a hybrid schedule with the rest working remotely, Lampert said.

Managers establish clear goals and have regular conversations with employees about performance, and hybrid schedules are managed thoughtfully, Lampert said. “We are very intentional about what work we are doing when we are in office, like collaboration and planning, while it’s more ‘heads down’ and independent work at home.”

It’s also important to make sure employees have a proper work setup at home, so Poly-clip System provides ergonomic standup desks for everyone, Wennerstrom said.

When they are in the office, employees are encouraged to work from a variety of spaces across the building, rather than sit at their desk all day, Lampert said. “There’s a lot of energy in the building,” she said. “People are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve missed this connection.’”

It’s also essential to include employees’ perspective in decision-making, Wennerstrom said.

Poly-clip System conducts annual employee surveys and ad hoc surveys on specific initiatives. “It’s not a good idea to make insular leadership decisions without employee input,” he said.

Overall trend

Erika Waehler Courtesy of Erika Waehler

Overall, in-office work has been making a comeback, said Erika Waehler, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Libertyville, a workforce management company that works with organizations and industries across Lake County. Fully remote workers went from a high of more than 80% in 2020 to less than 20% currently, and still declining, she said.

Even if they like working in the office, workers highly value the option to have flexible, hybrid schedules, Waehler said. Working from home a couple days a week helps workers focus better, save money and spend more time with family, she said.

“People value that work-life balance, and can be even more productive when they have those options.”

  Controller Jim Wituk works at his desk at Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick Inc., on Thursday in Elgin. Even if they like working in the office, workers highly value the option to have flexible, hybrid schedules, employers say. Joe Lewnard/
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