As we plan ahead to a day when we can finally say the pandemic is behind us, many companies will bring staff who have been remote for the last year-plus back to a shared office space with calls for a “return to normalcy.”
A return to the traditional office space and all that entails (commuting, parking fees, extended childcare needs, grab-and-go-lunches, rearranging personal schedules) may appeal to some workers who can’t wait to reconnect with colleagues in person and escape the confines of their houses, but others are asking “why?”
Hasn’t remote work…worked?
In early 2020, when much of the world’s onsite office staff went home – and stayed, it was a whole new concept for many companies that they had to quickly adjust to.
Statista estimates that 44% of workers started working remotely in the US alone five or more days per week after the start of the pandemic, a jump from 17% who were already teleworking pre-pandemic.
The first weeks of that uncertain time were about tech: quickly setting up Zoom or other videoconferencing accounts, getting laptops configured, working out logistics of accessing files and other resources while just keeping the business running. With kids and partners/spouses also suddenly home 24/7, some colleagues found themselves in a very full house intertwining work and home life and still others totally alone in their homes with Zoom calls the only face-to-face interaction they were able to have during the day. Relevant labor laws were examined as work locations changed.
What many thought would be a brief pause in the normal routine turned into months. The now-remote staff gradually settled into a new routine. Productivity largely kept pace and with no commute to or from work, many employees suddenly found time to exercise, run quick errands, help their children with online school or even develop new hobbies. With the help of WiFi and a little personal scheduling, many employees were happy to see that they were able to get their work done while being able to achieve a better balance between personal and work life than they had previously and now are in no hurry to go back to the former status quo.
ACCORDING TO BUSINESS INSIDER, A MORNING CONSULT SURVEY SHOWED 40% OF WORKERS HAVE SAID THEY WOULD QUIT THEIR JOBS IF THEY ARE FORCED TO RETURN TO THE OFFICE FULL TIME, WITH 49% OF THOSE EMPLOYEES OF MILLENNIAL AND GENZ-AGED WORKERS.
So what’s the right answer? Continue to allow remote work for only those who want it? Offer a hybrid schedule? Get rid of the remote option and move everyone back to the office?
In determining how to move forward, it may be helpful to take a look back. What was learned?
- Labor Law can be a challenge – Labor law compliance seems murkier, and even problematic, when considering remote work. Depending on the cities or counties where employees are sitting, a whole host of varying laws may apply.
- Expectations are important – Employers who had trouble reaching certain employees during business hours or hosted meetings with a slew of cameras set to “off” quickly learned that expectations and standards needed to be set to ensure consistency.
- Tech (and its security) is invaluable – Access to company resources and employee connectivity are one of the most important needs to keep the business up and running. Many organizations found that they needed to revamp their IT security and consider new software and systems.
- Flexibility was key – With schools, daycares, and other extended-care options closed, even the most dedicated, productive employees could get distracted by additional personal demands for their time.
- Engagement is company-driven – Keeping employees engaged and focused requires effort in- or out of- the office. While having remote staff can make it more difficult, those companies that actively worked to connect with their employees and create virtual collaborative environments saw the most success.
- Unfortunately, sometimes remote doesn’t always work – Some employees faded away without in-person interaction or felt less motivated or driven. Some took their time away from leadership eyes to pursue other interests on company time and some positions simply didn’t lend themselves to telework.
When considering next steps, it may be helpful to start by taking the collective employee “pulse.” Is everyone excited to get back to the office, their personal workspaces, and the conference room table? Or are they dreading the very idea of the daily traffic, the personal schedule squeeze, extended childcare expenses, and the daily meetings that interrupt their workflow? Perhaps some are worried about in-person Covid-19 risks after seeing a loved one pass away or become ill. Some steps to consider:
- Analyze the org chart – Are there some positions that do work on a remote basis – at least part-time? And if they don’t, could they with some adjustment?
- Offer continued flexibility – Even if most employees will be back in the office, is a traditional 9-5 schedule necessary for the organization to be successful? Could start/end times be staggered to allow for personal errands before and after work, meet their children after school to avoid the worst of the commute traffic?
- Bring joy back to work – Find out what employees liked the most about their work-from-home experience. Is there a cost-effective way to replicate any of those experiences in the office? A group cooking or yoga class? Walking meetings? Volunteer work? Lunchtime concerts?
- Conduct a stay interview – why wait until someone quits to find out what drives your turnover? Take the time to find out what employees love and hate about their work. Are they finding purpose and are engaged in their work? Or have years of annoyances been building up to a desire to seek a different arrangement? Sometimes success in the office or working remote is dependent on how much they love their work. Make sure changing up their worksite is not just a band-aid to a larger retention problem.
Remember, whatever work format is put into place, it will be important to try to keep it personal – all employees have their own way of working, their best hours for working, and particular methods of keeping themselves on track. After finding their own groove, some employees may truly dread coming back to an environment they may have found stifling or a deterrent to their own productivity in the past. Don’t be afraid as an organization to mix it up a bit and look to employees for their lessons learned over the past year, how they measure their own success and what helped them get there.
Interested in other current employment trends? Click the link to view the recent blog: Employee Offboarding, Done Right or check back for more on human resources, payroll, insurance, and benefits.