Returning To Work
The pandemic has ushered in a widespread acceptance of working from home and less dedication to the traditional 9-5 workday. Indeed, the benefits of remote working, including greater flexibility for employees, lower real estate costs and increased productivity, have led some large companies—such as Twitter and Spotify—to say they plan to allow employees to work from home indefinitely.
But remote working can pose challenges for employees and businesses, from communication barriers to decreased visibility. As a leader, understanding your options and how workplace needs differ from one employee to the next can help you craft a flexible workplace strategy—and keep your staff members happy and productive.
Here are three working models to consider as your business adjusts to the post-pandemic economy.
Not every business can operate remotely and stay successful. If your company has faced significant challenges since going remote, you may be leaning towards reinstating an office-centric working model. And you wouldn’t be alone: many companies—Apple included—are making plans to bring back in-person working.
Gauging your employees’ willingness to give up working remotely—and identifying where each of them falls on the remote-working spectrum—may be a beneficial first step. Some workers may be thriving at home, while others may be counting down the days until they can return to the office full-time.
Achieving the right balance—for example, allowing staff members to continue to work from home at least 1 day per week—may be crucial in retaining those employees who are less than eager to return full-time.
- What safety measures (such as a mask-wearing policy, regular cleaning, desk spacing, staggering attendance) need to be implemented to make employees feel comfortable returning to the office?
- Do you have employees that will consider looking for a new job if returning to the office is mandatory?
- Will you wait until most employees are vaccinated before requiring your team to return full-time?
- What kind of perks can your company offer to help retain employees that prefer remote working?
- Can you renegotiate your commercial lease in light of falling office rents?
You may be going against the grain by asking your employees to work primarily in-person, but here’s something worth noting: your new employees may benefit.
In a remote work survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 30 percent of new hires stated they wanted to work remotely no more than 1 day a week, compared to just 20 percent of all respondents. These newer employees were less likely to feel productive working from home and more in need of company training programs and meetings with managers.
The hybrid working model—with employees working 1-3 days in the office each week and at home the rest of the time—is likely here to stay for many businesses.
According to the Pricewaterhouse Coopers study cited above, more than half of employees (55%) would prefer to be remote at least three days a week once the pandemic is no longer a concern. Many large companies, from Salesforce to Target, have adopted “flex” working arrangements which offer employees a balance of in-office and at-home workdays.
This model has the advantage of allowing employees to work in the way that suits them best, which could mean working from home most days, coming to the office regularly, or something in between.
- Will you require your workers to stick to a fixed schedule with set office days?
- What other scheduling guidelines need to be put in place (for example, do you want all employees to spend at least one day in the office)?
- If you have some employees that plan to work from home more than others, how will you help them stay connected to your team?
- How often will in-person meetings and collaborations be necessary?
If your company has operated remotely for months, some employees might miss the collaboration and camaraderie of an in-person work environment. Allowing these employees to come into the office a few days a week (voluntarily) may be one way to test the viability of a hybrid working arrangement for your business.
The remote-working model is flexible and often cost-effective, and many companies plan to stick with it even after the pandemic has ended.
The same Pricewaterhouse Coopers study found that fewer than 1 in 5 executives say they plan to return to the office as it was before the pandemic, and a survey by The National Association for Business Economics revealed that just 1 in 10 companies expect all employees to return eventually.
If your team has experienced success with a fully remote working model, there may be no reason for you and your staff to return to a traditional office environment. That said, you still might look for ways to accommodate employees who miss having an in-person workplace.
- What tools (software and technology) do your employees need to be productive at home?
- How will you help employees engage and collaborate with each other while working remotely?
- If you plan to give up your office space (or have already done so), how can you make the best use of your real estate savings?
- What guidelines and systems will you put in place to track productivity and measure job outcomes?
If you do settle on a remote working model for the long-term, you’ll need to think of creative ways to support your employees, keep them engaged with the company mission (and each other), and ensure they continue to do their best work.
Only a quarter of office workers, on average, have returned to working in person. This is according to a recent survey by Kastle Systems, a security firm that collects data from 3,600 buildings across the country, and the percentages vary from one region to the next. While more than one-third of office workers are back in Texas’s large cities, for instance, only 20 percent of remote workers have returned to traditional offices in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago.
Of course, these office occupancy rates will likely continue to increase somewhat as coronavirus cases across the country decline. However, many U.S. companies are still waiting to bring employees back—and some businesses don’t envision a return to the pre-pandemic office at all.
Trends and forecasts aside, it will be up to you to determine which working model will benefit your business—and your employees—the most. As always, flexibility and planning will be essential.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.