December 7, 2020
Earlier this year, employers were polled by Mercer, a global benefits consulting service, to give their preliminary thinking about flexible work arrangements in a post-pandemic environment. Their answers suggest that, in some cases, companies and nonprofit organizations with employees working remotely have become more receptive to these arrangements.
Here are some quick survey highlights:
- 68% of organizations are now updating or creating new work-from-home policies. As reasons to expand flexible working arrangements, they cite employee engagement and productivity; enhanced employee value proposition; a more diverse workforce; and greater access to a larger talent pool.
- 65% of employers anticipate that, post-Covid-19, between one-quarter and three-quarters of their employees will work remotely on a regular basis.
- 67% of employers have seen the productivity of employees working remotely during the pandemic remain level and 27% have seen it increase.
What about employees? Their sentiments were captured in a recent survey by market research firm, Morning Consult. Questions were directed only to employees whose jobs make it possible for them to work remotely. Roughly four out of five agreed with the statement, “I enjoy working from home.”
When asked about how many days a week they’d like to work from home once the Covid-19 pandemic is “under control,” one-third expressed a desire to work from home every day. Nearly one-quarter prefer three to four days per week. One in five would like one to two days working remotely.
What appeals most to those who prefer working from home at least several days a week is that there’s no time-wasting commute. Working from home also gives them more time to focus on their health. Other pluses mentioned include a higher general comfort level with the home office environment, greater family connections, and a perception that their work quality has improved while working remotely.
Not All Roses
Still, employees also point to some downsides. For example, they list the risk of work and personal lives merging, feeling disconnected from coworkers and feeling isolated. Another downside is that for some, it’s harder to concentrate in a home office. However, only 17% of respondents reported this last issue.
It’s important to remember that surveys capture averages and provide a helpful starting point for thinking about issues. But your own workforce may not have the same attitudes as those captured in these recent surveys. One way to find out is to conduct your own poll.
If you do, don’t give employees the impression that every wish they express for their work settings will be granted or that any policy changes will last forever. Years ago, companies such as IBM and Yahoo gave employees the freedom to work from home. However, things didn’t work out from the employers’ perspective and they scrapped the programs.
Criteria for Policy Assessment
Before committing to a work-form-home policy establish clear criteria that will enable you to assess its efficacy. Criteria might include:
Employee productivity. It doesn’t necessarily need to increase, but you don’t want it to drop, either.
Employee satisfaction. If all or some employees eventually decide working from home isn’t as attractive as they thought it would be, you might want to amend your policy.
Supervision issues. In some cases, the job of front-line supervisors overseeing remote employees could become unduly challenging.
Esprit de corps. Team spirit and unit cohesion may not hold up with employees working remotely.
Liability concerns. You may be unable to manage risk, including cybersecurity concerns, with workers using less-secure home networks and connections. In-home work-related injuries could also become a problem.
Recruiting results. On the other hand, you may be able to attract hard-to-find skilled workers more easily if they can work from anywhere.
Cost. The shared cost of employee home office necessities such as ergonomic furniture and computer hardware could be higher than expected. But reduced office leasing and utilities expenses are likely to cut your costs significantly.
The good news is that you probably have gained enough experience during the pandemic to anticipate potential issues with a permanent work-from-home policy. Just keep in mind that there can be differences between pandemic-driven ad hoc solutions and formal policies.
When employees don’t have to work from home, you enjoy more flexibility in structuring a remote-working policy. Matters to iron out include which employees are eligible, how many days they can work from home, what tech and other support you’ll provide, and scheduling procedures.
Word to the Wise
If your employees have been forced to work from home during the pandemic, you’ve enjoyed a unique opportunity to test a whole new approach to working. Permanent work-from-home potentially could save your business a lot of money and result in a happier, more productive workforce. However, if the test’s results are inconclusive or employees are clamoring to return to your workspace, you may want to hold off. Talk with HR advisors as well as financial experts who can help you assess potential cost savings.