Remember that most employees were on the wish list when working from home? Survey after survey, employees said they wanted the flexibility to work remotely to balance their personal and professional lives.
As of February 2020, FlexJobs stated that looking at new career opportunities, choosing a work environment was an important aspect for applicants. Remote workers were happier and more likely to stay in their jobs, another study found. While many companies were moving in that direction, some were reluctant, as leaders believed that employees would not be productive without supervision.
The pandemic then ensued, and at one point during a nationwide lockout, 70% of American employees worked at home for at least some time. And while the celebrated frontline activists were putting themselves at risk, others were figuring out how to make WFH a reality. But as specific, the reality of this arrangement was not as amazing as everyone had imagined.
Now, as some companies have announced that their employees can work at home indefinitely, leaders must recognize that the option may not be sustainable for all organizations.
Work from home
Certainly, some employees have always worked from home and performed well. And given, today’s WFH conditions are not ideal, with social disturbances and lack of social activities after work. It is designed by roommates and family members for desk space, while parents try to schedule calls around their children’s online classes. Employees are stressed, and many overworked.
But the unusual challenges of working at home even once the epidemic spreads, when companies consider whether to return to the office, they should closely consider many aspects of work that are lost or diminished. When employees work entirely at home.
Organizations have realized that their culture is important and have spent countless budgets and time to build personalities and brands. It is difficult to communicate and reinforce that brand when working remotely. In an office, photographs of employees volunteering for a charitable organization reflect the company’s mission focus. The meeting room reserved for the lunch yoga class reflects a commitment to welfare. Interaction between employees can model respect, friendliness, enthusiasm, and support.
The sense of connect is challenging to maintain on a zoom call. And, when culture is no longer a differentiator, it is easy for employees to leave. Without that tie, they can work remotely for Company B just as they did for Company A.
When employees made a sudden transition to work at home, they lost their social connections not only with peers, but also with senior leadership. This change is quite difficult in normal times. A pre-epidemic survey found 20% of employees who work from home. This has now ended, as people are more cautious about socializing. Regardless of the circumstances, leaders must be wary of the possibility of loneliness among distant employees and connect intentionally, if only virtually.
Inequality among employees.
During the epidemic, not everyone had the opportunity to work from home. Frontline employees, like those in manufacturing and retail, cannot do their work from home. However, often in the same organization, employees in corporate positions could. This disparity can create feelings of unfairness within and outside the organization, which can be forgiven during an emergency but not acceptable long term.
Long WFH hours.
During the epidemic, house staff filled their meager time with more meetings and worked longer hours – 48 minutes per day – than they did at home in the office. These increased hours can lead to burnout and lack of engagement.
These prolonged periods of physical discomfort come from sitting on a kitchen table or a temporary desk. Although companies may have sent employees home with laptops, workers may not have permanent desks or ergonomic equipment used in the office. This sedentary life can cause physical aches and pains that affect total well-being.
Lack of resources.
One source of friction is experiencing a technical problem and no technical services are available to help. More than half (51%) surveyed said they experienced IT pain while working at home, with most issues increasing poor home Internet bandwidth and security and compliance risks. Even if a problem is not technical, it is easy to identify a resource when you can ask the person in the next cube over.
New ideas needed for the work environment
Unexpected tasks from home use give leaders some essential information. Although working remotely may seem a utopia, it is not the right answer for every organization or every employee. As leaders consider going back to office or working indefinitely from home, it is necessary to make a personal plan and ask:
- Which scenario works best for your organization? Can everyone work remotely or just “knowledge workers”? Can frontline workers be given additional flexibility? What does inequality of flexibility mean to your culture?
- How can you create a sense of community, connection and culture that is important to your brand and success? Can it be completed in an office or remotely, and if so, how will you achieve it in a location or combination of locations?
- What do your employees want and why? Are they looking for flexibility? It is not limited to a remote environment. It can be a hybrid system. Do you need collaboration, and can this be accomplished in a distributed environment?
Ultimately, the best system is one that meets the needs of your organization and people, builds connections and community, allows freedom and flexibility, works for all and can be maintained for a long time .