No adult who was alive at the time will forget March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and life on this planet changed overnight. Schools closed, travel and entertainment ground to a halt, and “non-essential” businesses closed their doors, causing too many of them to shut down permanently.
Businesses had to be inventive and resilient to stay afloat during that stressful time, and one of the first changes we saw was the advent of widespread “temporary” remote work—except it wasn’t temporary. In fact, a recent survey indicates that while 6% of employees worked fully remotely pre-pandemic, over 26% do so today. Even more surprisingly, a staggering 66% of all American personnel are currently estimated to work from home at least part-time.
These days, managers who ask their employees to return to the office full-time are meeting with something called the Great Resistance. Employees, it turns out, like the work-at-home arrangement and don’t want to come back. To keep their people happy and prevent rapid turnover, employers therefore need to adapt and find equilibrium in the new work landscape.
Remote Work and Flexibility
Let’s take a look at some of remote work’s benefits and challenges from the employers’ perspective:
- Cost Savings – Employers save on overhead costs like utilities, supplies, office space, and relocation allowances.
- Larger Talent Pool – Organizations are no longer limited to hiring candidates who live in their areas.
- Increased Retention – Employees who can work remotely at least some of the time report higher levels of job satisfaction.
- Better Productivity –When employees work from home, they’re 13% more productive, according to a Stanford University study.
- Communication – Employers must make more concentrated efforts to keep communication lines open, as face-to-face interactions are limited.
- Accountability – The lack of regular, in-person supervision can make holding employees accountable for their productivity challenging.
- Team Building and Culture – Promoting a strong company culture and building relationships can be difficult when everyone is working remotely.
- Technical Difficulties – Technology is wonderful . . . but it can also sometimes be glitchy, causing frustrations and delays.
To maximize the benefits and mitigate the challenges, employers need to build trust and accountability into their culture and employees must carefully navigate the boundaries between work and personal life. Managers should demonstrate trust in the remote or hybrid employees by giving them the space and opportunity to work from home without micromanagement, and the employees must in turn earn that trust by meeting clear accountability metrics (deadlines, etc.), which employers should put in place. That way, neither party will need to worry about how employees are spending every minute of every day as they work from home, and employees can prioritize their work and personal needs during that time as they see fit.
Employee Well-Being and Mental Health
Another factor employers must consider as they endeavor to strike an effective balance between office and remote work is employee well-being and mental health. The pandemic took a toll on our collective mental health due to isolation, job loss and the resulting financial instability, and of course the illness itself. Substance abuse and mental health issues that arose during the pandemic remain elevated now, so employers must implement initiatives that promote well-being and work-life balance as well as foster a sense of belonging and social connection in a hybrid or remote work environment.
Solutions might include:
- Online and in-person professional counseling benefits
- Online team-building games and competitions
- Regular one-on-one check-ins
- Reimbursement for employee fitness activities (gym memberships, etc.)
- Organized in-person gatherings outside of work where possible
- A virtual water cooler, using tools such as Slack or Google Chat which provide a medium for your employees to communicate on a more personal level, non-work related
Empowering Employee Growth and Development
Although remote and hybrid work are becoming commonplace, a recent study indicates that these workers often feel overlooked and forgotten when it comes to special projects and promotions. The “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” philosophy can be detrimental not only to the employees, but to managers and the company at large when valuable talent goes unnoticed, unrecognized, and unrewarded.
To eliminate this risk, organizations must treat their remote workers with respect, find ways to stay connected with them, and create a clear career progression framework all employees can follow. They must also utilize technology to its fullest potential by finding solutions that:
- Enable and encourage frequent, easy communication
- Set clear, measurable expectations
- Provide effective and regular online training
- Facilitate accurate and constructive performance assessment
Without question, the pandemic had a long-term impact on work dynamics and employee expectations, and that influence is expected to continue. According to McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey, “a flexible working arrangement is a top-three motivator for finding a new job,” and other studies project that over 36 million American employees will be working remotely by 2025. Clearly, companies that want to remain employers of choice will have to adapt, innovate, and prioritize employee well-being in the post-pandemic era.
By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano
President & CEO of Barbachano International (BIP)
Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Outplacement and Exe